(Made more public by request - skip if you like)
Some time ago, I tried describing a concept to friends. I failed, but I'll go ahead and try to say it at more length here, and maybe it'll work better. Maybe not. Either way, I'll know what I mean, and have this as a reminder.
There's a friend here on LJ that I talk to on-and-off, and have for awhile. I've never met her in person. She was talking about a person that has been severely unkind to her, but that she still couldn't bring herself to ostracize completely from her life, much as she'd like to. I tried to explain to her how one deals with such people, and I started by telling her, "imagine a perfect you, in a perfect world. Think of what she would be like. Now, what would she do in that situation, when <person> did <nasty thing>?" The friend said something like, "it sounds weird, but when I think of what she'd do, I see her laughing."
Bingo. Perfect. Just exactly dead-on. That is *exactly* what a perfect person would do. What keeps a regular person from doing the same thing?
Feelings of guilt, of vulnerability. Feeling that that would hurt the other person, or not fulfill some debt. When somebody is manipulating you, you may be caught up too much in what they're doing, or you may feel you're not allowed to just laugh it off.
Yet there is no more powerful response. Bad feelings are handles for manipulators. Indebted feelings, vulnerable feelings, unhappy feelings, guilty feelings, all these are handles on your body that a skilled person can grab onto and use to move you around. They are buttons for button-pushers.
Laughter is almost never a useful button. Laughter is freeing. That makes it intimidating to people who want to move you around. Laughter isn't a handle or a button. At best they can laugh along with you to try to make you feel a kinship to them, and even that depends on your feeling of kinship, not your laughter.
Your laughter is yours, and even when it's shared, it doesn't belong to the people you're sharing with. It belongs to you, always. And it reminds you that you belong to you, always.
Guilt, worrying what other people think, these are handles, and strong ones. A feeling of implied debt is a strong handle - a stated debt has a limit, because it's a sort of contract. An implied debt, when someone gives you something and then looks at you puppylike to see what you'll give back - that's a handle.
You can turn to them and say, "a gift is not an obligation." And you will be right, philosophical and superior-sounding. But in the end, that's not a tenth of the power of laughing at them, smiling and saying, "thank you!"
Especially if you mean it.
Laughter says, "I am me, I am mine, and I free you to be with yourself."
The giver may feel you're ungrateful, and stop giving you gifts and waiting expectantly to see what you give back. That's another lovely thing to laugh about. Don't just be yourself - be your own.