I became familiar with the term “Schadenfreude” when I came across the book “The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature” by Richard Horton Smith. The word intrigued me. I then did a quick google search and came across the article “The Science of Schadenfreude: It is part of being human to laugh at someone’s misfortune” by Dr. Joseph A. Shrand. The article helped me gain some insight into what ‘Schadenfreude’ exactly is and allowed me to internally confirm and normalize the term as a phenomenon that does actually exist.
According to Shrand, “Schadenfreude” is defined as a human being laughing at the misfortune of others – at the expense of the one suffering, and feeling mentally rewarded for witnessing another human being failing at something or feeling undeniable joy from watching someone end up frustrated and hurt because of something difficult the individual is facing. “Schadenfreude” comes from two German words, ‘schaden’ and ‘freude’, which means ‘harm’ and ‘joy’ respectively.
Recognizing and acknowledging the presence of ‘Schadenfreude’ in daily life can actually feel emotionally restorative when it comes to emotional healing. From what I myself experienced through some curiosity-driven research, learning more about this concept of ‘Schadenfreude’ can surely allow us to place ourselves in the shoes of those who are heartless and insensitive towards others. And it can also likely allow us to focus solely on learning lessons from past experiences and continuing to move forward. As Shrand points out, understanding why we and others feel how we feel, as well as understanding schadenfreude, helps give us a chance to respond thoughtfully, rather than impulsively. While maintaining our emotions, we can then exercise better judgment in sensitive situations that require strong empathy to navigate and/or move through.
We all face struggles and battles every day, whether we show that or not is up to our discretion. Most of us stay composed to the point where no one really thinks we are in need of help and support. I think a lot of us do this because of our fear of others feeling joy from hearing that we are not well. Speaking for myself, I can say that I’ve never laughed at anyone’s pain because it morally isn’t something I could ever handle or feel okay with doing. However, I can admit that I have – on different occasions – felt involuntarily indifferent and numb to the misfortunes of those who wronged me, especially while I was distracted with and struggling with my own hardships. Such indifference or ‘coldness’ to the emotional battles of others due to being in a state of emotional distraught myself could be a form of “Schadenfreude” inside me. Inside all of us. Sometimes, we see someone struggling so we laugh and ‘make jokes’ about someone else’s misfortune, wanting ‘to make them smile’. But it isn’t a joke for them as they are in pain. Whether we want to admit it and not, we all sometimes feel ‘strangely satisf[ied]’ that life is not going well for someone else. But why this need to compete with others? Why do some people desire to outdo others or to feel joy at the failure of others when none of us are on the same exact wavelengths? We all have different mindsets, different goals, different backgrounds which should – realistically – mean that we should be focused on empowering each other to make our collective society a better place. Why do some people have this need to compare? Why is true and genuine empowerment so rare? Does it stem from insecurity or not feeling good enough? These are questions worth considering.
In any case, as we all struggle (in our own ways) and continue on with our personal journeys, others are watching us from the sidelines of our lives. These other people range from good souls who want only the best for us, to other souls who really don’t and won’t ever like us at all for whatever reason (no matter what we do). Such negative people will surely feel joy at seeing us face, accept and push through our struggles and shortcomings. They will gossip and say cruel things about us with no concern for us or our feelings and. Ignoring and dismissing the hurt feelings of those around us and feeling pleasure at the suffering we see is not something any of us should be proud of. It’s cruel, heartless, and it shows no sense of real humanity.
Why bring others down? Why tear them apart when you could instead spend that time working on yourselves and doing better for yourself and those around you? In the long term, does schadenfreude really bring any fun into our lives? I don’t think it does. It only darkens our souls and causes us to act in ways we regret later, thanks to the universal notion that we receive what we put into the universe; that the wrongdoing done to someone will come back to the wrongdoer, eventually.
During the darkest moments, we often end up seeing the darkest parts of people around us, as well as the darkest parts of ourselves. Some are quick to throw salt on fresh wounds just to see our pained reactions. Here is a beautiful quote that I believe captures all that I wish to say about ‘schadenfreude’: “Some people gain satisfaction in trying to dim your light, they will try to outshine you, even at the cost of the truth” – Spiritual Truths.
As human beings, I think the one thing we share in common with one another is that none of us are immune to the feeling of denial of the truth. We all believe and want to believe that we are all good people. Goodness, no doubt, is inside us, but it’s important for us to be aware of and reflect on the darkness inside us all. You are not alone in struggling with dark thoughts towards others. I can assure you that there have been many times where I’ve been in so much pain that I’ve had trouble even understanding and wanting to understand a situation someone else is in because I was consumed by my own quiet suffering.
Staying strong, remaining honest and being assertive allowed me (during difficult moments) to stand up for myself and what I found the most relief in was answering to cruelty (such as those making fun of my suffering or feeling joy about hearing of it), with silence. My silence spoke more than any words ever could. If anything, the silence was an outcry which allowed some individuals to become more aware of their conscience. The non-hostile and peaceful (non-manipulative) silence from me to others also gave me time to reflect on my own shortcomings and areas for improvement, in order to heal. There is that saying that with every finger we point at people, there are always three pointing back at us, so in no way are we ourselves immune from also doing the same negative actions and deeds others do.
To conclude, it’s fair to consider that ‘Schadenfreude’ is most likely universal. It is in all of us and it’s not something we can ignore about our nature as human beings. When we’ve faced betrayal, deceit, and mistakes of our own in judgment and assumptions – sometimes due to what others have done to us (i.e. the after effects of schadenfreude), our soul often then vibrates in a negative way. We wallow in our pain and can only get out of this pit we’ve thrown ourselves into by grabbing a hold of our human compassion and empathy again. Shrand takes the negative aspect of schadenfreude and transforms it – with ease – into a positive element by mentioning that concept of ‘transformational leadership’. This is when people come together during times of conflict, identify where change is needed in society, and then work to fuel and develop that change. Transformational leadership allows everyone to heal as well as heal others, as a collective whole.
What are your thoughts on Schadenfreude? How do you deal with dark thoughts towards yourself and others? Please comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Shrand, J. (2017, March 27). The Science of Schadenfreude. Retrieved August 26, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-i-m-approach/201703/the-science-schadenfreude
Edited by Viveca Shearin