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“Damage-joy”, “skadevreugde”, Schadenfreude. Are you guilty?

21 September 2009

± minute read

    “Damage-joy”, “skadevreugde”, Schadenfreude.  Are you guilty?
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You would never consider yourself guilty of having minor sadism attacks, right?  But you do thoroughly enjoy seeing how hopeful, yet ear-strainingly off-key, candidates take part in Idols and get humiliated in front of the entire country?  Perhaps you struggle to hide your devilish grin when you hear about your goody-two-shoes colleague’s proposal getting turned down by your boss?  The delight of this emotion overshadows guilt feelings and is better known as Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude, German for “damage-joy”, is a guilty, undisclosed feeling of satisfaction or pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.

It is often used as the basis of humor.  Slapstick comedies strongly depend on others’ clumsiness and idiocy.  Especially if these characters are seen as untrue, arrogant or evil.  Think about popular reality shows such as Candid Camera, Cops, Cheaters, Survivor, Temptation Island, The Moment of Truth etc.; all fascinating and addictive, to the cost of another’s hurt, distress or failure.

Philosopher and sociologist, Theodor Adorno, described Schadenfreude mainly as unexpected bliss at the suffering of others.  While he described it as meaningless, yet pertinent, the Medieval Church considered it to be pure sin.  Either way, it seems to be deeply ingrained and experienced at different levels by all of us

The reason for “damage-joy”?  According to David Merrick, it is simply not enough for humans to succeed – others have to fail.

Taken to extreme levels Schadenfreude can be linked to Sadistic Personality Disorder.  Some of the mutual characteristics include:

-          Humiliating someone in front of others.

-          Finding other’s (including animals) psychological or physical suffering amusing.

-          Intentionally lying to cause pain or hurt others.

-          Using threats or intimidation to get your way.

-          Being fascinated by violence, weapons, injuries and torture.

For those of us interested in the field of psychology, especially emotional intelligence, it is fascinating to see how man’s virtues and vices are all programmed into one package. In each of us there is a monster and a hero, that comes out sometimes consciously, other times not.


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