To quote the brilliant Arthur Schopenhauer -
“To feel envy is human, to savour schadenfreude is devilish”
“Schadenfreude” is a German word that translates as “harm-joy”.
It is the experience of feeling pleasure, joy or self-satisfaction from the learning of, or witnessing the troubles, failures or humiliation of another.
It is quite a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone's misfortune, schadenfreude evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail or suffer.
We all have had this feeling.
When we watch slapstick comedy, for example - seeing a comedian slip on a banana peel.
Or, when we laugh at people getting eliminated on reality shows, or people on American Idol who have awful voices and make absolute fools of themselves.
Some people enjoy these things more than others.
Other times, we may feel it when we get to see a person who has done something terrible finally brought to justice, for example.
It’s quite satisfying to see a person who has done us wrong or who has committed a terrible crime, finally get what they deserve.
This is quite normal.
However, what about when we feel this way towards people close to us, who we like and even love? People who we know personally, like our neighbours and acquaintances.
What about when we feel this way towards our own friends and even family members?
I think the frequency and extent to which we experience “Schadenfreude”, would be an excellent indicator for self esteem.
If you notice that you get a little kick out of seeing people screw up or fail, and that it makes you feel a bit better about yourself and your life, by default - then you may have low self esteem and not even know it.
If a person who is close to you has a crisis, or their life takes an unexpected turn, whether it be in their family life, their job, their health or finances, and you get a boost to your ego out of seeing it, and feel better about yourself because of it, you likely have extremely low self esteem.
People who have healthy self esteem would feel hurt and concerned for a person who was suffering, especially if they knew them personally.
It would be a natural response to want to help in any way they could. As much as possible. That desire should and would increase with the level of closeness.
People who have good self esteem don’t get satisfaction from seeing people around them fail because it makes them feel better about themselves, by default.
When you actually like yourself, you want to see others do well.
You want to lift others up and help them to reach their potential.
You don’t feel insecure or threatened because someone else has talents that you don’t or has positive qualities that are equal or even stronger than those particular qualities in you.
When you have high self esteem, you can accept your flaws and admit to them, while working to improve them, and even find humour in them, while you are also able to acknowledge your strengths and abilities.
You can be inspired by others who have similar positive qualities without feeling competitive.
You would be able to give credit to others when it’s due.
You would be filled with happiness when you see others, especially loved ones, do well and succeed.
You would be able to give genuine compliments as well as helpful and well meaning advice and feedback. Seeing others do well would give you a feeling of joy, excitement and inspiration.
Another thing I have noticed is that if you have good self esteem, but happen to be around a lot of people with very low self esteem, you may actually find you end up feeling ashamed for your positive qualities and strengths since they are seen by those people as so threatening their fragile ego.
In this unfortunate case, you may hide your strengths and natural talents and accomplishments out of fear that those people may be offended or could become angry with you.
If this is the case - you may want to consider whether those relationships are healthy for you or if it might be time to find people who are able to appreciate you for all that you are, and who genuinely want you to succeed in life.
Either way - in starting to take notice of Schadenfreude - in yourself and in those around you, things can start to become very clear, very quickly!
If you start to notice yourself experiencing Schadenfreude often, especially in personal relationships, I would recommend looking into getting help with self esteem.
If you notice it excessively in people around you, towards you (and towards others), I would recommend getting as far away from those people as possible.
As soon as possible.
Thanks for reading!
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