Most humans will have experienced at least a few times in their life a feeling of pleasure at hearing about somebody else’s misfortune. This will often be because they feel that this other person is getting their just deserts. Those individuals who regularly engage in this type of thinking may do so because they inwardly do not feel very good about themselves. By focusing their attention on other people they can ignore their own problems. This can be a highly unhealthy attitude that might ultimately hold people back in life.
Schadenfreude is a German word that is also frequently used in English. It refers to the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. If people feel any pleasure at hearing about negative things happening to other people than this can be classed as Schadenfreude. There is no real English word that describes this type of happiness and this is why Schadenfreude has become a loanword in the English language.
Those individuals who suffer from low self esteem are the most likely to engage in Schadenfruede. This is because they feel threatened by other people who they suspect are performing better than them in life. When they later see these people fail it gives them some solace. It means that they feel less threatened by this other individual because they have proven themselves to be not so perfect. It is suggested that the lower a person’s self esteem the more likely they will be to experience Schadenfreude. When people do not feel good about themselves they will grab onto anything that will make them feel better – even if it is only enjoying the misfortune of other people.
Addicts are said to often share a number of characteristics referred to as the addictive personality. One of these characteristics is low self esteem, and this is why Schadenfreude is so common among addicts. The humor of substance abusers is often directed at other people who have failed in some way. When a non-addict messes up in life it can give the addict a bit of comfort. They can use it as evidence that the sober life isn’t that great after all.
An even sinister form of Schadenfruede that the addict engages is upon hearing the news that somebody in recovery has relapsed. When any of their acquaintances becomes sober it can feel quite threatening to them. It reminds them that the life they are living is far from ideal. They can also suspect that this person who has escaped the addiction is somehow better than them. When a person relapses back to addiction it provides them with reassurance. They can tell themselves that life away from addiction is not that great, and that this other person is not so superior after all. This is one of the reasons why people in recovery are advised to keep away from former drinking and drugging buddies. These friends are likely to want the newly sober person to fail, and they may do what they can to make that happen – including coaxing the individual back to abuse.
There are a number of dangers associated with Schadenfruede including:
* It means that the individual will be able to use the failings of others to justify their own failures. This will be the excuse that people use to not improve their life.
* This type of negativity is often referred to as stinking thinking. This pattern of thought can hold people back in life.
* Engaging in Schadenfruede is a highly unattractive character trait. It can make it difficult for people to form lasting relationships.
* It is a likely sign that the individual has low self-esteem.
* Many individuals who engage in this type of thinking will also feel uneasy about it. It can actually make them feel worse about themselves.
Schadenfreude is a type of stinking thinking. In recovery this means that the individual is caught in their old pattern of thinking. It is usually combined with other unhelpful thoughts and emotions such as:
* Resentment against other people in recovery
* Feelings of superiority
* Feelings of inferiority
* Constantly attributing negative motives for the actions of other people
* The habit of blowing things out of all proportion
* Acting in a grandiose manner
* They will tend to see the world in black and white
* They may feel bitter about things that occurred in the past
* An overly pessimistic view of their future in recovery
* They quickly develop feelings of ill-will towards strangers
* They will try to blame other people for their own mistakes
* Those who engage in stinking thinking become incredibly self-centered
Those individuals who are recovering from an addiction can be in particular danger from Schadenfruede. It could hold back their recovery and even lead them towards relapse. The dangers of Schadenfruede in recovery include:
* It means that the individual is too concerned with other people and not their own problems. In order to build a successful recovery they individual needs to keep the focus on their own flaws and failings.
* One of the great joys of recovery is building meaningful relationships. It will be hard for the individual who enjoys other people’s failures to build such relationships.
* The individual can use this as an excuse to relapse. If they find out that somebody else has relapsed back to addiction they can see this as the green light for them to do the same.
* This type of thinking prevents the individual from gaining emotional sobriety. Becoming physically sober is a great start, but it is emotional sobriety that will bring the most happiness for the individual.
* This type of thinking can be a sign that the individual is dealing with dry drunk syndrome. Until the individual gets beyond this there can be no further progress in their recovery.
Those people who are unable to get beyond stinking thinking will struggle to build a good life in recovery. It is the process of getting over these negative thought processes that can be the real work of sobriety.
The individual learns these negative patterns of thinking so it will be possible for people to unlearn them in recovery. They can achieve this by:
* The first step is to identify the problem. If the individual does not realize that their negative thought patterns are harmful they are unlikely to put much effort into overcoming them.
* The individual next needs to develop the willingness to change. When they realize how much these thinking patterns are holding them back then this should be a good incentive to change.
* Escaping negative thinking involves a great deal of hard work, and it will not happen overnight. Sometimes the individual will feel like they are going backwards, but this is all part of the process when it comes to making such changes.
* One of the real difficulties with Schadenfreude and other forms of sticking thinking is that people can slip into these negative thought patterns without realizing it. This is why the individual needs to be vigilant and try to be objective about their own thinking.
* Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool that will help the individual become more objective about their own thinking. It will give them the ability to spot when they have entered a period of unhealthy negativity so they can change course.
* Keeping a journal is highly recommended because it will allow the individual to track their thinking over time. That way they will be able to notice patterns and gauge their own progress.
* Most spiritual paths will require the follower to abandon these negative ways of thinking.
* Those who have joined a 12 Step group will usually find that practicing this program will allow them to overcome stinking thinking. Just turning up to meetings might not be enough by itself to achieve this.
* Loving kindness meditation is an excellent remedy for Schadenfreude. The meditator cultivates goodwill towards other people, even their enemies, and they carry this with them into the rest of their life.
* Helping other people is another way to foster a sense of goodwill towards other humans. In order for this approach to be effective the individual will need to offer their help with humility.
* If people in recovery are suddenly finding themselves dealing with a great deal of negative thinking they should take this as a warning sign. It usually means that they have gone off course in their sobriety.
* The individual needs to cultivate empathetic joy for the achievements of other people. This is the complete opposite emotion to Schadenfreude.