They are not necessarily great evils, but rather small misfortunes that happen to another, but the truth is that sometimes we feel certain pangs of satisfaction when the setbacks of life fall on the friend instead of on ourselves. Why does it happen to us? Are we vile traitors or hypocrites?
Go ahead that they are uncomfortable feelings and that, whatever happens, it does not seem the most convenient to acknowledge them in public. But in any case, there are psychic reasons for this, and the people who experience this feeling may deserve the benefit of the doubt: it is not so bad that he is happy because a partner has not been given that promotion or because a friend has put on several kilos.
Feeling like this is due to the unconscious mechanisms of projection, which allow us to place our fears of evil or failure on the other.
Mónica Sieber Quijano, clinical psychologist
How could it not be? You ask. Is it normal to delight in the evil of others? The well-known popular saying “the dead to the hole, the alive to the bun” alludes to that old feeling of relief that we experience for not being ourselves the ones afflicted by an evil. This is how the clinical psychologist Mónica Sieber Quijano, with her own clinic in Madrid, explains it: “The disease of others confirms that we are not affected by it, that the one next to it suffers” The psychoanalyst clarifies, however, that feeling like this it obeys the unconscious mechanisms of projection, “which allow us to place our fears of evil or failure on the other.” Whether it is habitual or not is more difficult to answer, because those feelings have to do with one’s own personality and self-confidence. “In a sufficient mental health, the evil of others does not report too many benefits of its own. It would be that of Evil of many, consolation of fools… Or immature ”, he explains.
It is striking how this feeling, very similar to envy but not exactly the same, does not find a definition in a language other than German. In Goethe’s language and in cultured contexts the term Schadenfreude to describe that delight or pinch of pleasure that happens with neighbor’s misfortunes. But be careful, because it does not refer only to the pleasure originated by the friend who has lost his job or by the beautiful colleague from the office that her husband has left for another. The term is also used to define what we feel when, for example, our lifelong rival or opponent loses playing against another team, even if it is a battle that does not even concern us (such as being happy that Barça loses playing against any team if we are from Madrid, or the other way around). And, of course, it also happens in the field of business and professional competitiveness, such as when that despotic boss who felt superior was fired.
Envy has something different from the psychoanalytic point of view. To begin with, it is such a negative and shameful feeling that it makes us suffer a lot, as pointed out by the doctor and professor of Psychiatry Félix Larocca. According to the expert, it is all a question of self-esteem: “Although remarkable attributes and exceptional achievements are what attract envy, the quality and quantity of this reflect the origins and the current state of self-esteem of the envious”. Thus, envy could be defined as the desire for what the other has, but not us. “It puts us too much in touch with our feelings of inferiority and that is why it causes us so much discomfort,” explains Larocca. On the other hand, the pleasure for the misfortune of others comes to solve a kind of “situation of indignity or small revenge” for something that, in our understanding, the other in the background merits, explains this same author.
When we rejoice for the evil of others, we do not necessarily present mechanisms of unconscious hatred as clear as those found in envy
It would be, then, a kind of feeling of “you deserve it”, which fills us on the one hand, with satisfaction, but on the other with guilt. Religion Professor John Portmann of the University of Virginia, author of When Bad Things Happen to Other People (When bad things happen to others), he indicates in connection with his work that Americans “love to raise others to a pedestal to lower them later.” And it seems that they are not the only ones. When we rejoice for evil foreign, we do not necessarily present mechanisms of “unconscious hatred” as clear as those found in envy, but it does have in common with it that there is an “affective proximity, necessary for the identification mechanisms to be deployed with that person”, such and as the Madrilenian psychologist clarifies.
It is precisely the projection on the other that leads us to contemplate some differences between the sexes in this field. Thus, women celebrate misfortunes or lack of luck in other women, and men in other men. They suffer in a “dimension of completeness”, as Sieber Quijano indicates. I mean, they live this pseudoenvidia in aspects such as beauty, love success, family and material goods: in general, “that which contributes to giving a woman the appearance that she has everything”. Men, for their part, will not get along, he explains, “issues such as sexual success with women, as the first link of envy, and secondly, professional achievements related to money, recognition and social status.”
For everyone’s peace of mind, it is known that these disparate and contradictory feelings regarding our dearest peers are forged from childhood, and since we are babies. With our own mother, we generate a “paranoid-schizoid” posture, as the famous psychoanalyst Melanie Klein used to say: we observe her as a good object that, on the one hand, shelters and nourishes us, but on the other hand, a darker perception also develops about a lack of attention that fills us with frustration. And that position, waiting for even our loved ones to “play it” on us, in the purest style schadenfreude, we will keep it throughout life.
Blame it on the group
The Theory of Social Identity says that, as members of a social group, we compare ourselves and also with other groups
As in other human behaviors, there seem to be reasons for social adaptation and, therefore, survival, behind the joy for the evil of others. Some scientists have linked the curious phenomenon of schadenfreude with the theories of social comparison initially proposed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s, for which individuals supposedly feel under pressure with respect to the group, and to measure our worth and adequacy we tend to compare ourselves with the community and do what the majority dictates. His colleague Henri Tajfel went one step further in his research by creating the Theory of Social Identity, according to which, as members of a social group, we compare ourselves and also with other groups. The sociologist theorized how comparing ourselves to “lower statuses” makes us feel better as we grow in our positive self-image, by winning the comparison. For this reason, when the other loses, a small inner smile is drawn to us: at least, you have not been defeated.
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