Emotion Thesaurus Entry: SCHADENFREUDE

Source: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, 2nd edition.

DEFINITION: Malicious enjoyment from the suffering or unhappiness of others


  • A sneer, followed by a bark of laughter
  • Squinting (from the force of one’s grin)
  • Fingers that alternately flex and curl into fists
  • The face and neck flushing with pleasure
  • Having a wild-eyed look
  • Tipping the head back
  • An unkind smile spreading slowly over the face
  • Pumping one’s fist at the sky
  • Chuckling unpleasantly
  • One’s chest rising and falling as breaths come quicker and faster
  • Rubbing the hands together
  • Drawing out one’s words: Would you look…at…that!
  • Verbally kicking someone when they’re down: You’ll never fit in here.
  • Nodding one’s head rapidly
  • Wetting the lips
  • Bouncing in place or shifting from one foot to the other
  • Seeking to benefit from the situation—e.g., making a bet against the victim
  • Looking the person up and down with a disgusted expression
  • Standing back and watching with an intense gaze
  • Egging on whoever is doing the hurting
  • Joining in the attack on the victim
  • Slapping one’s hands against the cheeks while the mouth hangs open in mock horror, then pointing at one’s rival and grinning
  • Savoring the moment with one’s friends (shaking heads scornfully, giving high fives, etc.)
  • Muscles that quiver and shake
  • A muscle tic jumping in the cheek, jaw, or neck
  • Clapping and jeering
  • Asking questions designed to make the person squirm: You did prepare for this, right?
  • Mumbling or muttering under the breath: Yeah, do it, or Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
  • Crossing the arms so firmly the fingers dig into the biceps
  • Squatting down to get on the same level with the victim
  • Watching raptly but silently, the fingers steepled in front of one’s mouth
  • Relishing a secret’s reveal: Mom, did you know it was Jess who backed into your car last week?
  • Not responding to requests for help
  • Toying with the victim—e.g., reaching out a hand as if to help, then jerking it back
  • Catching the victim’s eye and making a fake “pouty” face
  • Talking about the experience later with friends


  • A flush of warmth through the body
  • Feeling light-headed with adrenaline
  • An expansive feeling in the chest
  • A heady rush of power; feeling invincible
  • A buzzing sensation in the extremities
  • Twitchy muscles
  • Weakness in the knees as the adrenaline wears off


  • One’s focus narrowing on the victim; everything else fading away
  • Fantasizing about participating in the victim’s misfortune
  • Feeling vindicated (if one had been mistreated by the victim in the past)
  • Wanting to continue the feeling of satisfaction by engaging in other harmful activities (trashing a hotel room, vandalizing someone’s car, brawling, etc.)
  • Justifying one’s feelings by blaming the victim or recalling their faults


  • Yelling oneself hoarse
  • Profuse sweating
  • Decreased empathy for people in general
  • Wanting more (and more extreme) pain for the victim
  • Becoming sexually aroused (sadism)


  • A smile that one tries (and fails) to restrain
  • Making eye contact with the victim and shrugging with a smile
  • Looking away (breaking eye contact)
  • Darting glances at others to see their emotional states before reacting
  • Positioning oneself so one can witness the mistreatment without being seen
  • Claiming to have no knowledge of the situation
  • Making passive-aggressive or ambiguous comments: Oh, you poor thing.
  • Watching with a stony face that seems to be devoid of emotion

MAY ESCALATE TO: Elation, Hysteria, Vengeful, Vindicated

MAY DE-ESCALATE TO: Conflicted, Doubt, Guilt, Shame

ASSOCIATED POWER VERBS: Bash, bask, belittle, cackle, castigate, cheer, clap, crow, crucify, declare, delight, enjoy, flaunt, gloat, humiliate, jeer, lambaste, lord, mock, preen, pretend, relish, savor, scoff, shout, simper, smirk, sneer, snicker, taunt, titter, torment

WRITER’S TIP: When you’re trying to write a specific character’s emotional reaction to a situation, remember that their core personality traits, past experiences, and deepest fears will steer their actions.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) is a one-of-a-kind resource that helps writers brainstorm stronger, more compelling descriptions of emotion. Visit this link to view the list of 130 emotions included in this book.

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