Dealing with the pain of put downs

Dealing with the pain of put downs

I received this request for help just the other day.

“Dear Dr. Rick, Is there any reason why a person feels happy seeing another person unhappy? My husband loves to see me sad, I can feel the pleasure in his eyes. When I´m happy, he finds a way to put me down. Is this a psychological disorder?” 

Here’s what I think about people who seem to find pleasure in the pain of others.  It is likely that there are people who find at least some small measure of happiness in the unhappiness of others.  In my experience, this is a corollary of suppressed anger or unexpressed grievances, for unresolved issues that need understanding and forgiveness. People who lack confidence in themselves might also derive this kind of twisted pleasure.  They build themselves up by putting others down.  But all of this is all too human, so it is NOT a psychological condition. (Although, I suppose, everything is psychological if you think about it!)

If I had to deal with someone who I perceived this way, and particularly if the person hadn’t always been this way, here’s what I would do.   I would seek to uncover the unexpressed grievances or learn more about what is driving the behavior.

For example, you could refuse to make sense out of it, consider it nonsense, and try asking the relevancy question.  First backtrack whatever was being said before his put down comment.  “When you say that,” ( and repeat back what he said,) “what does that” and repeat his offensive comment, ” have to do with this?” ( the thing that was being talked about before his put down.)   Later, I might ask the intent question in private.  “When you say that, ( repeat back his put down,) “what were you really trying to say?”

If he had always (in my experience) been this way, then the more interesting question for you to ask yourself is ‘Why did you choose to be with someone who consistently puts you down?” There is something in psychology called the unfinished gestalt in which a person recreates an old pattern with other people in order to learn the lesson of it and deal with it effectively.

You can find more information on the relevancy and intent questions and how to use them in my book, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand in the chapter on The Sniper.  This book is available through the store at  Additional information can be found in my ebook, Dealing With Relatives, in the chapters on the VIP and the Judge.