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June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

The Misery of Others

As you may know, I’m working on my first novel.  I’m taking all the writing classes I can.  Currently, I’m taking a “Master the Scene” class.  I want to share a sentence:

“Readers live for schadenfreude – the delight in the misery of others.”

Is that true?  Please don’t just jump to “no, of course not.”  Think about it for a few minutes.  Start with your favorite book or movie or play.  What is it that drew you?  If you had to summarize the work in 3 sentences, what would you write?  Would one of those sentences be about misery?

I’ve done that little exercise.  I thought through the last five books I’ve enjoyed and recommended to others.  And, yep, each one involved misery.  Someone started off miserable or was made miserable.  Truthfully, you can’t actually have a real story without misery – that’s the drama.  I think it’s that word – misery – that has me stumbling. 

I looked up misery in the dictionary: 

a. The state of suffering and want as a result of physical circumstances or extreme poverty

b. Mental or emotional unhappiness or distress

Synonyms:  trial, tribulation, trial and tribulation, test, ordeal; load, burden, heavy load or burden; trouble, adversity, misfortune, affliction, suffering, distress, oppression, mortification; blow, shock, stab, pain, throe. 

I would add worry to this list.

Okay, misery is the right word to describe the best elements of drama. 

Do I Delight In The Misery of Others?

We live in reality not fiction.  What I’m wondering is do I “delight in the misery of others”?  I want to be able to shout “no” from the rooftops.  I can’t.

If I’m honest and vulnerable (and that’s the point of this blog), then I have to admit:

  • When someone around me is suffering, I get to feel needed/important/valuable.
  • When someone around me is suffering, I get to not feel alone in my own suffering.
  • Sometimes, when someone around me is suffering, I get to feel superior --- now that’s frigging hard to admit.
  • When someone who has hurt me suffers, I get to feel vindicated --- ugh!

Do I WANT Someone To Be Miserable?

I really hope not.  I don’t think I do.  I can’t think of anyone I want to be miserable.  I can admit that there are some people I’m apathetic towards.  I can even admit there are some people -- while I don’t actively hope they are miserable -- I get a little tingle when karma arrives.

Misery is part of the human experience.  All people will feel miserable at some point.  That’s why we identify with novels, movies, plays.  We see ourselves in the characters, in the stories.

Do I Delight in the Misery of ME?

It dawned on me as I thought of my attitude toward others, the person whose misery I’m most comfortable with is my own.  Sometimes I wallow in it.  Oftentimes, I know strategies to reduce my misery and I don’t employ them.  That’s true for a lot of people.  For example, we all know these techniques:  walking/exercising, eating right, avoiding harmful substances, talking through problems, practicing mindfulness, help someone else, engage in something creative – there’s no rocket science there. 

Yet, how many of us bask in our misery?  How many of us let the negative thoughts have dominion?  How many of us follow the negative thoughts into even darker territory?  How many of us spend time proving the negative true instead of fighting back?  How many of us hide, escape, run? 

How about this one:  how many of us enjoy the attention our misery provides?  Do you have that woe-is-me person in your life?  Are you that person in someone’s life?  Be honest with yourself.  It’s hard to dig that deep and find the places where you feed of your own misery.  But if we don’t find them, how can we ever eradicate them?

Defining My Misery

I’m not sure how to define where I feel misery.  I guess I’ll just have to pay careful attention to what my body and brain are telling me.  I’ll capture those negative thoughts and analyze the real source.  I’ll keep you posted as I root around.  What will I do when I find these misery bubbles?

Misery Vs. Hope

While we may “delight in the misery of others” and ourselves, we HOPE for misery to end.

Think about it – if there is no misery, there is no need for hope.  Many of you are shaking your head thinking “duh” – but for some reason putting that in words is a revelation to me.  I had to use the dictionary again:

Hope:  To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment

I’m sitting her wondering what I currently hope for.  Do these hopes have a corresponding misery?

Some of you have deep misery – loss of loved one, loss of security, loss of health or dignity.  LOSS.  Grief is a misery in its own category.  If this is you, please watch the video I linked below.

Extending Hope

I wish I could extend hope to you.  But I think hope is something we have to develop ourselves.  Just like no one can live our misery exactly as we do, no one can create the hope you need.   We have to search for hope in our lives.  We have to LABEL it – be intentional in finding it. 

Hope is a mystery.  HOPE IS A CHOICE.  Choose to LIVE IN WISDOM and NOT IN WOE.

Try to find 26 minutes to watch this video:
Choices that can Change your Life | Caroline Myss


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June Converse with purple hair
Choosing to rebuild a life after a breakdown has been a challenge. I became an author and a blogger who openly shares...


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