How to Spot a Sadist

March 17, 2019
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A sadist is a term that describes an individual who enjoys causing pain, retribution, and shame in others.  Sadists obtain great enjoyment and satisfaction from causing anguish and distress in others.  The term sadism derives from an 18th century Frenchman, Marquis de Sade, who was famous for penning aggressive, malicious, and ruthless literature about sexuality.  Sade was said to endorse aggression in sexuality and thus, sadism historically referred to a situation where a person gained sexual pleasure from imposing pain on others.  Throughout time, the definition of sadism has become broader and more universal, as it is currently not required to involve issues of sexuality.  Today’s understanding of a sadist means that an individual is knowingly and thoughtlessly causing pain and unhappiness in another person.     

Most people erroneously equate sadists to be criminals, rapists, and serial killers, but this is often not the case.  Sadists are actually not likely to perform criminal or dangerous acts where there is a possibility of punishment or societal disapproval.   Individuals with a sadist personality are actually relatively common and walk amongst us in everyday life.  Sadists show an overall lack of empathy, an internal motivation to harm others, and can be quickly identified in incidents of bullying and coercion.  Sadists hurt others emotionally, mentally, or physically and enjoy chipping away at one’s self-esteem and confidence.  Sadists enjoy and gain satisfaction from watching the discomfort of another.  Thankfully, it is fairly easy to spot and avoid getting involved with a sadist.

Sadists can be identified as individuals who are consistently making cruel and passive-aggressive jokes towards others.  Sadists utilize sarcasm and make digs at people to weaken a person’s confidence and self-esteem.  Sadists enjoy tearing others down by manipulating, gossiping, spreading rumors, and causing drama in social settings.  Sadists like to watch others cry and enjoy seeing others hurt.  Sadists are rude to people that are trying to help them, such as servers in a restaurant or tellers in a bank.

One of the most important identifying factors in spotting a sadist derives from a gut feeling when you recognize that another person is taking enjoyment in your hurt and suffering.  A sadist is one who simply cannot show empathy towards others and cannot be convinced to view situations in a different way.  A sadist obtains great pleasure in completely and openly humiliating other people.  They love to highlight a person’s insecurities, to embarrass them, and to dishonor others for pure recreation.

A sadist can be spotted in a relationship when they utilize aggression, force, or threats to get what they want, while lacking remorse and compassion.  Sadists utilize cruelty to obtain power, dominance, and control.  Sadists may also be cruel simply because they find it humorous and a productive way to pass time.  Sadists are constantly scheming, calculating, and manipulative in relationships with people they are close with.  Power and dominance are part of the adrenaline rush that sadists experience when they are mean to others.

Other individuals characterize a sadist as a vicious person and usually tend to warn others about them.  Sadists cannot hide their cruelty and manipulative tendencies and prey upon those who are willing to give them a chance.  Some people may initially give sadists the benefit of the doubt and try to teach and instill empathy, but quickly realize that their efforts are futile. 

Sadism has been found to correlate with trolling the internet and with cyber-bullying.  Individuals that attempt to cause chaos on the internet and in social media forums are known as trolls and gain enjoyment and pleasure from trying to trigger emotional responses in others.  Cyber-bullying utilizes technology, social media, and electronic forms of communication to intimidate and bully other people. 

Although sadists are everywhere amongst us, they thankfully can be spotted and avoided fairly easily.  Keep a general lookout for those who are malicious and spiteful, who lack empathy, and who manipulate and scheme for pure personal enjoyment.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.