ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

A Spiteful Respite

Updated on February 17, 2016

Cut off my nose to spite my face?

It's an act bearing very little grace

Why would anyone want to cause such mayhem?

~Because it leads to a place where pain won't stay

Shanmarie 4/2/15

… • … • … • … • … • …

The proverbial "they" say that spite is bad, but what if it is not all bad? What if it were used merely as an unintentional coping or defense mechanism that perhaps only the subconscious is aware of at the time of its use. A mechanism that does not inherently have any malicious intent but that still has the potential to annoy or to irritate others. Unlike malicious or purposefully spiteful behavior, however, spite itself is not the satisfaction, rather the feelings of determination and self preservation gained from it.

Sound a bit confusing? Not really. Think about it and explore further, if you will.

Definitions of Spite

Google's ever helpful self describes spite as "a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone" or to deliberately do these things. says it is "a malicious, usually petty, desire to harm, annoy, frustrate, or humiliate another person; bitter ill will; malice." offers two slightly different descriptions:

1. Petty ill will or hatred with the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thrwart

2. A desire to harm, anger, or defeat another person, especially because you feel that you have been treated wrongly in some way

There's a natural law of karma that vindictive people who go out of their way to hurt others will end up broke and alone.

~Sylvester Stallone

Wretched are those who are vindictive and spiteful.

~Pope Francis

It would be spiteful to put a jellyfish in a trifle.

~ Karl Pilkington

Examples of Malicious Spite

Spite is something often acted upon on impulse. When it is purposeful, it means that one consciously chooses to carry out a spiteful act. It is an action meant to cause harm or annoyance to another solely because the spiteful one feels harmed somehow by that person. It is like an impulsive form of revenge. And sometimes it is just a thought.

It happens often among siblings. Say a sibling accidentally breaks his brother's toy. Or maybe the sibling somehow got something the other boy did not get. Now, out of spite, the boy eats the last cookie, knowing it belongs to the sibling. Teens may spread rumors about one another and couples may withhold sex from one another out of spite. A co-worker may get the promotion another wanted, thus prompting the one passed over to hope for his co-worker's failure.

The list could go on and these examples are relatively petty, as spite often is, though even trivial spiteful actions can have serious consequences. It can ruin relationships, cost a coworker his job, or cause loss of property. And when spite is truly malicious, it can even cause bodily harm or death.

While injurious, vindictive behavior is not funny by any means, spiteful thoughts can be. Comic relief works precisely because it is only a thought with no intention of actually hurting someone. If someone actually thought the way the guy in the video below does, it would not be as funny. Especially since spite has potential to poison the soul of the one feeling it, rotting from the inside out.

A humorous look at malicious spite. . .

Spite As a Coping Mechanism

On the other hand, spite can be helpful. It can make a person feel better, if only for a moment, as with seeing humor in it. Or it can work in other ways, like a defense mechanism. Just as spite has the power to destroy, it also has the power to heal.

Think of a soldier that has lost his leg at war. He might feel broken for quite some time. But with the right attitude, he can choose to overcome, if only to spite the enemy, the anger and the doubts. He can run a marathon on a prosthetic.

Spite is used in everyday scenarios as well. When a person decides to prove someone else wrong, spite is at work. Anyone told that success is not an option can rely on it as a motivation to succeed. It may not be a motivator one is completely conscious of, but it works nonetheless. Spite provides a certain repite from the undesired. It works as a coping mechanism for anything from the petty annoyances of everyday life to more serious matters.

The key is not to cut off the nose in order to spite the face even when it seems easier said than done. For instance, people that are not normally prone to holding grudges might hold one solely to avoid facing other negative emotions that would have to be dealt with. In that sense, it is a defense mechanism, probably used in conjunction with avoidance, the way one avoids that which might hurt or be difficult. Yet, the grudge can do more harm when forgiveness is no longer an option.

Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

According to Wikipedia, cutting off the nose to spite the face is a discouragement against acting out of pique or resentment. It is an expression that speaks of causing more harm to one's self than another. It is an overreaction, usually making things worse before they get better.

There are historical examples of governments spiting themselves while spiting another. The Embargo Act of 1807 is one such example. During the embargo, the United States Congress prohibited all imports and exports so that the U.S. could take a stance against the British and French interference. It, of course, also hurt the U.S. economy. For that reason, it is considered to be a great failure. Although, it did have a few benefits in the long run, however unintended. One is that textile and manufacturing industries became more independent and flourished, which meant less reliance on foreign merchants.

Another historic example is of a group of nuns living in an abbess in Coldingham, England during the nineteenth century. When they got word of Vikings coming to attack, the nuns all literally cut off their noses and upper lips. Upon seeing the ugly, bloody sight, the Vikings did not rape the nuns. They still killed the women and burned the monastery. But the women died on their own terms - with their virginity intact.

Perhaps that is really what spite is about. Even with unintentional spite, there is an underlying desire to control or change a situation. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is necessary to give up some of the control. Maybe the key is actually learning how to tell the difference between when to use it and when to let go of it. That is the truly difficult part.

Spite Gone Wrong

To Spite vs. In Spite Of

A possible distinction can be made between 'spite' and 'in spite of'. It may very well be a subtle distinction, but it bears cconsideration.

Some say that 'despite' and 'in spite of' are merely synonymous, in which case, there would not be any difference unless 'despite' references use of the good benefits of spite. What are your thoughts?

Quotes About Spite

I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.

~D.H. Lawrence. Letters (Letter to Cynthia Asquith, November 1913)

An encouraged person will eventually get his drive from encouragement; he becomes dependent. A person that never really receives encouragement learns to move out of spite; he becomes more independent.

~Chriss Jami, Killosophy

When making a point, there are two types of people who may disagree with you: those who can support their reasons and the childish ones who are too worried about being told what to do.

~Chriss Jami, Killosophy

Witholding love is a bit like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

~Matthew Kelly, The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Act of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved

For, like desire, regret seeks not to be analysed but to be satisfied. When one begins to love, one spends one's time not in getting to know what one's love really is, but in making it possible to meet next day. When one abandons love, one seeks not to know one's grief but to offer to her who is causing it that expression of it which seems to be the most moving. One says the things which one feels the need of saying, and which the other will not understand, one speaks for oneself alone. I wrote: 'I had thought that it would not be possible. Alas, I see now that it is not so difficult.' I said also: 'I shall probably not see you again.' I said it while I continued to avoid showing a coldness which she might think affected, and the words, as I wrote them, made me weep because I felt they expressed not what I should have liked to believe but what was probably going to happen.

~Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (In Search of Lost Time, #2)


If you have the time, enjoy some musical examples. Also, an episode of a television show worth watching.

Na-nee-na-na-boo-boo How Do You Like Me Now?

Spite Can Overcome Heartbreak

Spite and Sarcasm Provide Humor

Sometimes the Give A Damn Just Breaks

Cheater's Revenge

Classic Case of Goodbye Spite

When Spite Rots Inside Out


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      ArtDiva 2 years ago

      And, my favorite to add to your list is "The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves."—Victor Hugo. And, yes, as I read this, we often respond to spite with spiteful defense to change up the situation. A well written article with musical examples to boot.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 2 years ago from South Africa

      Shanmarie, you have dissected spite to the bone in this hub.

      Personally I am not able to be spiteful according to the definition 'A desire to harm, anger, or defeat another person'. Although I wish I could be, I can't get myself doing it.

      BUT, if spite is proving to myself and others that I can rise above whatever/whomever has given me the desire to be spiteful, I am indeed the most spiteful person on this planet.

      I think the challenge is to be spiteful in a positive way - by moving on and up to a level where we can be like eagles who don't catch flies.

      Voted up, profound, interesting and useful :)

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Hi ArtDiva. That is indeed a good quote. I thought I had included it, actually. I think most of the time it is just a defensive action or attitude.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Hi Martie. Perhaps I overthink things and dissect too much. But I learn that way, through exploration and making connections. Sometimes discover possibilities I might not have thought of otherwise.

      I am not spiteful in that way either, Martie. I don't guess I wish that I could be, though. I am more sensitive, I think, than I would be. But the alternative is a hardened heart or a vindictively evil one without much room for joy and love.

      Rising above is good. And spite is useful in that manner. In some ways, I wish I could hang onto it more, but then it often starts to feel more akin to holding grudges and I falter.

      Anyway, lots of things got me to thinking and dissecting the issue. One is my.tendency to push people away with it. I do it subconsciously and not with intent to harm. It's about pushing until I can't or don't hurt anymore. And, yes, sometimes I spite myself by doing so.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Just a wonderful hub on a very interesting subject. It is hard for me to look back and decide what I did "in spite of". Pondering such a thing is very good for the soul.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Hi Eric. I was just thinking of something you said to me once. You are one of the few people that encouraged my being direct and speaking it as I see it in the moment. Thanks for that, for appreciating it even when I said something seemingly contrary.

      As for poundering, I've no doubt that you have done many great things in spite of the difficulties. You write about many of them. :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Shan, this is a most comprehensive hub here on spite and an excellent one indeed! Wow, you put a lot of work and thought into this useful piece here, providing the pros and cons as well as great examples.

      I love all of your quotes and music video choices, of which I have seen many.

      You are such a deep thinker and have much to say of importance. I am so glad you do put your thoughts down on paper, well, computer, and share them with us all.

      God bless you, brilliant woman!

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Glad someone thinks it is of importance, Faith.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Wow! I don't think I've ever given "spite" the time it deserves. You not only did your homework, but you wrote a really great hub that should make whoever reads it stop and think in spite of themselves!

      How true your words are. How many times do we decide to excel or do better in spite of what someone has said or done, and yet we only think of spite negatively. Well done.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Thank you so much, Mary. I'm so glad you like it!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Your title pulled me in, shanmarie and I agree with my friends in the comment section - what a comprehensive, thoughtful and heartfelt post.

      I believe firmly in 'rising above it' and tend not to give spite much due - being around positive, loving people like you helps a great deal.

      Hope you are well and sending you a bushel of hugs and smiles, Maria

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Hi Maria! I am glad you liked the title. It's fun to play with words for a title.

      I've often been surrounded by spite. I believe everyone is only human and it happens from time to time. The thing is, for the most loving of people, it happens among close friends and relatives before acquaintances and strangers, and rarely in public. We want to show our best as much as possible. So, unfortunately, those closest see the worst more than others. It's a problem when it is a way of life, in which case, it often shows even to total strangers.

      Thank you so much for your kind words about me. You may give me too much credit, though. I do believe I am good at heart and have good intentions, but as I told Martie, when I am hurting and can't find a resolution, I can be quite pushy without even meaning to be. It is a fault of mine I can't seem to shake because I don't think about it in progress.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Wonderful and interesting Hub, Shanmarie. Much of what we do, including spite, can be seen as a way of coping. We are where we are in consciousness and will 'shift' according to His plans. Grace and self-effort is necessary.

      Meanwhile, what we do, can and do sometimes create pain. Much discernment in your excellent Hub.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Thank you, manatita. Glad you stopped by to read.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      A very interesting perspective on spite. Never thought of it as having other than bad intentions until now. I like articles like this which introduces a different kind of thinking. Thanks!

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Thanks, MsDora! Happy to oblige. I enjoy looking at things differently.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very original and thought provoking analysis.

      Personally I believe all our emotions are healthy in their proper proportion.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Yes, proper proportions indeed. Thanks for your kind words.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      What a great of this emotion--I think of spite as one of those things that cover hurt--and although I have been spiteful in the past it has never fixed the underlying hurt--

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      It does not necessarily fix the underlying cause, but it sounds if you still attempted to cope with it. Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts on the matter, Audrey.

    • Frida Rose profile image

      Frida Rose 2 years ago from Maryland

      I'm guilty of being spiteful to get revenge on someone after they've harmed me. It isn't always the best and it doesn't fix the problem. This hub is perfect and brought out a lot of interesting facts on the subject.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Thank you, Frida. I don't think it is often deliberately done. It just sort of happens. Even those most in.control of emotions and emotional reactions are still only human.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I used Matthew Kelly's quote without knowing who to attribute it to in a hub about anger. I will fix that today, thanks to you. You've looked at this subject from every angle and given me a lot to think about. Sharing.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      Hi, Kathleen! Glad I could help you find the author of the quote. I tend to examine things from various angles once I start. It is not always a strength of mine but more of a hindrance. In this case, glad it seems to have benefits.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 23 months ago from Texas

      Oh Shan, this is awesome and I love all your song choices, every one.

      Thumb up, UABI and shared.

      Blessings and hugs

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 23 months ago from Texas

      Hi Sharon! A fellow music lover, I see. So glad you stopped by. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

    Click to Rate This Article