Ask Difference

Cruelty vs. Sadism — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on October 16, 2023
Cruelty involves causing pain or suffering without feeling, while sadism is taking pleasure in causing that pain or suffering.
Cruelty vs. Sadism — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Cruelty and Sadism


Key Differences

Cruelty can be described as an indifference or insensitivity to the pain or suffering of others, whether intentionally inflicted or not. Sadism, on the other hand, is an active pursuit and derives pleasure from seeing or causing that pain or suffering. While cruelty might result from neglect, indifference, or malice, sadism operates on a more intrinsic level, with the perpetrator drawing satisfaction from the act.
Cruelty can manifest in many forms, from verbal to physical, and may not always have an underlying motive. Sadism, however, is a specific type of cruelty where the motive is clear: the pleasure or gratification the sadist derives from the victim's pain. While all sadists are inherently cruel, not all acts of cruelty are driven by sadistic tendencies.
Acts of cruelty might arise from factors like ignorance, carelessness, or a momentary lapse in judgment. Sadism, conversely, has a psychological underpinning. It's not just about causing harm, but relishing the act and its consequences. Sadists find joy or excitement in the suffering of others, making their actions deliberate and purposeful.

Comparison Chart


Causing pain or suffering without empathy
Taking pleasure in causing pain or suffering


May or may not be intentional
Always intentional


Can arise from ignorance, carelessness, or malice
Driven by personal pleasure or gratification

Psychological Basis

Lacks an intrinsic need to cause harm
Derives intrinsic satisfaction from the act

General Perception

Broad spectrum of unkind actions
Specific, pleasure-driven infliction of pain

Compare with Definitions


Inflicting pain or hardship without remorse.
His cruelty towards his employees made him unpopular.


Intentional infliction of pain for personal enjoyment.
The captor's sadism was evident in the torment he devised.


A lack of kindness or compassion.
The teacher's cruelty in mocking the student was evident to all.


Deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on others.
His sadism became apparent when he laughed at the injured bird.


An act of causing pain or distress.
The cruelty of the prank was clear when she burst into tears.


Delight in cruelty.
The story was dark, filled with moments of sheer sadism.


A disposition to cause suffering.
The dictator's cruelty knew no bounds.


A disorder where one finds joy in the distress of others.
His sadism became a matter of concern for the therapists.


Insensitivity or indifference to suffering.
The cruelty of leaving a pet alone for days is undeniable.


A psychological tendency to gain gratification from causing physical or emotional harm.
The villain's sadism was his most terrifying trait.


The quality or condition of being cruel.


The deriving of sexual gratification from fantasies or acts that involve causing others to suffer physical or mental pain. Also called sexual sadism.


Something, such as a cruel act or remark, that causes pain or suffering.


The deriving of pleasure from cruelty.


(Law) The intentional infliction of physical or mental distress, especially when considered as a basis for granting a divorce.


Extreme cruelty
Video games that are full of sadism.


(uncountable) An indifference to suffering or pleasure in inflicting suffering.


The enjoyment of inflicting pain or humiliation without pity.


(countable) A cruel act.


Achievement of sexual gratification by inflicting pain or humiliation on others, or watching pain or humiliation inflicted on others.


The attribute or quality of being cruel; a disposition to give unnecessary pain or suffering to others; inhumanity; barbarity.
Pierced through the heart with your stern cruelty.


(loosely) Deliberate or wanton cruelty, either mental or physical, to other people, or to animals, regardless of whether for (sexual) gratification.


A cruel and barbarous deed; inhuman treatment; the act of willfully causing unnecessary pain.
Cruelties worthy of the dungeons of the Inquisition.


Sexual pleasure obtained by inflicting harm (physical or psychological) on others


A cruel act; a deliberate infliction of pain and suffering


Feelings of extreme heartlessness


The quality of being cruel and causing tension or annoyance

Common Curiosities

Is sadism a psychological disorder?

Sadism can be considered a psychological disorder when it severely impacts one's behavior or relationships.

How does sadism differ from general cruelty?

Sadism specifically refers to deriving pleasure or gratification from inflicting pain or suffering.

Can animals display cruelty or sadism?

Animals can display aggressive behaviors, but human definitions of cruelty and sadism are based on complex psychological motivations.

Is sadism always related to physical harm?

No, sadism can also involve deriving pleasure from emotional or psychological harm.

Is cruelty always intentional?

No, cruelty can sometimes result from ignorance, neglect, or carelessness.

How can one recognize sadistic behavior?

Sadistic behavior often involves deliberate acts of harm coupled with evident pleasure or gratification.

Can sadism be treated or managed?

Yes, therapy and counseling can help individuals manage or reduce sadistic tendencies.

Can an act be cruel without being sadistic?

Yes, cruelty can arise from ignorance or carelessness, without any intent to derive pleasure.

Why do people exhibit cruelty?

Causes of cruelty can range from past trauma, environmental factors, to inherent personality traits.

What is the essence of cruelty?

Cruelty involves causing pain or suffering to others, often without remorse or empathy.

Do all cultures view cruelty and sadism in the same light?

Cultural norms and values can influence perceptions of cruelty and sadism, so they might be viewed differently across cultures.

Is there a link between sadism and other personality disorders?

Sadism can be associated with certain personality disorders, but it's essential to consult experts for a clear diagnosis.

Can media or entertainment influence sadistic tendencies?

While media can influence behavior, inherent sadistic tendencies usually have deeper psychological origins.

Are children capable of sadism?

Children can display aggressive behaviors, but labeling them as sadistic requires careful psychological evaluation.

Is there a difference between being sadistic and having a sadistic sense of humor?

Yes, a sadistic sense of humor involves finding humor in others' discomfort but doesn't necessarily involve causing actual harm.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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