So I don't know if there's a word or short phrase for this scenario or personality trait but examples to help narrow it down. The central premise is sort of "if I can't have it no one can" or "if I have to suffer everybody else must as well".

A story I read from a book I don't remember (I think it was Defining Decade maybe) was a pregnant woman was furious at her husband walking in with junk food (pizza) when she couldn't eat stuff like that. She later noted that it wasn't fair as he was simply making himself feel better by eating something he liked after being stressed and waiting together with the wife through something, and that the celebration flowers happened to unfortunately be delivered after he had come in.

Less similarly from Harry Potter in one of the earlier books (1-3 I think ,but don't remember) fat Dursley kid goes on a diet and as a result everybody in the house goes on a diet together with him, sort of in solidarity.

Even less similarly would be a story about in solidarity somebody's family all shaved their heads because one member had cancer.

It's overall the concept/situation that if one person has to suffer or lack something, everybody else must (arguably needlessly) as well.

  • 1
    It's worth nothing that the phrase in your title is rather idiomatic in its own right. Google reports many hits for "if I can't have it nobody can".
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 21:27
  • @J.R. I'm looking for something even shorter Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


It's probably a little broader than your examples, but the phrase misery loves company comes to mind:

misery loves company

people who are unhappy like to share their troubles with others


Do note that while it's often used negatively (to criticize someone for spreading the negative feelings to others), it doesn't need to be - the CED example makes use of this phrase to communicate empathy:

We'd both just broken up with our boyfriends, so we decided to go see a movie together – misery loves company.


A similar situation is what is known as the "Crab Bucket Effect", "Crab Mentality", or just "Crabs in a Bucket." Any similar phrasing evoking live crabs in any open container will work.

When you have a bucket or container full of live crabs, they will try to climb out. Unfortunately, crabs are not very smart, and the ones at the bottom will see the climbing crabs as a convenient grip to climb on, and will usually pull them back into the bucket. This can be attributed to lack of intelligence rather than malice at their fellow crabs, but the ridiculous scenario looks just like "if I can't escape no one can."


I'm a bit late on this one, but "dog in the manger" is used to describe this attitude. It comes from a fable about a dog in a barn - the dog can't eat the hay, so he chases away the horse, so that the horse can't eat it either. It's used to describe someone who sabotages people out of jealousy, so it fits the idea of "if I can't have it nobody can" (But it doesn't really fit your examples because no one there is being sabotaged.)

OED defines it as:

A person who selfishly prevents another from having or enjoying something, even though he or she has no personal use for it.


Information on the fable is at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dog_in_the_Manger

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