Masochism – some definitions

Masochism, to me, is not what most people mean when they use the word. Google’s definition tracks this most common usage: “The tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from one’s own pain or humiliation.”

I think of it somewhat differently – more as a sort of unconscious tropism toward pain. Not a conscious pleasure taken in pain, but rather, a powerful, but completely unwitting, commitment to pain. And not, generally (or exclusively), physical pain.

All of us have some masochism (using this definition). We all have painful patterns we repeat, in spite of our conscious desire never to repeat them again. Relationship patterns. Career patterns. Patterns of self-sabotage. On some level, I understand this kind of masochism to reflect some sort of an inner conflict between what we (think we) want and what we (think we) should want. With an overlay of that which we don’t know we want.

So: as I’ve written ad nauseam, I seem to have an unconscious tropism toward women who provide me with the repeated experience of feeling abandoned, alone, neglected, forgotten. Of course, I don’t want this. But this must gratify something in me, because I’ll be damned if I don’t seek it out. Over. And. Over.

So maybe, in me, what this reflects is a conflict between, on the one hand, the desire to be accommodated, attended to, cared for, and on the other, the (unconscious) sense that I don’t deserve what I think I want, that I’m bad. So I set up situations where I chase what I (think I) want, but I get what I (believe I) deserve. A sort of punishment I believe appropriate for my desire.

Obviously, all, or much of, this happens on an unconscious level. Consciously, I’m only aware of the longing for acceptance, accommodation, gratification. But if that were the end of the story, I’d be looking in other places.


Some aphoristic definitions of masochism I just made up:

  • Anger directed inward
  • Inflicting the pain we wish we could inflict on our parents on ourselves
  • Inflicting the pain we think we deserve on ourselves
  • Inflicting the pain our parents inflicted on us on ourselves
  • The triumph of fantastical, unrealistic hope over reality
  • The triumphant conversion of weakness into power, powerlessness into control
  • A doomed attempt to escape from a narrative to which one is committed, inescapably

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