Masochists, Martyrs, and Victims

I’ve been going through old files of articles and clippings, trying to simplify my life.  While younger people talk about productivity and greed, I look at the yellowed and dusty results of having produced and saved too much that has nowhere to go, except the trash.  The exercise is gratifying and humbling, because I used to know and care about many more things than I do now.  There are remnants of lost causes, one of which was my career.

I re-read ‘The Masochistic Personality,” by Stuart S. Asch, a psychiatrist who claims a difference between the sexual masochist and the personality type.  The former gets his kicks by being dominated and abused by a certain type of person.  The personality type is not specifically sexual but courts disappointment or humiliation.  The term is derived from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a 19th century Austrian novelist who wrote about sexual gratification from self-inflicted pain.  Some psychiatrists believe self-mutilation is also one of the traits.

The article focuses on the personality type, which has been dropped from the official list of psychiatric diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), although the term retains historical and descriptive usefulness.  Asch says masochists desperately seek approval and love.  The masochist is strongly self-critical, having introjected an abusing authority figure who approves of self-punishment for forbidden sexual or aggressive thoughts or behavior.  Masochists will abase themselves repeatedly or in ever more humiliating gestures to obtain the approval or extract guilt from the unloving, rejecting love object.  They tend to blame fate for their repeated failures.

Asch mentions animals, who apparently develop more intense bonds to an adult that inflicts pain in early life.  Indeed, in human beings, there seems to be a pattern of stronger attachment to an abusing parent.  Genetic theories have contributed.

Asch doesn’t discuss sadism, with that term ascribed to the Marquis de Sade, who wrote in the 18th century about people who experienced sexual pleasure by inflicting pain on others.  Sigmund Freud attributed this to fear of castration, which leads the sadist to act out his fear on others.  In my view, masochists and sadists need each other, and each carries traits of the other, like two sides of a coin.  The metal that binds them together is blame.

The coin of blame buys religions, lawyers, governments, soldiers and toys. Everything from religion to law to parenting holds self-sacrifice as a noble standard, in the name of loyalty, duty, or spiritual progress.  Society at large reinforces the sado-masochistic power struggles that have become the “norm” for Western beliefs.  To falter brings guilt and, often, punishment. The ominous “they” are blamed for universal problems that “we” feed into without acknowledging “our” contributions.

I read with the distance of time and recuperation from the world of medicine.  There is such rigid judgmentalism built into the discipline that patients become guilty just by being patients.  I can already hear the screams of protest from my former “colleagues,” who are masochists for putting up with this arbitrary system of classification known as the DSM-V  and who collude with such an inhumane approach in the name of scientific objectivity.

Moreover, psychiatry as a discipline errs by not addressing the generalized ills built into the national psyche.  For psychiatrists as a group to diagnose and presume to treat the individual effects of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), for instance, without addressing the causes of PTSD—primarily war–is abhorrent.  To attempt or pretend to treat symptoms of substance abuse or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or even depression, without delving into society’s contribution to the problems is, to me, an abdication of responsibility that puts the profession to shame.

What does this have to do with masochism?  Maybe nothing, except that by taking such a narrow view, the institution of medicine begs to be punished, as though it knows it’s wrong but will continue unchecked until something or someone puts a stop to it.

The victim role is the hardest to give up.  It’s easy to blame someone else when things don’t work out.  The masochist holds grudges and denies his role in his own trajectory.  He will find or create a controlling sadist to manage his life for him.  Power struggles ensue, with each blaming the other when things go wrong. Unfortunately, healthier choices are overlooked in this struggle, one that erodes self-respect and mutual trust.

Drug use going up?  Suicide rates rising?  All manner of psychiatric and physical illnesses swelling like a pregnancy?  Violence increasing?  Fear and anger seeking catalysts to ignite them into something cataclysmic and definitive?  Look for someone and possibly many people or groups to blame.

A retrospective analysis of “The Masochistic Personality” reveals more about psychiatry’s limitations than its strengths in understanding human nature.  Perhaps psychiatry’s move from early, descriptive interpretations to the codified DSM, its increasing reliance on medications, technology, and “scientific,” measurable results, under the pretext of objectivity, renders it less human and compassionate, and thus less relevant to real life.

From the beginning of my studies, I noted the preoccupation with pathology.  What a difference from astrology, which shows the dynamic interplay of strengths, weaknesses, and how perception often determines the difference.  Oriental belief in qi gives a similar picture of dynamic patterns, with a concentration on health maintenance.

In contrast, the Western love affair with trouble, under the guise of reason, logic, sequential, and binary thinking, that shows in its approach to medicine, is like putting blinders on to see only a narrow range of information and to deny everything outside the limited field.

No one else attempts to diagnose society at large, but I see unsettling correlations between Freud’s anal stage of psychosexual development and the current sado-masochistic world we live in.  Have Americans been unable to mature beyond the “terrible twos,” the age at which Freud claimed toddlers learn sphincter control and appropriate use of power?  Successful negotiation of this stage leads to good boundaries, healthy respect for self and others, and the ability to tolerate a degree of frustration. Shame and doubt mark those who fail at this task.  They are prone to power struggles with internal and external authority figures throughout life.

A culture carries its own karma.  I don’t understand the blame game.  I don’t blame anyone or anything for what we have created, because blame only perpetuates the problem, at the expense of solving the problem.  Not to avoid the problem but to understand that anyone could have created it, and everyone can learn from it – this is the challenge.

 

 

22 thoughts on “Masochists, Martyrs, and Victims

  1. feistyfroggy

    Very interesting post. I agree with you that the field of medicine and society in general only wants to treat symptoms rather than delving deeper into root causes. In all my years as a Special Education teacher I repeatedly said that we shouldn’t just be “treating” the child–we needed to look at the family unit–as well as the implied societal hierarchy. Unfortunately that was way too big of a task for a school system. The family unit has been under attack for years and I believe we are seeing the fall out in many ways from the destruction of the traditional family.

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      Feisty, As I see it from the outside, it seems the school system competes with the family then blames the family when kids don’t do well. Teachers possibly get caught in the middle. I imagine it’s especially hard for Special Ed teachers, as there’s so much misunderstanding about it.

      Reply
  2. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Katharine, in relation to victimology and the blame game – it is all due to avoidance of the Self. Every culture and nation also has its own collective psyche and every psyche has a dark side, a shadow. It is the avoidance of the own (collective and personal shadow) that causes the blame and projection. Perhaps more people will eventfully come around to C.G. Jung’s analytical psychology, which provides real solutions if people would only have the courage to deal with them (their) Selves and the dark side of their own culture and / or nation, instead of projecting it on others. Let’s hope for such a day to arrive soon and there may just be more peace on earth.

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      JJ,
      Thanks for your comment. Jung was a genius and groundbreaker in his own right. He went way beyond Freud in his understanding. I recently read an article about Jungian shamanism. The author claimed Jung might qualify as a shaman and gave reasons for the assertion.

      Jung remains a bright light and has influenced me quite a lot. But both he and Freud were afraid of what Jung called the “shadow” side and Freud called the “id.” Both were also steeped in monotheistic tradition, which preaches “good” and “evil.” I think it behooves us to get past this absolutism, because what’s “good” in one context can be “evil” in another, and vice versa.

      Point is that the “shadows” have been demonized by our fear of them. The fear of looking within seems conditioned by religious and cultural inhibitions, yet self-knowledge can be a beautiful thing. There are unlimited gifts awaiting discovery, once we take the risk of journeying into the psyche. (Maybe the current drug culture is a misguided effort to connect with the Self.)

      This is the message that needs to get out.

      Reply
      1. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

        Katharine,

        I think Jung and Freud were correct in approaching the shadow with caution, but Jung especially motivated people to explore and get to know their shadow in order to acknowledge it and dissolve it. Some people unfortunately indulge (in) their shadow instead of working to dissolve it, so it’s quite complex in how one approaches it. I would say that generally noways people just avoid the issue altogether and tend to side-step the matter of the personal or group shadow, so there’s very little introspection going on. so people tend to not see their own very negative and sometimes even dangerous (group) behavior:
        http://jungiancenter.org/wp/understanding-what-were-dealing-with-jung-on-the-antichrist-archetype

      2. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        Maybe so, which is why it’s important for others to light the way. Light dissolves shadows, and if you can carry your own light, you cast no shadow.

      3. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        PS. I just checked out your link to the Jungian center. The article was long and hard on my eyes to read, but I realized I part ways with Jung regarding duality. Consequently, the Christ/Antichrist idea, though widespread, seems to simplistic, given that mankind can only perceive a part of the picture. My eclectic philosophy embraces a universal consciousness that works everything to advantage.

        I guess Jung put Christian interpretations on the sign of Pisces, but astrology is not Christian. In fact, one of the things I like about it is that it is so non-denominational. A horoscope is simply a symbolic map of a moment in space and time. The symbols span the gamut of “frequencies” related to each of the planets, signs, and houses, with strengths and weaknesses revealed in the relationships they make to each other. There’s no concept of “good” or “evil,” so astrology fosters a kind of tolerance for all.

  3. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Katherine,
    I think the concept of good and evil is universal, not only Christian and it’s just another expression of light and dark, albeit extreme light and extreme dark, while there are in fact many shades of grey in-between, In Mayan mythology for example there is a Christ-like figure called Quetzalcoatl
    (in one of the versions of the myth Quetzalcoatl was born by a virgin), but the Mayans (and other ancient belief systems) always take the positive and negative aspects of all their deities or gods into account, whereas Christianity perhaps tends to omit the duality aspect and only considers the good, which probably carries over onto how Christians view good vs evil, which could also lead them to want to view themselves only as “good”. So, I agree with you that having fear of the shadow or “evil” can put a lot of people off from introspecting, because they would be really scared of what may lurk beneath – especially if they are committed to the idea if being “good”.

    I think Jung took all of this into account, but I read an essay about Jung on Evil where it says he believed real real evil did exist – and I think most people would agree that a lot of what happened during the 2nd WW constituted real evil. So, denying that evil exists would be a mistake, I believe. For example is is happening in many places in the world today. If we deny it, we ignore it and avoid it, just like we avoid the inner shadow we then tend to avoid the external shadows.

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      JJ,
      This is a long conversation, over coffee or a beer someday, maybe. I just don’t feel I’m in a position to judge, but who is? Are animals evil, even though they kill? While we might call certain acts good or evil, such as what happened in the Holocaust, I could claim that war itself is evil, and the Holocaust was an act of war.

      To rehash it repeatedly doesn’t help, either. Considering the state of the world today, it appears no one has learned anything useful from it.

      Reply
  4. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Katharine,
    Yes, you are right it’s a long debate – and perhaps not the kind of debate that could lead to a final agreement as people will always have their own views – there is duality in everything and everyone. I will say this, however: If we will not judge the holocaust, or ethnic cleansing or genocide as evil, because we think to ourselves: “Who am I to judge”, it would be us who who condone such activities and by condoning it we would be supporting it. In other words by not being against something we end up being for something. That is the nature of duality in some cases – we are not afforded a neutral position without being implicated either way. You said in an earlier comment that “evil” can be seen as “good” in some cases and vice versa. I would agree that is possible in SOME cases, but in others it is not. The holocaust, or ethnic cleansing or genocide cannot be “good” under any circumstances and they should be condemned – emphasis added. If for example any of these circumstances arrive in your region or neighborhood, no doubt you will find a moral position on it quite quickly, but while it happens far away or happened in the past, the intellectual distance from the subject affords you the privilege of not taking a stance and remaining neutral or apathetic, but what purpose does such apathy serve, except for avoiding being a positive force in a world of polarity as an energetic foundation?

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      JJ,
      You believe in polarity, but I don’t. I believe good can contain evil and raise it into the light.

      Have you ever heard of the “repetition compulsion”? It’s the tendency to relive trauma over and over, characterized by Freud in 1914. I wonder if our tendency to re-hash the Holocaust repeatedly falls into that category. It may also explain the human drive to make endless war.

      Reply
      1. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

        Katharine, even if you don’t believe in polarity, compassion would usually compel a person, any person (who has compassion) to denounce such crimes against humanity – to me it is quite simple in such cases – a judgement will be made either way by having compassion or not having it, I don’t believe there is a human drive to make endless war. Many wars have been staved off or not launched because of compassion. In many other cases the shadow took over and drove some people (usually some leader/rulers who set the whole think in motion and then the masses follow) to war. A compassionate leader can make all the difference. The real peacemakers in the world have always has compassion and have saved millions of lives.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        I am and have always been a pacifist. I don’t understand man’s humanity to man, on large or small scales. I don’t understand man’s inhumanity to animals or nature, either.

        I also believe “evil” or “sin” is its own punishment, that we are all immortal beings who ultimately will have to face consequences or reap rewards for our thoughts and actions. An “evil” deed is not the same as an “evil” character. I can judge the former but dare not judge the latter. As you say, our own shadows, in the same context, might be capable of similar atrocities. Remember, Hitler could not have done what he did without a whole lot of help and subtle, if not overt, support. There were many shadows acting out. Same with Stalin, and other mass murderers.

      3. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

        Katherine, yes the subtle support (then and now) comes from people who refuse to speak out against atrocities. By not speaking out they condone it. That is the problem with people not having a clear position on right or wrong, because not saying something is clearly wrong in such instances, Pacifists have taken a clear position – that is why they call themselves pacifists. I have no problem with saying that atrocities are wrong, because I am a pacifist. Yet, it seems to me you have some difficulties in doing the same – why are we having such a long debate about something so simple? Wrong is wrong when it comes to certain things. You can’t have it both ways. You want to call yourself a pacifist, but at the same time you want to believe there is no polarity, i.e. wrong vs right.

      4. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        War is wrong, OK?

        One of my favorite philosophers says you don’t stop war by hating war. You stop war by loving peace. His point was that you feed problems by focusing on them. And there’s a Buddhist saying that “You become what you hate.” I could turn that around to saying you also become what you love.

        What you seem to think is my denial of a problem is a belief that we are focused too much on problems and not enough on what we want, instead.

      5. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

        Katharine, my point is that war and genocide and ethic cleansing can be stopped or limited or reduced or avoided by speaking out against it – they cannot be limited or reduced or stopped by looking the other way (if they are ignored they will simply continue). It has nothing to do with “hate”.

      6. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        But of course. I have bee speaking out against abuse of power as long as I can remember and encourage others who do it, too. Abuses of power are so deeply entrenched that they can be overwhelming, though, and one person can only do so much.

      7. katharineotto Post author

        JJ,
        My philosophy is that the one point of stability in the universe is love. It is at the center of all things, but it’s manifested in different ways. I don’t know of one person who believes himself/herself to be evil.

  5. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

    Katharine, good point about not knowing one person who believes himself/herself to be evil.That is also the main problem – a lack of introspection means a denial of the shadow-side, so we can only see and only want to see the good-side in ourselves while all people and nations have two sides.
    This is also why history returns, because each generation has to work through their shadow anew and if they don’t do that they are bound to fall into the same pitfalls as generations of the past. So that’s why human rights abuses still happen and that’s why people still deny that they are happening – because they refuse to face up to the evil in the world – the would rather deny it.

    I’ll leave it there, but here is the exploration of Jung’s view on evil – well worth a read as it explores all these themes:

    Click to access 2-LE11-Jung.pdf

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      JJ,
      I’ll leave it, too, with this last thought, which occurred to me yesterday. I decided compassion is torture. It’s painful to witness others’ suffering, especially when you feel helpless to alleviate it. It’s worse when there’s so much suffering that you don’t know where to begin.

      Will read Jung’;s view on evil soon . . .

      Reply
      1. Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

        Katharine, it is a burden we have to carry, I believe – as hard as it is, because it keeps us human – and being human (humane) is hard work and it causes suffering. Going cold is easier, but it comes as the cost of losing one’s humanity.

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