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The myth of masochism.

  • Bonime, W
Published Article
The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1995
PMID: 7558979


The personality disorder called "Masochism," which traditionally has been regarded as a preference for and pursuit of suffering is dynamically misconceived. There presently is no fundamental agreement on a diagnostic category for this personality disorder. There are aspects of what is called masochism, such as sexual arousal associated with pain, which have not been considered in this study. I feel that the essential nature of the pain in those designated as masochists is low self-esteem and that it develops in a childhood context of inadequate loving nurturance. I strongly believe that low self-esteem evolves from and is maintained by the competitive social milieu and a resultant personal functioning, which is diffusely competitive. The competitive activity is often associated unawarely with cynicism (Bonime, 1989). The gratification of victory substitutes for the gratifications of intimacy and growth, but is relatively brief, and although it produces some self acceptance, it is never enough to overcome the basic low feeling about oneself. Here was Marjorie, a woman who had miserably low self-esteem as a child, as low as being "just a crack in the door." As an adult, as shown in her dream, she felt like a woman full of shit that comes out involuntarily. She struggled to keep from being exposed as such and ached with humiliation or inwardly--and sometimes openly--raged when some distasteful quality or inadequacy showed or threatened to show. This pained person strove to overcome her sense of inadequacy as a person. She overcame it by succeeding in outdoing others according to her private, competitive standards. Her criteria of value were success in evoking signs of approval and sustaining herself while suffering, while "taking it." Her highest value was being able to take it, to suffer intensely without breaking. She was cynical and never sensed for long that she was genuinely regarded as an acceptable human being. She didn't believe in the existence of any genuine caring. She dreamt of an ecstatic evening dining, dancing, and having wonderful sex with "Bill" who she felt was an exceptional man. Later in the dream, she expected the same ecstasy the following evening with him. However, he said to her they couldn't go on because she was cruel. Almost always the prospect of an enjoyable situation "scared" her because it required her to abandon her protective cynicism, which made her a defeatable, exploitable target for the cynicism and competitiveness of others.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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