A Jungian View
Before science regarded masochism as a disease, religion regarded it as a cure.
Masochism is an attitude which moves toward a dedication to suffering.
And attitude of dedication toward suffering which recognizes value and meaning in that suffering.
The root meaning of the word “suffer” is “to bear” or “to carry,” as a burden. Not all suffering refers to the personal ego. Often the deepest suffering comes not from bearing punishment, but from bearing gnosis, a constant burdensome knowledge of one’s own truths & one’s capacity for all manny of evil & destruction.
Masochism carries a radical anti-ego message: there are gods in our sickness who relieve us of the tedious & boring demand for good feeling,; there are gods who, in the worst moments of torment & humiliation, remind us that we are, empathically & constitutionally, not okay.
The psyche is also impersonal (not-I) & transpersonal (more-than-I).
Masochism, by combining, humiliation & pleasure in one experience, makes for ambivalence, & thus helps prevent a one-sided attitude — too much belief in one’s competence, too much faith in one’s abilities. Instead of needing to be cured, masochism may lead to a cure for a one-sided ego which might otherwise drown in its own accomplishments.
The inner sadist can be any complex, quality, image — any part of psyche — that is trying to come through to consciousness, make itself heard, find living space, win attention, even in its torturing unloveliness.
Eros, the beautiful winged god of Love & Desire, loves devotedly & torments with desire. Simone Weil has said that all love is sadistic because it is possessive. But it is also true that love, when it reaches that rare place that is not possessive, has strong masochistic components; it longs to serve, to submit, to lay pride & power at the feet of another, to abandon itself nakedly, sexually, emotionally, physically, to another’s will. Love is bondage; the love is a slave. When one loves deeply, passionately, totally, submission to that love is not only a degradation but also an ecstasy.
Mortificatio is a death-making operation, moving away from surface appearances, deeper into the underworld of “shades,” of psychic essences. All our dyings, in night dreams & day calamities, are experiences of death; all our mortifications are experiences of soul-making.
In mortificatio, the prime materia — our primary psychic material, whatever is the matter with us — is worked over. “beating up on oneself” can be a beating, a pounding & preparing of a piece of psychic food. [Some] meat requires it be beaten to tenderize, soften, & make it more absorbent. A food blender is a modern alchemical vessel (a masochizer) tormenting what it put into it by cutting, chopping, grinding, whipping.
We undergo the operation of mortificatio when we are absorbed in self-blame, self-attack, being hard on ourselves, giving ourselves no mercy, no quarter. It is as if our souls in their mortification cry out for condemnation, hard penance, death. There is a kind of abrasive, abusive, sadistic grinding going on in the psyche, & we feel tortured, whipped, crushed, weighted down.
There are times when one is simply but emphatically not okay.
[…] “blushing may be styled the poetry of the Soul,” and that “blushing is the lava of the heart produced by an eruption of feeling.”
If you don’t deserve anything, everything is a gift.
Suicide as the final act of sadism against oneself.
The martyr uses their victim position to victimize others, rising above their suffering in an inflated balloon of moral superiority.
“Handle with holy care the violent wand of god!”
The soul & its fantasies seek refinement through repetition. By experiencing religion on ritual, & refinement in repetition, a masochist may begin to move from the compulsion of blind necessity to the deeper meanings of fate.
The Mad God is a mirror, reflecting our own true madness.
The real question is not whether masochism is “feminine,” but whether “feminine” is synonymous with “woman” or “female.” To speak fo “masculine” and “feminine” is not to speak of men & women, but of metaphorical, qualitative attitudes. These qualities of primal femininity belong to both men & women; they are psychological, not biological, qualities.
In our confusion of language we have assumed too often that ‘dominant’ is synonymous with ‘superior’. W When Feminists protest male domination, they are—just as importantly—protesting the supposed superiority of the masculine which this domination assumes. On the other side, people have equated feminine ‘submission’ with female ‘inferiority,’ deriving all sorts of dogmas about the ‘natural order’ from the equation.
A submissive individual in a sexual encounter is not necessarily passive, inferior, or a victim in the rest of his or her life. After all, S&M partners sometimes switch roles. Ones submissiveness is a psychic fantasy—as much his partner’s fantasy as his—acted out in flesh & blood. it is the submissiveness that is the important quality—not the gender of the figure who temporarily embodies it. So it is incorrect to speak of “feminine masochism” if “feminine” is meant to apply to women alone, for masochism is a fantasy common to both males & females.
Masochism is one of the soul’s ways of restoring value to what has been devalued.
(Latin victima meanings ‘sacrifice’)
Strength can be a terrible burden. It is a bondage which must be relieved in moments of abandonment, of weakness, of letting down & letting go. So it is hardly surprising that the strong personality—male or female—should be the most likely to desire masochistic experience.
“It seems that the more liberated I become (I’m really digging Women’s Lib now) the more I fantasize about spanking & bondage. Since I’m fully liberated in my work situation, social life, etc., it’s almost as if I’m trying to achieve somesort of counterbalance to this liberation in my sexual life… I am sure there are other women like me, who have emerged from being under male domination, crave to return to it in bed.”
“I want to be humbled by woman, and by woman alone, because she is “the other” par excellence, the outsider, the opposite of myself. Woman is the image of everything which rises up from the depths & possesses the lure of the abyss. The lower one sinks, the lower one wants to sink. Having fallen to the bottom of the world, I seek an even deeper nether world in the thrall of woman. I want to be lower than the lowest.”
The madness which is called Dionysus is no sickness, no debility in life, but a companion to life at its healthiest. It is the tumult which erupts from its innermost recesses when they mature & force their way to the surface. It is the madness inherent in the womb of the mother. This attends all moments of creation, constantly changes ordered existence into chaos, and ushers in primal salvation & primal pain—and in both, the primal wildness of being.
Masochism is not so much a state of weakness as of receptivity & throbbing sensitivity. It opens us to ourselves & to the outside world. Masochism is the indispensable condition of submitting fully to an experience. Masochism may become, with careful attention & radical curiosity, an encounter with the inevitability of one’s essential character—with Fate.
If character is fate, then whatever we are is fatal; it carries us to our deaths. To come to terms with one’s fate entails not so much a fingertip ‘getting-in-touch,’ but a bone-crushing ‘coming-to-grips.’
To love one’s fate is to suffer it.
We all know people who hold up, exhibit, even flaunt, their emotional hurts. It is the same impulse, in adults as well as children, that prompts them to exhibit their physical wounds & scars. Masochistic exhibitionists wound easily & often. They are so oversensitized to psychic pain, so undeniably prepared for injury & rejection, that their stricken selves cry out for the final, get-it-over-with blow. but it is never over. Playing to an impossible turmoil of ambivalent feelings—in both themselves & us—they seem to be trying to dissolve & disappear at the same time that they loudly demand attention.
Psychology has linked masochism with narcissism at least partly because of its exhibitionist tendency: self-hate is linked with self-love through self-expression. Exhibitionism is then an autoerotic orgy, a self-indulgence. But we must see deeply into the exhibitionist phenomenon, into what is actually being revealed & concealed within the exhibit.
The patron god of masochism, Dionysus, wears a smiling mask. As long as we see only the smiling aspect of the mask, we must think of masochism as false pain, a histrionic—not tragic or dramatic—suffering. But as in any drama, the audience does not always recognize what it is seeing. And the masochist does not always know they are acting.
The masochistic exhibitionist wears a mask of paradox. Most often, it is the revealed exhibition of humiliation & pain; yet simultaneously, it is an attempted inhibition of pleasure. The mask is a true face, revealing an aspect of the pain &/or pleasure of a masochistic moment. The mask is the fixed, unchanging face of intolerable extremity.
Once something is shown, it enters time & space, & a profundity is lost. During the exhibition, the masochist loses their sense of interiority, of the depth & privacy of inner drama. Subjected to the necessity of release, the masochist must, in turn, subject their world, their audience. The exhibition is, in every sense, a command performance.
This release of energy produces only a further emptiness.
Masochists want to be respected, loved, not merely seen. But bound in their worthlessness & humiliation, absolute arrogance & pain, they cannot deserve love. Love to the masochist is a fearful & impossible thing. In their instability, exaggerated attention-getting, tireless manipulation, & inability to accept love even when offered, the masochist receives pity—which invites still more disgust from their audience, more shame from within, keeping the arrogant masochist on the edge of tormenting doubt about their true self-worth.
Trapped in this neverending play, the masochistic exhibitionist has a keen sense that all the world’s a stage. Every minor slight against their ego another pathetic opportunity to make their pain the center of attention. Living in a kind of theatrical Dionysian frenzy, compelled to repeat performances in relationships, fantasies, even dreams. And long after the lights have gone out, it is performed again, eventually with an audience of none, damned, the empty catcalls echoing again & again in the theater of memory.