How can I deal with my masochism

Review too Masochism - The pleasure of the burden?

Journal for Sexual Research, Issue 4, Volume 27, December 2014

Review by Vivian Jückstock

Cora C. Steinbach. Masochism - The pleasure of the burden? About everyday masochism, self-sabotage and SM.

In her dissertation, the author Cora C. Steinbach dedicates herself to the topic of masochism. In doing so, she succeeds in differentiating the various manifestations from everyday masochistic ways of thinking and behavior to malignant, sexually masochistic perversion in the first part of her book. In the second, empirical part of her work, the author presents the process and results of the qualitative study she carried out on sexual masochism.

The subtitle "On everyday masochism, self-sabotage and SM" already indicates the many facets of masochistic phenomena. The author distinguishes these from one another in the theoretical part of her work, thus taking into account one of her concerns, not to pathologize masochistic manifestations per se, but to carefully differentiate between masochism with and without disease value.

First of all, it summarizes the multitude of definitions in four main categories: 1. Masochism as an everyday, normal phenomenon in the form of ubiquitous moral masochism or sexually sadomasochistic varieties in "normal" love play; 2. Masochism as a component of clinical disorders in the manifestation of self-damaging attitudes and behaviors; 3. Masochism as an independent disorder in the sense of a moral masochism with the degree of personality disorder as well as masochism as perversion or paraphilia. For the fourth category, the author introduces the term "allo-sexuality" (p. 38). She describes sexual masochism as a non-normal, but healthy variant of lived sexuality, which can be subsumed, for example, in BDSM (Bondage Dominance Sado-Masochism).

After an excursus on the effects of cultural norms on the perception and evaluation of masochism, show in the cultural dependence of sexual prohibitions and commandments, but also find their expression in the values ​​of our performance society, the author turns to various psychoanalytic approaches to the psychogenesis and psychodynamic function of masochism. The theories of the different psychoanalytic schools range from Freud's instinct and structural psychology with the emphasis on polymorphic perverse partial instincts, death instinct and castration complex to ego psychological conceptions of the defensive function of masochistic actions. Furthermore, the preoedipal development processes that constitute masochism, as represented in object relationship theories, are presented and distinguished from the concepts of self psychology, which focuses on unempathic, narcissistically disturbed self-objects. Finally, the author presents even more recent relational and intersubjective approaches in which the phenomenon of masochism is described as an expression of a struggle for recognition.

In the next chapter, Steinbach goes into the central themes and characteristics of masochism. Above all there is a real or imagined other, "without another there can be no submission to anything - be it submission to abstract socially existing, now internalized values ​​and views or to a real person" (p. 105). The themes involved and the paradoxes inherent in masochism are presented individually for the following areas: power and powerlessness, control, loss of control, surrender of responsibility and submission. The topic of "pleasure in pain" is then examined in more detail in the form of algolagnia (= pleasure in pain). The author describes the paradoxical framework of masochism as "a game with reversed signs: the apparently obvious is not the real" (p. 107). Submission is sought through the passive, but then negated again through the active hidden behind it.

In a subsequent »Panopticon of Masochisms« (p. 122), the author derives different types of masochistic connotations and shows different strengths and overlaps in a sexual to non-sexual continuum. After an initial demarcation of psychological moral or sexual orientation, on the one hand the distinction between functional and dysfunctional behavior, on the other hand parameters such as beginning and course, absoluteness, training and level of consciousness as well as the objective of the behavior as differentiation criteria. The aim of this overview is to better identify forms of masochism in need of therapy and thus to make therapeutic interventions accessible.

For the therapeutic handling of harmful masochistic behavior, the author recommends in the last chapter to pay attention to and react to the different expressions of self-harm and self-harm. The negative therapeutic reaction and the compulsion to repeat are cited as major challenges, especially in the treatment of patients with pronounced suffering and need for punishment. Therapy for masochistic behavior is possible, but requires a lot of patience from both the analyst and the analysand. In formulating a goal of such therapy to be achieved, the author refers inter alia. on Leon Wurmser, who names the transformation "from a rigorous, destructive superego to an authority that directs life", in which the "inner judge should become from executioner to bridge builder and reconciler" (p. 74). In the treatment of malignant sexual masochism, if the analyst dealt with perversions in an unreflective manner, there was a risk of engaging in a destructive power struggle with the patient over the supposed superiority of one form of sexuality ("perverse") over the other ("normal") entangle.

In the second, empirically oriented part of her book, the author presents the results of the OPD-supported investigation of sexual masochists in a non-clinical context. The aim was to gain more knowledge about the psychogenesis of sexual masochism. The assumption that sexual masochism mostly occurs against the background of a borderline personality disorder should be critically questioned in this investigation in order to prevent a hasty pathologization of sexual masochistic behavior and experience. Based on OPD-supported interviews with seven interview partners from a non-clinical sample, the author comes to the conclusion in the differentiated evaluation and interpretation of the individual case studies that a general pathologization of people with masochistic sexual preferences is outdated and inapplicable. In the study sample, masochism represented a form of sexuality without any disease value, even if transitions to coping with trauma could be found in some cases. Life-historical events could be brought into connection with the present sexuality specification. The author creates a sketchy typology of masochists derived from the results, ranging from "unconditionally demanding masochists" to "can but-does not have to be devotees". A connection between sexual and morally masochistic behavior can be found in the type of "morally sexually masochistic devotee" (p.274 f.). The results also offer indications that sadomasochistic rituals, due to their high degree of structuring, can be useful in coping with otherwise overwhelming arousal, so that sexuality can be experienced as pleasurable and not as frightening. In general, the author states from her results that an absent father, an over- or under-nourishing mother and general experiences of powerlessness play a role in the genesis of masochism. Furthermore, a lack of reflection and recognition as well as the failure to respect the child's boundaries contribute to the development of a masochistic sexual preference. The masochist consequently seeks "not suffering and pain, but to be seen and held without being harassed" (p. 281).

Cora Steinbach's demanding book offers a well-founded overview of the numerous manifestations of masochism. Psychoanalytic approaches to explaining the psychogenesis and psychodynamic function of masochistic behaviors are differentiated and clearly presented and expanded to include a cultural-psychological perspective. In the second, exploratory and empirical part of the present book, the previously established considerations and hypotheses are presented and critically examined on the basis of seven interviews. It remains only with the words of Prof. Dr. Mertens concludes from the preface that a large readership is desired for this book, as it offers very informative and thought-provoking content for both experts and laypeople.

Vivian Jückstock

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