How Are Sadism And Masochism Connected To Anxiety?

Sadism and masochism are commonly misunderstood to involve uniquely sexual behaviors. However, in their more everyday presentations, they help us to understand profound separation anxiety. Sadism and masochism house different sides of the same coin. The golden rule of sadomasochism is to do unto others what was once done to oneself in one’s past. Sexual behaviors of sadism and masochism are extensions of the psychological principles that follow.

A sadist (a term that comes from the Marquis de Sade) does unto others. A child will choose abuse over neglect any day of the week; children growing up in abusive homes learn that abuse is one way of relating deeply to their caretakers. Patterns of domestic violence illustrate this phenomenon. A violent husband may fear rejection from his wife because she has been promoted at work and thus will be less available to tend to him.

He fears that she will leave him. When he perceives this threat, he responds by becoming violent toward her. Thus, he recreates the closeness he felt when his own father beat him. In this way he feels less afraid of being left. Often, he may even prompt his wife, the victim, to leave temporarily in order to bring back to life the feelings of loneliness and worthlessness he most feared to begin with and which led to the violent behavior. Once the cycle has completed, it can repeat all over, a pattern which reinforces the behavior more deeply.

A masochist (a term from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch) develops an internal relationship in which he does to himself that which was done to him. Therefore, he never has to separate from his caretakers. A common example of masochism would be self-deprecation. The masochist feels overwhelmed with anxiety of abandonment, fearing being left for his sense of hatefulness or worthless-ness.

This psychological pain can become so unbearable that he will either directly abuse himself or find some-one to do so. Self-abuse can include viewing oneself harshly, binging on food, abusing drugs, creating trouble with the law, or seeking promiscuous, risky sex. Masochists recreate the abusive situations that they experienced, thus becoming like the parents who were abusive towards them. This method shifts them out of their own pain by allowing them to feel more like their parents (and therefore closer).

Giving oneself this kind of a beating proves (in the masochist’s mind) that he or she is more valuable than the feeling of nothingness, which can be his or her deepest fear. Placing so much focus on the pain of a beating can also attempt, in a kind of self-regulatory mechanism, to keep those deeper overwhelming feelings (e.g., abandonment, nothingness, or feelings of disintegration) from spilling out of control.