Why We Love to Suffer – Free Ebook

Without quite realising it, many of us are

The word derives, somewhat unfairly for him
and his family, from the Austrian 19th century

aristocrat and writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
As a young man, Leopold made a conventional

marriage to a fellow member of the nobility,
Aurora von Rümelin, but he swiftly discovered

that his sexual tastes could not be accommodated
within the relationship. When he was contacted

by an admiring reader, a Baroness Fanny Pistor,
under the ostensible excuse of seeking help

with her writing style, he was able to discover
a whole new side to his sexual identity. What

he wanted most of all was that Fanny would
dress in a grand and imperious-looking fur

coat, flog him, dominate him and treat him
with haughty cruelty. He wanted Fanny to call

him ‘Gregor’, at that time a popular servant’s
name – and when they travelled, despite being

far wealthier than her, insisted on being
forced to sit in third class while she took

her place in first. Leopold’s proclivities,
which he wrote up in a lightly disguised novella

called Venus in Furs, caught the interests
of the Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing,

who (despite Leopold’s family’s protestations)
included them in his landmark compendium of

kinks, Psychopathology of Sex published in
1890 – which introduced the world to the term

‘masochist’: a person sexually aroused
by being on the receiving end of pain.

We now understand a sexual masochist as somebody
who might want to be called obscenities, have

their hair pulled or their skin scratched
or ordered to describe themselves in highly

derogatory and humiliating terms – albeit,
it must be stressed, with explicit consent,

for anything else would be merely abusive.

The mystery is why this could prove so appealing
and at points so necessary – to which psychotherapy

has a powerful answer. For the masochist,
cruel treatment in sex play is experienced,

first and foremost, as a relief – a relief
from the inauthenticity and alienating sentimentality

that can otherwise flow from being treated
with generous respect. Masochists tend not

to think too highly of themselves; if others
insist on handling them with kid gloves, they

cannot feel seen and understood. It only starts
to seem properly real and hence properly exciting

when a special partner spots the very deep
secret about them: that they are (at least

for a time and in a certain way) a stupid
idiot who deserves a severe beating.

Though the phenomenon of masochism began with,
and has remained most fully connected up to

sex, it exists no less powerfully in the emotional
realm. There may indeed be many more emotional

masochists at large than there are sexual
ones. As with sexual masochism, emotional

masochism is rooted in self-suspicion. Emotional
masochists do not deep down feel as if they

are entirely loveable people worthy of careful
appreciation and kindness. If someone treats

them well in love, an emotional masochist
would soon enough need to dismiss them as

needy and deluded. Why – after all – would
anyone feel better about them than they feel

about themselves?

In order to stop being an emotional masochist,
it is vital to start to imagine that one might

be one; to start to see – perhaps for the
first time – the ways in which one is engaged

in self-sabotage and has made an unconscious
commitment to loneliness and frustration.

The task is also to see that the origins of
all this lie, as ever, in early life, where

the masochist is liable to have relied on
the affections of a parental figure who exhibited,

alongside love, a high degree of cruelty,
neglect or violence – leading the child to

a conviction that their destiny must lie in
suffering rather than fulfilment.

The most relevant difference between sexual
and emotional masochism is that the former

activity will, in the right circumstances,
be a lot of fun, whereas the latter one is

never anything other than slow bitter hell.
We owe it to ourselves to start to see the

myriad of ways in which we may for far too
long have been holding ourselves back from

healthy relationships, not out of any kink
or necessity, just because our past has unfairly

imbued us with a sense that unfeeling treatment
is all we deserve.

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