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Masochistic Personality Disorder


Personality disorder is a matter of false judgments of value. Listed below are the false value judgments that are at the root of Masochistic Personality Disorder.

False Good

False Bad

Personality Disorder

situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment chooses people and situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment
attempts by others to help them rejects or renders ineffective the attempts of others to help them
positive personal events following positive events, responds with depression, guilt, or a behavior that produces pain
to be hurt, defeated, or humiliated incites angry or rejecting responses from others and then feels hurt, defeated, or humiliated
opportunities for pleasure, or acknowledging enjoying themselves rejects opportunities for pleasure, or is reluctant to acknowledge enjoying themselves
to sacrifice accomplishing their personal objectives fails to accomplish tasks crucial to their personal objectives despite demonstrated ability to do so
people who consistently treat them badly people who consistently treat them well is uninterested in or rejects people who consistently treat them well
self-sacrifice taking care of their own appropriate needs engages excessive self-sacrifice that is unsolicited by the recipient of the sacrifice

Perspectives q.v.

The Disease Perspective

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, pp. 373-374), for research purposes, described Self-defeating Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of self-defeating behavior, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. The person may often avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences, be drawn to situations or relationships in which he or she will suffer, and prevent others from helping him or her, as indicated by at least five of the following:

  • chooses people and situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment even when better options are clearly available;

  • rejects or renders ineffective the attempts of others to help him of her;

  • following positive personal events (e.g., new achievement), responds with depression, guilt, or a behavior that produces pain ( e.g., an accident);

  • incites angry or rejecting responses from others and then feels hurt, defeated, or humiliated (e.g., makes fun of spouse in public, provoking an angry retort, then feels devastated);

  • rejects opportunities for pleasure, or is reluctant to acknowledge enjoying himself or herself (despite having adequate social skills and the capacity for pleasure);

  • fails to accomplish tasks crucial to his or her personal objectives despite demonstrated ability to do so, e.g., helps fellow students write papers , but is unable to write his or her own;

  • is uninterested in or rejects people who consistently treat him or her well, e.g., is unattracted to caring sexual partners;

  • engages in excessive self-sacrifice that is unsolicited by the intended recipients of the sacrifice;

The behaviors do not occur exclusively in response to, or in anticipation of , being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused.

The behaviors do not occur only when the person is depressed.

The Dimensional Perspective

Here is a hypothetical profile, in terms of the five-factor model of personality, for Masochistic Personality Disorder (speculatively constructed from McCrae, 1994, pg. 306):

High Neuroticism
Chronic negative affects, including anxiety, fearfulness, tension, irritability, anger, dejection, hopelessness, guilt, shame; difficulty in inhibiting impulses: for example, to eat, drink, or spend money; irrational beliefs: for example, unrealistic expectations, perfectionistic demands on self, unwarranted pessimism; unfounded somatic concerns; helplessness and dependence on others for emotional support and decision making.

High Extraversion
Excessive talking, leading to inappropriate self-disclosure and social friction; inability to spend time alone; attention seeking and overly dramatic expression of emotions; reckless excitement seeking; inappropriate attempts to dominate and control others.

Low Openness
Difficulty adapting to social or personal change; low tolerance or understanding of different points of view or lifestyles; emotional blandness and inability to understand and verbalize own feelings; alexythymia; constricted range of interests; insensitivity to art and beauty; excessive conformity to authority.

High Agreeableness
Gullibility: indiscriminate trust of others; excessive candor and generosity, to detriment of self-interest; inability to stand up to others and fight back; easily taken advantage of.

High Conscientiousness
Overachievement: workaholic absorption in job or cause to the exclusion of family, social, and personal interests; compulsiveness, including excessive cleanliness, tidiness, and attention to detail; rigid self-discipline and an inability to set tasks aside and relax; lack of spontaneity; overscrupulousness in moral behavior.

Specific Affects

Fear, guilt, shame (Ferenczi qtd. in Masson, 290).

Character Weaknesses and Vices*

  • overly self-sacrificing
  • rejecting of those who treat one well
  • fails to finish important tasks
  • rejects opportunities for pleasure
  • incites rejecting responses from others
  • rejects help from others
  • makes self-defeating choices of people and situations

* Derived from Michael Stone's (pg. 23) list of the "personality traits" of DSM-III-R Self-Defeating Personality Disorder.

The Behavior Perspective


Suffers from a need to be accepted and loved. Because of this need, personal relationships are more important than one's own independent thinking (Roazen, 398).

Wants to be loved, to express his or her feelings for others, to be needed and appreciated, to coerce others into responding to him, to vindicate his claims about himself (Riso, ch. 4).


Taking the way of submission, shrinking from or flowing round difficulty and violence rather than fronting up to it (French, 43).

Believing that real love "is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter" (Dickens qtd. in French, 47).

Average: Emotionally demonstrative, gushy, friendly, full of good intentions about everything. Gets overly intimate, enveloping, and possessive: the self-sacrificial, mothering person who cannot do enough for others. Self-important: feels he or she is indispensable, but overrates his efforts in others' behalf. Overbearing, patronizing.

Unhealthy: Can be manipulative and self-serving, instilling guilt, putting others in his debt. Self-deceptive about his own motives and behavior. Domineering and coercive: feels entitled to get anything he wants from others. The "victim and martyr": feels abused, bitterly resentful and angry, resulting in hypochondria and psychosomatic problems (Riso, ch. 4).

Insensible to the greater themes of the human imagination--religion, science, politics, art (Santayana, 166).

Associated Disorders

Dysthymia, Major Depressive episodes; suicidal ideation or behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 372).

The Life Story Perspective


Traumatic factors (Ferenczi qtd. in Masson, 283-95).

Identification with the aggressor (290).

The still not well developed personality of the child responds to sudden unpleasure, not with defense, but with identification and introjection of the menacing person or aggressor, and identification based on fear (291).

Cherishes a profound conviction that his or her upbringing was abusive and neglectful and accounts for his of her being morally timid and very sensitive (from Dickens in French, 43).

Cognitive Effects

Basic Belief: I need others to need me. Strategy: Submission.

The "idealized self is made up of beliefs about how we should feel, think, or act" (Tamney, pg. 32).

John M. Oldham has defined the Self-Sacrificing Personality Style in The New Personality Self-Portrait. I have rephrased many of his ideas in terms of extreme, rigid, and imperative beliefs and attitudes. According to my view, the beliefs and attitudes rationalize and reinforce the idealized image and the compulsive attachments and aversions. They are analogous to Karen Horney's "shoulds" and "neurotic claims." These are the typical beliefs that I associate with Masochistic Personality Disorder:

  • The purpose of life is to serve others (Oldham, 319).
  • My needs can always wait until others are well served (319).
  • To love is to give (319).
  • I must help others even if they haven't asked me to (319).
  • Being ambitious and competing with others is wrong (319).
  • I cannot tolerate being the center of attention (320).
  • I should always anticipate the desires of those I love (320).
  • I must do for and give to everyone I come in contact with (321).
  • Laboring to make others' lives better is what gives meaning to life (321).
  • I cannot tolerate success or pleasure (341).
  • The only way that I can gain inner tranquility is by losing sight of myself in helpfulness to others (321).
  • It's better to avoid receiving rewards, getting attention, and taking credit for good deeds (321).
  • I hate to appear prideful or pushy (322).
  • I work so hard to make others happy, but no one seems to notice or care (322).
  • I feel guilty when receiving special attention (322).
  • I don't want others to do things for me; it makes me uncomfortable (323).
  • Only through giving to others will I be accepted (324).
  • Parents should sacrifice everything for their children (324).
  • I can relax and indulge myself only when I am alone (325).
  • The world is a hard, tough place and my mission is to make things better for other people (326).
  • I will never be able to fulfill my obligations to others (326).
  • I am unworthy and undeserving of love, attention, and pleasure (327).
  • I must always be respectful of those in authority (327).
  • Advancing in my career is not important to me (328).
  • I hate to ask for favors (328).
  • I should avoid positions where I would be responsible for overseeing other people's work and behavior (329).

American Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised. Washington: Author.

Brandt, David (1986). Don't Stop Now, You're Killing Me: The Sadomasochism Game in Everyday Life and How Not to Play It. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Cooper, Terry D. (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

French, A. L. (1974). Beating and Cringing: Great Expectations, in Roger D. Sell (ed.), Great Expectations: Charles Dickens (New Casebooks). (New York, 1994), pp. 41-59.

Masson, J. Moussaieff (Jeffrey Moussaieff) (1984). The Assault on Truth : Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

McCrae, Robert R. (1994). "A Reformulation of Axis II: Personality and Personality-Related Problems." Costa, Paul T., Jr., Widiger, Thomas A., editors. Personality Disorders and the Five-Factor Model of Personality. Washington, D.C.: The American Psychological Association.

Oldham, John M., and Lois B. Morris (1995). The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love, and Act the Way You Do. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam.

Riso, Don Richard (1987). Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-discovery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Roazen, Paul (1975). Sandor Ferenczi: Technique and Historical Victim. Freud and his Followers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Santayana, George (c.1921, 1983). "Charles Dickens." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research.

Stone, Michael H. (1993). Abnormalities of personality: within and beyond the realm of treatment. New York: W.W. Norton.

Tamney, Joseph B. (2002). The Resilience of Conservative Religion. New York: Cambridge UP.


masochism, sexual masochism.

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