Is My Self-Sabotage Actually Emotional Masochism?

The key difference between self-sabotage and ongoing emotional masochism

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If we’ve been endlessly prone to self-sabotage, stuck in a cycle of self-destruction with no end in sight, we may feel hopeless in finding our way out of that labyrinth of suffering. Many people struggle with self-sabotage to one degree at some point in their life. These phases may be triggered by many external or internal events that persuade us into giving up on ourselves and the structure of discipline or motivation. Self-sabotage essentially refers to the beliefs, behaviors and thoughts that hold us back and prevent positive forward movement.

While self-sabotage could be seen as a form of subconscious everyday masochism, it does not become a lifelong chronic issue for most people. However, when our self-sabotaging behaviors are more deeply rooted and accompany other related issues, it could be that our self-sabotage is instead a symptom of emotional or psychological masochism.

Emotional masochism relates to our feelings or passing emotional states. It is an ongoing perspective towards ourselves that we either deserve pain, suffering and humiliation, or that we prefer it.

Emotional masochism is the condition that compels us towards romanticizing the misery, chaos or self-destruction in our lives. It triggers feelings of elation and pride when we sabotage our health, relationships or well-being. It is self-sabotage on steroids. Emotional masochism stems from beliefs we’ve long held about ourselves, likely born from or intensified by trauma in our developmental years, that we are safer, more comfortable, or happier when our lives are falling apart and we are miserable.

It becomes the most familiar state of being for our mind and energetic body, so we relentlessly pursue and create situations or opportunities to experience the high of self-destruction. Our bodies create a physiological response through producing chemicals like adrenaline or endorphins that we become addicted to through our various outlets of self-sabotage.

While it resides in the subconscious mind, emotional masochism is slightly lower in severity compared to psychological masochism. It does not necessarily affect the person’s mental health in the same way that psychological masochism does. Emotional masochism can still have a severe impact upon our moods and emotional response to circumstances, internal or external, and it can flare up due to emotional triggers or trauma stored in the heart and body. It is however, easier to unlearn and rewire your brain to address those faulty belief systems that we may have adopted as a form of self-protection.

Psychological masochism relates to the mind on a mental health level, and can influence deeper mental imbalances and afflictions such as clinical depression, anxiety, paranoia, OCD, etc. The impact of psychological masochism, is what was unofficially coined as self-defeating or masochistic personality disorder (MPD). It was initially included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) back in the 1980’s then later removed, but psychologists still continued research on the personality type.

The APA Dictionary of Psychology cites masochism personality disorder as, “a personality disorder in which individuals persistently and characteristically obtain gratification or freedom from guilt feelings as a consequence of humiliation, self-derogation, self-sacrifice, wallowing in misery, and, in some instances, submitting to physically sadistic acts. This disorder was listed in DSM–III–R as self-defeating personality disorder but was deleted from DSM–IV–TR. The term is controversial because many believe that in some cases it blames the victim of abuse.

The reasoning of their removal was due to the controversial perspective of casting the label of “disordered personality” onto people, primarily diagnosing women, who struggled with issues that likely stemmed from trauma or abuse. Though there are some merits to the condition on a mental health level that I believe are worth evaluating, hence psychological masochism seems to be a more appropriate term. While from a biological or chemical standpoint, this condition may be considered chronic, that does not actually have to mean something negative.

Both emotional and psychological masochism can be transformed within us given the proper context, a supportive and compassionate mindset built upon understanding how we are uniquely wired as an individual, and crafting tools, both internal and external, to lean on that assist us in working with our masochistic nature – rather than it causing friction in our lives.

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