Derived from the writings of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, it was a term coined by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing in the late 19th century. Today, the word masochism is closely tied to sex.
However, according to Sigmund Freud there are three types of masochism: sexual, moral, and feminine. When it comes to moral masochism, an individual feels gratification in harboring guilty sentiments against oneself. Sexual masochism is defined by an individual finding pleasure through the infliction of pain upon oneself or others, and feminine masochism is closely related to its sexual counterpart.
Moral masochism is something I believe is more common. How many times have we reflected on the past, and suddenly felt upset? Despite time having passed, the feelings are still felt… and yet we revisit what used to be, knowing the memory will hurt us. Why is it that we enjoy putting ourselves down?
It wasn’t until I started to contemplate my actions, that I was suddenly reminded of a scene from one of my favorite shows. As I stood inside my apartment with a bag of trash in one hand and a broom in the other, I couldn’t help but wonder: am I addicted to my sadness?
“Why do I keep doing this to myself? I must be a masochist or something.”
I didn’t realize it then, but I used to spend most of my days in my head thinking about the past. More specifically, I would think about negative things: memories that had a negative connotation about them. Failed relationships and embarrassing scenarios that I had gone through were on replay inside my brain, it was as if I was rewinding a bad song that I couldn’t stop playing.
“Woe is me”, is the narrative I applied to myself each time I self reflected on my past. No matter how long it had been, or how much growth I had undergone from these old transgressions, the feelings of shame felt new and tender as if the memory had just occurred. What I didn’t know back then was how detrimental it was of me, to make reminiscence of old unsavory moments a habit.
There’s something about the way trauma affects us. It hurts our personal development and manifests itself physically and emotionally. To say that my memories were traumatic would be an exaggeration, I’ve never gone through an event that dramatically changed my persona. However, I couldn’t help but notice how different I felt whenever I would ruminate on the past. My days would suddenly feel gloomy and depressing. In comparison to now, focusing on the future and becoming present has made me feel more content and secure.
I think we are unaware of our masochistic tendencies. It could be something so minimal, like listening to sad songs when you’re already feeling upset, to stalking someone from your past on social media, or holding onto the memories of people who weren’t necessarily good for you. Spending time dwelling on the past seems harmless, until suddenly you get that feeling you were unconsciously searching for: the validation of pain that you needed in order to start feeling sorry or guilty for yourself. It’s a subliminal process that seems to creep up on the best of us, and if we aren’t careful we can fall into becoming victims that partake in the regular pleasure of feeling pain.
The realization of unhealthy habits can be freeing, as it instigates our desire to change. Growth is scary, and it’s the reason why most people tend to hold on to the past. It’s the sense of familiarity and security that soothes our anxiety and fears about the present, but it’s just a facade. Instead of seeking comfort in the past, we can choose to become a safe haven for ourselves. Actively ignoring the temptation to become a victim to our past circumstances is a challenge in and of itself, but it’s the most effective way to grow into a secure individual. Change doesn’t have to be scary, and outgrowing things is normal. To stay stagnant is to become indifferent, and there’s no shame in growing out of places, people, or things. As a beloved friend once told me, “Don’t feel sorry when you’re coming up. At all”.