Masochism and the Self

Masochism and the Self

Masochism and the Self

Masochism and the Self


This volume provides an integrative theory firmly grounded in current psychology of the self, and offers a fresh, compelling account of one of psychology's most enigmatic behavior patterns. Professor Baumeister provides comprehensive coverage of historical and cross-cultural theories and empirical data on masochism and presents recent, original data drawn from a large data set of anonymous masochistic scripts of fantasies and favorite experiences. Drawn from the latest social psychological research and theories, Professor Baumeister returns the emphasis to the original and proto-typical form of masochism -- sexual masochism - - and explains these phenomena as a means of releasing the individual from the burden of self-awareness.

It is the first volume to present a psychological theory compatible with the mounting evidence that most masochists are not mentally ill nor does masochism derives from sadism. Instead, Professor Baumeister finds that masochism emerges as an escapist response to the problematic nature of selfhood and he attempts to foster an understanding of sexual masochism that emphasizes both "escape from self" and "construction of meaning" hypotheses.

The book is directed at all those interested in the self and identity in paradoxical behavior patterns and in the construction of meaning, presenting specific clinical recommendations.


Several years ago, while gathering material for another project, I decided to check the literature on masochism to see whether that paradoxical behavior might be illuminated by the theory I was working on. It wasn't, but the literature on masochism confronted me with several challenges that kept my interest. It was obvious that psychology's theories of masochism had been made obsolete by recent data that contradicted many basic assumptions -- such as the ideas that most masochists were mentally ill or that masochism derives from sadism. Indeed, it seemed that empirical researchers had realized the inadequacy of the old theories but had been slow to find better ones, so that collection of data had proceeded (slowly) in an atheoretical vacuum. In short, a new theory was overdue.

What intrigued me the most was that the evidence about masochism seemed to contradict many of the most common and fundamental assumptions in the psychology of self, an area in which I had done much of my past work. In particular, masochists apparently seek to relinquish control and esteem, whereas most research shows that people generally seek to increase their control and esteem.

I began to wonder how this seeming contradiction between masochism and the psychology of self could be resolved. Soon I suspected that it could not be resolved at all, for it was not a "seeming" contradiction but rather the key to the essential nature of masochism -- the denial of self. This suspicion was greatly enhanced when I began to examine the historical and cultural evidence about masochism and found that its distribution corresponded closely to some patterns I had found in a previous work on the problematic construction of individual identity.

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