Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Construction of Sadomasochism: Vicissitudes of Attachment and Mentalization

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Construction of Sadomasochism: Vicissitudes of Attachment and Mentalization

Article excerpt

A challenge for contemporary psychoanalysis is integrating the findings of empirically oriented infant research with the clinical theory and practice of psychoanalysis. This paper applies empirical developmental studies to further the theoretical formulation, clinical understanding, and treatment of sadomasochism. The presence and identification of sadomasochistic relatedness has not been previously studied in the context of the attachment categories at 4 or 12 months, and the relationship between prementalized modes of thought and sadomasochism has not been explicated. I advance the view that, embedded within the insecure organized and disorganized categories of attachment are adaptive sadomasochistic relational skills and procedural models representing ways of being with the other. The origins of these relational procedural skills and models are interpersonal in the first months of life. These procedural models may function as building blocks for more developed procedures and psychodynamics, and their progression may be either linear or nonlinear as development proceeds. These repetitions of relational procedural skills and models shape and are shaped by subsequent development, and manifest in complex relational transactions involving these basic skills across the lifespan. This partially explains how the microanalysis of 150 seconds of videotape of mother-infant interaction at 4 months of age can reliably predict infant attachment at 12 months (Beebe et al. 2010; Beebe and Lachmann 2014), and how infant attachment as assessed in the strange situation at 12 months can predict many aspects of later development.

This paper proposes that sadomasochistic relatedness is represented in the dynamic procedural inner models of the attachment disorders, and ranges from insignificant to significant with consideration of secure, insecure, and disorganized attachment types. Additionally, mentalizing capacity, as a crucial component of attachment configurations (Bateman and Fonagy 2012), follows a similar progression. Consequently, the more sadomasochistic the relatedness, the more prementalized thought is evident, and the more toward the disorganized pole of the attachment spectrum the person is. The case of Kim is presented to illustrate some aspects of the analysis of the sequelae of disorganized attachment, focusing on the use of dissociation and enactment in the dyad as a means of regulating sadomasochism in both patient and analyst. The paper concludes with a discussion of the origins and construction of sadomasochism.

For Freud, the major organizer of preoedipal sadomasochistic drive derivatives is the oedipal complex, linking sexuality with guilt and punishment through compromise formations, and conflict-driven regression to oral and especially anal phases. Sadism may also be turned against the ego, resulting in masochism.

This understanding, especially the centrality of the oedipal complex in the formation of sadomasochism, has been increasingly challenged. Berliner (1942) connects masochism to the need to preserve an abusive parental object. Valenstein (1973) traces the origins of sadomasochism to stages of separation-individuation. In his study of the masochistic phenomenon of the negative therapeutic reaction, Valenstein speculates that painful affects predominate in the oral phase and result in an attachment to pain and distrust of objects. On top of this base, Valenstein states, are "grafted" anal and phallic levels of object-related experiences (p. 390). He calls the mother-infant experience the "nuclear determinant" (p. 390) of the negative therapeutic reaction.

Novick and Novick (1987) conclude that every developmental stage contributes to the formation of masochistic phenomena. In their analyses of 11 children with beating fantasies, they report "... a predominance of mothers who were unable to absorb or contain the infant's helplessness, neediness and rage, but blamed the infant and externalized their own infantile affective states" (p. …

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