Existential Psychology

Sadism And Rationalization

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There are very few sadists out there who would consciously categorize themselves as sadists. For one thing it’s not socially acceptable to derive pleasure from causing emotional, psychological, or physical pain. It’s not socially acceptable to delight in the humiliation and suffering of others.

But from our existential point of view it’s not just the social tabu that keeps sadistic drives and motivations from conscious awareness. It’s that we’re all naturally hardwired to strive towards growth and productivity, towards love and equality, towards justice. This is our default state and it’s only when things have gone haywire, usually due to adverse environmental conditions in childhood and adolescence, that we give up on the noble, life-affirming ways of relating to the world and choose maladpative, destructive ways instead.

At some level of awareness sadists know that their sadistic drives and motivations are harming others and harming themselves, they know that they’re betraying who and what they really are. This is why they feel compelled to rationalize their sadistic behavior, to convince not just others but even more importantly themselves that this behavior is right. They find it necessary to denigrate the noble, life-affirming ways of being and to simultaneously paint their victims as the villains, as bad and in need of a firm hand, as people who deserve to be punished. These people must be taught a lesson, corrected. Or they might be perceived as worthless, less than human, undeserving of loving concern or a dignified existence.

The need to rationalize sadistic behavior is why we say that sadists know on some level that they’re harming others and themselves, betraying others and themselves. When we behave in life-affirming ways we usually don’t feel compelled to justify what we’re doing. This behavior is the manifestation of who and what we really are and therefore needs no justification for its existence. When pressed for an explanation for loving acts, for prosocial acts, for productive acts, the most we can usually say is that we did it because it felt good and right. These acts feel good and right in and of themselves. They don’t require a rationalization.

From our existential point of view the compulsive need to rationalize sadistic acts is compelling evidence that most sadists aren’t born they’re made, that underneath those maladaptive drives and motivations lies the same Self calling out for growth, love, and productivity that exists in all of us. To delight in the suffering of others is not an innate trait but the outcome of adverse environmental conditions that have pushed people off of their natural life path.