Understanding the Masochistic Life Solution
Repeated Exposure to Trauma
Repeated exposure to abuse, abandonment, or other trauma produces seemingly unbearable amounts of anxiety. The masochistic life solution is one route for dealing with this anxiety. Where some choose to try to dominate their surroundings and the people in them to find relief, and others choose to turn away from their surroundings and the people in them to find relief, those with masochistic tendencies choose to latch on to entities perceived as powerful in order to shelter under them and thereby gain protection and strength through psychological osmosis.
Surrendering Power and Responsibility
Masochism surrenders personal power and responsibility to some stronger presence. The hope is to gain access to the qualities of the stronger presence through merging with it, without having to actually do any of the work of developing the desired attributes or behaviors, without having to take any life risks except for the fundamental life risk of becoming completely vulnerable to the whims of the stronger presence.
This stronger presence might be found through religion, through allegiance to a party or cause, through marriage, or through any other route. What we have to understand is that the issue at the center of it all is psychological, the issue is barely understood anxiety, it’s that discomfiting feeling of helplessness in a world perceived as hostile, and therefore it doesn’t matter whether the stronger under is real or imagined, only that it reduces anxiety through promising to take over responsibility for the life path and guide the follower to an anxiety-free outcome.
Strong Attraction to Strength
The stronger presence in question might be benevolent and it might be malevolent, but whatever the rationalization on the part of the masochist to justify merging is the truth is that the attraction is first and foremost towards sensed power. This is why people with masochistic tendencies are so likely to get themselves in bad situations, either in the small confines of abusive relationships or the larger confines of blindly following objectively destructive causes or leaders. From the outside it seems insane that they’d stick around, insane that they attached themselves to something malevolent in the first place, but we’ve got to understand that in the mind of the masochist the math is actually simple and straightforward. “That which is powerful will help reduce my painful anxiety and is therefore good.” Whether that power is in and of itself benevolent or malevolent is much more difficult for the masochist to judge than it is for the rest of us since latching onto that power serves such an important psychological and emotional purpose.
When you feel helpless in a hostile world, especially as a child, there are only so many routes available to you. The masochistic solution to the problem can be boiled down to the expression “If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” The underlying premise is that “Alone I’m impotent, by myself I’m incapable of getting anything I want or need, which means I require somebody or something else to do it for me. I don’t have any personal power anyway so my only recourse is to shelter under that which does have power.”