CW: This is a piece specifically about pathologies, NOT consensual play. Yes, there are self-identified roles within kink that use these terms… that is NOT at all what I’m talking about in this piece.
Someone asked me to write on this topic.
We usually think of sadists and masochists in regards to physical pain.
But there is the emotional variety, no doubt.
How can we identify this?
How should we deal with this?
Should we simply distance ourselves from it?
This is a great topic. Very tricky one, though.
Emotional sadists share many characteristics with people whose behavior has shifted over time to get what they want from those who are less responsive to others…
And emotional masochists the same, or it could be that they are battling other issues, like depression, that mimic many of the symptoms.
So, I’ll start by saying I don’t suggest that I, or any of you (outside the few who may be licensed and practicing therapists and the like) are qualified to diagnose anyone else.
What I will say, though, is that it’s worth knowing what the signs are in these kinds of disorders and the people who exhibit them, and to recognize them quickly, so you can make a decision about allowing them into your life, or about continuing the same behaviors, if you see they apply to you.
Identifying Emotional Sadists
Emotional sadists enjoy other’s negative emotions: sadness, anger, loneliness, jealousy, insecurity, etc.
They get pleasure from others being in those states, and will seek to disrupt other’s lives to create those states in them.
A few signs someone might be an emotional sadist:
Emotional sadists continue behaviors that you have said hurt you.
This is the super-duper biggie sooooo-obvious one. You said that a particular behavior hurts you, and they continued. A lot. Some of the time, they even pile on additional pain by mocking your hurt.
Emotional sadists tell you that you are not good enough.
Remember, they love to see you sad and insecure or jealous. They will say whatever they can to get those feelings out of you. And it may not be obvious. After all these people are great at getting what they need out of your emotions. You’ll find, though, that just when you need uplifting, they’ll say something that will push you further down.
Emotional sadists will shift blame onto you, to make you apologize and feel bad about things that aren’t your fault.
Like the fact that they ran out of gas on the way to work this morning, since they drove when taking you out for dinner last night. Because your fault, duh.
And on top of that, they’ll also say things like, “I know you don’t care about my fractured toe, but I’m healing,” to suggest you should take blame for not caring enough for them to ask them a million times a day how they are doing.
Identifying Emotional Masochists
An emotional masochist not only enjoys misery, they seek it out. They derive pleasure from all the negative emotions they can feel.
And when I say pleasure, I don’t necessarily mean it makes them happy, LOL! That would ruin the emotional masochism. There is a certain satisfaction in feeling terrible. Maybe they feel like they don’t deserve to be happy, or that they need to be punished with emotion. I doubt any emotional masochist would ever admit to feeling pleasure about feeling miserable.
Emotional masochists a like dogs returning to their own vomit.
I always loved that line from the bible. SOOOOO excited I found a use for it in my writings!
That toxic person who hurt them, that they finally cut out of their life? Yeah, they picked up the phone to call, see “how they were doing, you know?”
Emotional masochists LOOK for something to go wrong.
When things are going well, they look for what could go wrong, or even manufacture things out of thin air.
Ever heard the phrase “borrow trouble”? Emotional masochists are world-class Olympians at that shit. Whatever is going right is not good enough. They are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and usually obsessing about it, and trying on the pain for size, because they just can’t feel comfortable being happy.
Emotional masochists are often drawn to misery.
You’d think that they would be drawn to emotional sadists, and they are. However, they also tend to surround themselves whenever possible with emotional negativity, because misery loves company.
These people will seem to love you most when you are sad or angry or upset in any way, because they get to selfishly wallow in their own negativity with you.
Emotional masochists constantly put themselves in situations to feel pain.
They will start fights to show someone’s “true colors.” They will seek out cruel people who put them down. They will not stand up for themselves, but constantly complain about how they are treated. They’ll take the blame for everything, even things that not even remotely their fault, “I should have known that would happen if I was too sick to go to the party…”
How should we deal with emotional sadists and masochists?
The answer to this is going to be very individual.
I’ve know an emotional masochist for most of my life. I absolutely adore them. They are an amazing person, and I would never ever want them out of my life.
I have learned to understand their behaviors, and work around them.
Luckily for me, I am not an emotional masochist, so I found that I could separate my misery from theirs. Not only did I not have to be miserable just because they were, but I’ve also been able to shake them out of it now and again, and show them a better option in certain circumstances.
So, I count that as a win.
As for emotional sadists, I’ve learned a trick where I feel less hurt if I suspect someone is trying to hurt me, or if I sense a pattern of behavior.
Probably because I lived through an abusive relationship. He was not an emotional sadist, just a bi-polar alcoholic with narcissistic tendencies and an inability to take the blame for anything.
But that’s another story.
Anyway emotional sadists’ tricks don’t work on me the way they used to, so I’m not sure that I have any in my life. There is easier prey elsewhere.
Should we simply distance ourselves from it?
Some people you’ll love, and want to find a way to keep them around, learning to work with their quirks.
Many others will deserve to be cut out of your life. If their emotional sadism or emotional masochism in turn affects you, and bring negativity to your life, you have a right to decide that it is not for you, once you recognize the pattern of behavior.
And that is the key: a pattern of behavior.
Because whether someone is an actual emotional sadist, you have a right to feel amazing around them. And even is someone is an emotional masochist, you have a right to not give in when they try to pick a fight or share misery.
But recognizing what is happening is the first step.