Borderline Personality Disorder and the Masochism Myth

July 3, 2012 Becky Oberg

When someone suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD), he or she needs to beware of the word "masochism". According to Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis' I Can't Get Over It, some people are quick to label a person who has experienced multiple traumas a masochist and interpret their misfortunes as a desire to be miserable. For example, when I was sexually assaulted, I was told I was "maybe not consciously" asking for it.

Mental Health Professionals and the Masochism Myth

The masochism myth is used by some mental health professionals to explain borderline personality disorder.Sadly, some mental health professionals use the masochism myth to explain why people suffer from BPD. One psychiatrist told my mother that I have a "victim mentality" and said I should have been aware of the warning signs of sexual assault (I later fired her). Some believe that you have an addiction to suffering, and therefore seek out ways to punish yourself.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

BPD is a natural reaction to unnatural trauma. If the trauma was inflicted by a person, he/she chose you, not the other way around. If the trauma was inflicted by an institution or a natural disaster, it's one of those things that could happen to anybody. If you truly were a masochist, you wouldn't waste your time seeking something so unpredictable. You would chose a predictable way to suffer, such as staying at a soul-consuming job you despise.

Religious Leaders and the Masochism Myth

I'm not a big fan of what's called the "prosperity gospel". According to this theory, if you follow God, you will be blessed beyond your wildest imaginations. You'll live in a mansion, drive a Rolls Royce, and have no problems (I'm not exaggerating).

The flip side of this is that poverty and suffering are seen as God's curse. They are seen as the result of some secret sin or inner wickedness. When bad things happen, regardless of how little control you had over it, it's your fault.

The entire book of Job is dedicated to exploring this notion. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Satan attacks a wealthy Job with all types of trouble. Three of Job's friends say it's Job's fault, and they debate this over the next several chapters. The story ends when God appears, telling Job's three friend that he is angry with them for assuming that Job's suffering was God's judgment.

In other words, just because you're suffering does not mean you're being punished. One does not always have anything to do with the other.

Self-injury and the Masochism Myth

While self-injury may be seen as a way to punish yourself, in reality it is a negative coping skill. Most people who self-injure, myself included, do it as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings. It is a way to give sorrow words, a way to manifest the pain of the unspeakable.

If you were truly a masochist, you would self-injure for the sake of the pain. It wouldn't matter how you felt inside. It wouldn't be a way to cope with unbearable pain; it would be a way to inflict more pain. Consequently, self-injury is not always a sign of masochism.

Self-injury is a symptom of borderline personality disorder. While you are not responsible for the symptom, you are responsible for choosing how to cope with it. You are responsible for seeking treatment for it. In other words, while you are not responsible for your sickness, you are responsible for seeking health.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2012, July 3). Borderline Personality Disorder and the Masochism Myth, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Becky Oberg

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