Joy In Suffering


The person derives joy from suffering. He chooses an abusive partner or provokes a kind partner. Erotic excitement derives from begging the partner for forgiveness. Drama is necessary, since kind lovers are felt as boring. This pattern has its origins in a mother who was cruel to the child. The child had to repress her anger at the mother for her cruelty, because mother’s love was vitally needed. Abuse came to be associated with love. This pattern is displaced on to the beloved.

Presenting problem

Another barrier in loving arises in those people who take joy in suffering. This person seeks a partner who will abuse them because they derive pleasure from abuse. They will even provoke abuse if the partner is kind. Deriving joy from suffering interferes with finding happy love. Psychoanalytic Theory calls this pattern masochistic.

The person attempts to feign safety and satisfaction in life through inconspicuousness, oblivion and “ecstatic abandonment” to misery and self degradation. The core of joy in suffering derives from the attempt of an intimidated individual to cope with life and its dangers by dependency and unobtrusiveness.

There is a tendency to fall in love with partners who abuse and humiliate them. These problems of submissiveness have their origins in the person’s relationship with their mother. Desires for protection, tenderness and food reappear in ecstatic love relations to their beloved.

Joy in suffering as a normal phenomena

There is a desire to feel useful or be needed by another, to serve a doctrine or social cause. Some degree of self sacrifice and a need for effacement or subordination of self to a higher authority are deeply rooted longings. The emotional dependence of the child regarding parents reflects joy in suffering tendencies. The individual’s need to become part of a larger unit where one cease “to exist” to some extent is an example. To be subservient or relinquish one’s personal existence as, for example, in one’s attitude toward a leader is another example. The difference between the normal and problematic joy in suffering is one of degree rather than kind.

Mortification, for example, has been considered a highly efficacious and moral activity arguing great rewards and frequently leading to sainthood. Mortification negates mere bodily processes and exalts spiritual values by emphasizing bodily injury or neglect. The person who seeks to derive joy from suffering aspires to “some higher need by a process of active denial or self punishment and is similar to the mortifier. Joy in suffering is a universal technique employed through the ages to deal with such problems of existence as guilt, helplessness and powerlessness.

Joy in suffering as a defense

The person who derives sexual pleasure from pain also derives gratification from suffering. Love through suffering is a compromise originally between the experience of non love coming from a person whose love is needed. Suffering is endured because the parent’s love is vitally needed. The parent, often the mother, behaves in a non loving way. Adopting a posture of suffering as a precondition for love arises as a defense against recognizing how angry one is at the parent for not loving them. Instead, suffering is endured in the pursuit of love in the hope of wresting love from the non loving parents. This pattern is displaced onto one’s future beloved in one’s adult quest for love. Repressing one’s anger at not being loved by the parent and the beloved, helps to maintain the vitally needed relationship.

Pursuit of love through suffering is a typical defense for people who anticipate injury if they engage in self enhancing behavior. Self effacing behavior also occurs in the work sphere where the person fears provoking antagonism by one’s successful performance. These people often have severe work inhibitions motivated by the aim to avoid retaliation from feared competitors.

How therapy can help

The therapist should assume a fairly human role and avoid an omnipotent role when working with people who derive joy from suffering. The therapist’s warmth and friendliness can provide emotional sustenance. This can also modulate the person’s assumption that suffering is a pre-condition for love. The therapist should also structure the analytic setting so that the person does not become deferential to an over idealized, exalted parental image. Respectfulness for the person’s needs, avoidance of any hint of authoritarianism in the analytic procedure, an expressed belief in the person’s potential for growth as an independent person, a genuine sympathy for his plight, a conscious presentation of himself as human and fallible, help to inculcate an atmosphere of equality and make possible a new type of identification with the therapist.

It is also helpful to make explicit how the person’s need for love of the rejecting partner results in an acceptance of suffering as though it were love. Secondly, one should help the person perceive her need to punish the beloved perpetuates her suffering. Thirdly, one should strive to demonstrate to the person that his hostility is not his own but stems from the parent’s actual hostility toward him/her in childhood.

The following song expresses the dynamics of a person who derives joy from suffering.

I grew tired of begging her (Me cansé de rogarle) I grew tired of begging her I grew tired of telling her that without her, I would die of a broken heart She didn’t want to listen. Her lips opened only to say I no longer love you. I felt my life slipping away into an abyss deep and black just like my luck. I wanted to find oblivion Jalisco style but that mariachi [band] and that tequila made me weep.

I grew tired of begging her… with tears in my eyes I raised my glass and drank…to her… She couldn’t scorn me. It was the last toast from a misfit to a queen.

The mariachis became silent. From my limp hand fell my glass. I didn’t know she wanted to stay when she saw my sadness. But it was already written that on that night I would lose her love.

He grovels at her feet. He tells her that he grew tired of begging her. He grew tired of telling her that without her he would die of a broken heart. She doesn’t want to listen. Her lips open only to say, “I no longer love you.” He feels his life slipping away in a deep, black abyss. He wants to find oblivion by drowning his grief in tequila that makes him weep. He grew tired of begging her and with tears in his eyes, he raises his glass and drinks to her. It was the last toast from a misfit to a queen. The mariachis became silent and from his limp hand his glass falls to the ground. He is shocked when he sees that when she sees his sadness, she returns. Then he adds, but it was written on that night, I would lose her love. He rejects her!

This song beautifully expresses that beneath the groveling of the person who finds joy in suffering, there lurks a resentment that emerges like a dagger to push his beloved away when he succeeds in getting her back. How self destructive! However, now the whole cycle of joy in suffering can be repeated with someone new. A new drama, a new potential for erotic excitement, a new opportunity for suffering.

The Torturer

The counterpart to those who seek the joy of suffering are those who derive pleasure by causing the beloved to suffer; the torturer. The essence of the torturer is the drive for complete and absolute control over a living being and making them a helpless object of her will, to become his god, to do with them as one pleases. To humiliate them, to enslave them, and the most radical aim is to make them suffer, since there is no greater power over another person than that of forcing them to undergo suffering without their being able to defend themselves. Psychoanalytic Theory calls such people sadists.

The most dramatic form of control is torture and the infliction of physical pain. Less dramatic, though more pervasive, is the desire to humiliate, dominate, or make another individual part of oneself. The torturer is prompted by a sense of emotional impotency: The desire for power over another compensates for the incapacity to create or love. The torturer needs to feel omnipotent so that another person becomes their thing.

There is a distinction between the destructive person and the torturer. The destructive person seeks to annihilate the other, do away with and get rid of them. The torturer wishes to dominate the other and therefore suffers a loss should the other disappear. The wish for power is the most important manifestation of the torturer.


Therapy for the torturer needs to focus
1) On the causes for his inability to love and
2) the origins of her fears of loss that motivate her need to control the beloved.