Masochistic Personality Disorder: 11 Insights & Tips (2024)

This ultimate guide on masochistic personality disorder will teach you what this condition is, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, plus several more important facts. 

Masochistic Personality Disorder
Photo By Dev Asangbam On Unsplash

In my role as a life coach, I am often helping clients better understand themselves and those around them.

That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you. 

So, let’s dive in. 

1. What Is A Masochistic Personality Disorder?

Masochistic Personality Disorder is a proposed mental health condition, where one regularly engages in self-defeating behavior and avoids or undermines pleasurable experiences. If you self-sabotage all the time, it might be due to this condition.

This disorder – sometimes called Self-Defeating Personality Disorder – was initially discussed in the DSM-III-R (the revised third edition of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)

However, seeing as there is no mention of it in the fourth or fifth edition, it is not formally recognized as a mental health condition and therefore you can’t be diagnosed with it by a psychiatrist.  

Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped some significant practitioners in personality disorders continuing to discuss this condition in various psychological reports. 

2. Symptoms Of Masochistic Personality Disorder

The best way to discuss the symptoms of those with masochistic personalities is to refer to the entry in the DSM-III-R.

The third edition of this manual suggested nine symptoms of this disorder.  

A person suffering from this condition may typically:

  1. choose people and situations that lead to disappointment, failure or mistreatment, even when better choices are clearly available;
  2. reject or sabotage the attempts of others to help them;
  3. respond negatively to positive personal events, such as a new achievement or personal celebration;
  4. incite negative responses from others and then feel hurt afterwards; 
  5. reject opportunities for pleasure, or become reluctant to acknowledge enjoying themself; 
  6. fail to accomplish tasks crucial to their personal objectives despite having demonstrated ability to do so; 
  7. be uninterested in or reject people who consistently treat them well;
  8. engage in excessive self-sacrifice, even when it’s unsolicited by the intended recipients;
  9. avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences.

Masochistic Personality Disorder Test

The DSM-III-R suggests that someone might show these symptoms, despite having adequate social skills and the capacity for pleasure.

It recommended that someone should only be diagnosed with the disorder if they are regularly showing at least five of these nine potential symptoms. 

It was also noted that these symptoms should not occur exclusively in response to, or in anticipation of abuse (physical, sexual or psychological), nor should they occur only when the person is depressed.   

3. Causes Of Masochistic Personality Disorder

It is suggested that this disorder does not typically appear until early adulthood. However, it’s most widely blamed on abuse or trauma in childhood

Overly controlling parents who demand constant compliance can squash their children’s ability to express their opinions or ask for things they desire. In extreme cases, this parenting style can become abusive, particularly if the child is regularly being hurt, threatened or embarrassed for their bad behavior. This is said to be a potential cause of masochistic personality disorder.

However, it’s not just the parents that can be blamed for this scenario. It could be anyone – from strict teachers to aggressive siblings or school bullies – that teaches children to feel unworthy of love. This can make them prone to self-destructive behaviors, even when things appear to be going well for them. 

4. Masochistic Personality Traits

People with masochistic personalities are pessimistic. They’re quick to undermine pleasurable experiences, which can make them a drag to be around. They tend to lack self-confidence, engage in self-derogation and not have many exciting personal interests. This is often as a result of them being psychologically abused as a child.

Their self-defeating actions can harm those closest to them, as it’s these people who will be tasked with cleaning up the mess.

By definition, a person with this disorder is capable of socialising, enjoying themselves and winning at life, but actively rejects opportunities to do so. If someone else makes fun, they won’t acknowledge enjoying themself.  

What’s more, a masochist rejects people that try to help them. In fact, an effort to support them often incites angry responses. 

5. Masochistic Personality Disorder Treatment

As with many personality disorders, the best solution is to seek professional help from a certified therapist or psychiatrist.

Although they won’t officially diagnose sufferers with a self-defeating personality disorder, they’ll be able to help them deal with the symptoms and create a happer life for themselves.  

The toughest thing is convincing someone with this personality disorder to seek help, as they are well known for rejecting responses from others. It’s not uncommon that this incites angry responses from them.   

6. Sexual Masochism Is Unrelated To This Disorder

Sexual masochism represents the enjoyment of pain or humiliation during sexual acts. It is completely unrelated to the self-defeating personality disorder discussed in this guide. 

7. Similar Personality Disorders

Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

This is synonymous with Masochistic Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder

This disorder is characterized by violent mood swings, known as BPD episodes. Sufferers can produce self-defeating behaviours during these mood swings, but (unlike those with masochist personalites), they can return to a mentally healthy state soon afterwards.

Related Content: Saying No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

Avoidant Personality Disorder

This disorder is characterized by extreme social anxiety. Sufferers avoid potentially pleasurable scenarios, but out of fear, rather than feeling undeserving.   

Sadistic Personality Disorder

The key difference here is: those suffering from sadistic personality disorder usually want to sabotage other people, often via emotionally or physically sadistic acts.

This disorder also appeared in DSM-III-R, but was removed from later editions, as the American Psychiatric Association believed it could be used to legally excuse sadistic behavior. 

8. What Are The Four Types Of Masochists?

Theodore Millon, a psychologist known for his work on personality disorders, suggested there are four sub-types of masochist personalities.

These are: 

  • Virtuous masochist. Proudly unselfish and sees denying their own needs as an act of virtue. A virtuous masochist will indulge in self-sacrifice even when it’s not wanted by others.
  • Possessive masochist.  A possessive masochist will self-sabotage in an attempt to control and trap other people, by creating obligatory dependence.
  • Self-undoing masochist. A self-undoing masochist will regularly lose in situations when it seems success was easier. They’ll often choose to look on the bright side of failure. They may appear to obtain pleasure from their victim mindset. 
  • Oppressed masochist. This person will burden themselves with the responsibilities of others and vent about it to create guilt among those around them. When the oppressed masochist fails to accomplish tasks, he often feels devastated and will try to inspire guilt feelings in his team.   

Millon suggested that any individual masochist may fit into none, one or more of these sub-types.

9. Masochistic Personality Disorder Criticisms

The American Psychiatric Association is said to have removed this disorder from DSM-IV and DSM-V due to significant overlaps with other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder, making the distinction clinically invaluable.

Critics also suggested that this condition can be used to victim-blame sufferers of abusive relationships

10. Masochist Personality Disorder And Narcissism

There’s an interesting link between these two disorders, as narcissists are prone to self-sabotage.

Narcissists tend to hate themselves, although it’s not always obvious from their behavior. Their self-defeating actions come from a place of not believing they deserve success and happiness, just as it is for those with masochist personalities. 

A narcissist may also warm to the idea of possessive masochism to generate more control over their loved ones. 

Related Content: Are Narcissists Born Or Made?

11. Masochist Personality Disorder In Relationships

Relationships with someone with this disorder can be frustrating to say the least.

Sufferers are usually stuck in a pervasive pattern of being drawn to sexual partners who treat them poorly. 

People who consistently treat them with love and respect will usually find their relationship being disregarded or sabotaged. 

You can try to help a self-sacrificial partner, but that’s likely to be met with an angry retort. People with a self-defeating personality disorder are known for rejecting responses from others with good intentions who try to provide emotional support.

You’ll often find people with this disorder trying to drag their partners down and stop them achieving his or her personal objectives. If you’re a good person, you’ll often find a masochist rejects opportunities to date you. You might be better off avoiding relationships with people like this at all costs either way.  

Any More Questions?

Thanks for reading my guide.

If you have any more questions on this topic, feel free to leave me a comment below. 

It would be great to hear from you.

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.