Masochistic Personality Disorder - man in therapist office chair

Masochistic Personality Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Masochistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which the sufferer revels in pain, struggles to perceive positivity, and is incapable of joy. 

Summary: Masochistic personality disorder is a condition where people engage in self-destructive behaviors, often due to chronic feelings of depression, anxiety, and worthlessness. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help people manage the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Masochistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which the sufferer revels in pain, struggles to perceive positivity, and is incapable of joy. 

They fall prey to their own thoughts, which are of guilt and humiliation; they are relentlessly pessimistic, especially regarding themselves.

However, the term is somewhat outdated – mental health research has made leaps and bounds since the disorder was first termed as such. 

Read on for a more detailed look at how the condition is classified and treated nowadays!

What is a Masochistic Personality Disorder? 

Masochistic personality disorder’ is the term formerly used to describe the behaviors of someone with masochistic tendencies. 

In short, it refers to someone who is compelled to seek gratification or freedom from guilt feelings as a consequence of humiliation, self-derogation, self-sacrifice, wallowing in misery and in some instances submitting to physically sadistic acts.”[1]

Masochistic personality disorder was once classified by the American Psychiatric Association  according to the above description.

However, the thinking behind this has changed over the last few years, and it is more common these days to talk about “masochistic tendencies” rather than label someone with the diagnosis of a full-blown personality disorder.

In any case, if you have one or many of the following masochistic tendencies, you will benefit from reading up about it and seeking further help. 

Read on to find out more about what is meant by masochistic personality disorder, what symptoms you might have, and what to do about it.

The Main Traits and Characteristics of a Masochistic Personality Disorder 

If you are susceptible to masochistic tendencies, you may display some of the main traits and characteristics of a masochistic personality disorder. 

Previously, if you had five or more of these characteristics, you could have been diagnosed with “self-defeating personality disorder”, which was an even older name for masochistic personality disorder.

Since we began to study these tendencies, the guidelines for diagnosis of personality disorders have changed. 

We no longer talk about “self-defeating personality disorder” because this sort of terminology sounds like “victim-blaming.” 

However, the traits and characteristics themselves remain unchanged and can be a useful guide if you are thinking about seeking help.

If you have masochistic tendencies, you may exhibit the following behaviors: 

You Find It Hard To Say No 

We all know this sort of person. He or she is the reliable one who can be counted on at any time of day or night to help those who need it, and who puts themselves last. 

You accept requests for help from other people when you really should have said no, because you are already overworked and overcommitted. You go out of your way to help people at great personal expense to yourself. 

You find yourself going to social events that you really don’t enjoy, but you can’t say no (or don’t know how to refuse the invitation).

You Push Yourself So Much To Be Good

A main trait of masochistic personality disorder is this: You set goals and regimes for yourself that are difficult to maintain, then feel terrible if you don’t live up to them. 

For example, you might have put yourself on a grueling diet or punishing fitness regimen, and you suffer intense guilt and feelings of low self-worth if you miss a day- even if the diet or workout is impractical, or your reasons for missing it were valid!

You Always Sacrifice Your Own Needs For Others 

This trait is considered a masochistic tendency if you do it not just occasionally sometimes, but all the time. 

You do this even without being asked. 

You let everyone know just how much you are doing to help others but at the same time you feel resentful if the people you offer to help are not sufficiently appreciative. 

This can create problems in your relationships

Firstly, because you do not acknowledge your own needs but only those of others, and secondly because people might not want to accept what you are offering.

You Resist The Good Things That Happen In Your Life 

You deliberately avoid positive experiences, supportive people, and enjoyment in life. When you do enjoy something, you do not want anyone to know it and may even deny it to yourself. 

You may be fearful or mistrustful of people and experiences that appear to be positive. This is because you are so accustomed to seeing things in a negative way. 

You Are Attracted To Narcissists 

You may seek out relationships where you are not treated with respect, or worse. Such partners may even be abusive in a psychological, emotional, physical, or sexual way.

As narcissistic personality types seek power, the masochistic personality type is often all too happy to fulfill this need (Rosegrant J. 2012. Narcissism and sadomasochistic relationships. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(8), 935–942).

Over time, this has the potential to wear down your sense of self-identity.

You Can’t Stand Up For Yourself 

You let others push you around or belittle you, either personally or in public. You find it difficult to stand up for your rights and keep your dignity as a human being. 

Even in cases of abuse, you are reluctant to see the help of the authorities because deep down, you think that you deserve no better. The origins of this mind-set are in your decreased sense of self-worth.

You Feel The Need To Be Perfect All The Time

You push yourself beyond your limits, knowing that it is impossible to reach the standard that you set whether it be in your career, studies, or personal life. 

Then, when you cannot meet the deadline, goal, or milestone that you set yourself, you feel guilty and defeated.  

You Gaslight Yourself For Negative Emotions

You downplay or minimize negative emotions and how you feel when others treat you badly. This can take the form of suppressing emotions or denying the cause of them.

You feel guilty when these negative emotions do break through the surface.

You Love Drama

You “create a scene,” or try to provoke others into displaying anger towards you, to feel some satisfaction from the negative feelings this evokes in you.

The emotional pain makes you feel “real.”

How to Help Yourself if you have Masochistic Personality Traits

Having masochistic tendencies is not the end of the world. 

If you are wondering how to help yourself, know that there are avenues available for improving your mental health and thought processes. 

These can improve your thinking so that you may do well in life without feeling forced to bring yourself down.

The following methods are just some of the ways you can use to help yourself if you have masochistic personality traits:

Find a Therapist 

Even a few sessions with a counselor or therapist can deliver amazing results. 

Therapy can help you to understand historical reasons for why you feel the way that you do and how past events and experiences have impacted your outlook today.

Counseling offers you tools or ways to manage your feelings in specific situations that are bothering you. 

Manage your Anxiety

You may need professional help for this if masochistic tendencies have really taken hold of you. Because you are so used to negative feelings, you may feel anxious about positive ones.

There is a lot of self-help that you can do in the comfort of your own home. 

For example, breathing exercises, physical exercise, and self-compassion work very well on anxiety, however hard they may be to get started on at first.

Tackle your Inner Critical Self

Interrupt your negative thoughts as they happen and change them into positive ones

Take Accountability

Once you have understood the reason for your feelings (for example childhood trauma), the next step is to own your feelings and thoughts and to channel negative ones into more therapeutic expressions

You might want to take an art or dance class or keep a journal.

Accept the Past

This personality disorder may have its origins in traumatic childhood experiences. 

The more you are able to reflect on and address these negative experiences, the more insight you will have into masochistic personality disorder and what you can do about it.

Key Takeaways

If you do have masochistic tendencies, you will recognise the symptoms discussed above and may even be feeling bad about that or the feelings that have surfaced as a result. 

Hopefully, you will be aware of your trigger situations and areas that you need to work on. 

By putting into practice some of the self-help guidelines that we have advised, you can improve your well-being and sense of identity. 

Remember: If you are particularly troubled by masochistic tendencies, help is always available, and the tendencies which make up this disorder are very treatable. 

Thanks for reading!

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Daria Burnett

Daria Burnett


Daria Burnett is an author, counselor, and numerologist based in Florida. She has written several books on numerology and astrology, including the recent Amazon bestseller "Angel Numbers Explained."


Daria has also been studying astrology, the Tarot, and natural healing practices for over 30 years, and has written numerous books and articles on them.


She is a gifted intuitive who is able to help her clients make the best choices for their lives. She has a deep understanding of spirituality, and uses her knowledge to help others find their true purpose in life.


Her LinkTree profile is here.