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Symons, N.J. (1927). Does Masochism Necessarily Imply the Existence of a Death-Instinct?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 8:38-46.

(1927). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 8:38-46

Does Masochism Necessarily Imply the Existence of a Death-Instinct?

N. J. Symons

In a recent paper on The Economic Problem in Masochism (1924) Freud draws attention to the most incomprehensible feature in masochism, namely the pursuit of physical pain and feelings of distress as ends in themselves. If pain really is sought, as Freud maintains, as an end in itself, masochism is certainly entitled to be regarded as incomprehensible. For it is compatible neither with the pleasure- nor with the reality-principle; and its problem remains therefore so far unsolved. But since the appearance of Beyond the Pleasure-Principle the situation has been altered. For pain is simply the sign within consciousness of a destructive process going on within the organism; and if there is an instinct which originally aims at the death or destruction of the organism it becomes more intelligible how pain can be desired as an end in itself. Masochism is traceable to that portion of the primal sadism which the libido has been unable to deflect outwards upon objects.

But though the new conception of the death-instinct appears to solve the problem of masochism at one stroke, is there no other way out of the difficulty? An attempt will be made here to find reasons for answering in the affirmative. The masochist, it will be argued, never seeks pain as an end in itself, but only as a means to an end which is in itself pleasurable. Masochism therefore does not violate the pleasure-principle and can be explained without postulating the death-instinct.

With a view to attempting this demonstration the various forms of masochism may be divided roughly into two main classes: (1) Those cases in which a sense of guilt might conceivably be said to play no part, the masochist merely showing a paradoxical preference for painful experiences—apparently upon the ground of their specifically painful character. (2) The remaining cases, in which the suffering is clearly sought in relation to a sense of guilt, either conscious or unconscious. These classes will now be taken up in the order named.

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