The term 'moral masochism' is used in this paper to describe those forms of masochism which appear as a 'norm of behaviour' in contrast with sexual or perverse masochism.
Berliner's presentation starts with Freud's distinction between self-torment and masochism. The prerequisite of masochism is an object-relationship. His thesis is that this object does not enter the picture only after the masochist's passive aim has been established, but has been a reality in his life from the beginning, and has been instrumental in bringing about the whole masochistic process. The essence of the masochist's problem is that he has to love someone who hates him; and such a person is always to be found in his history, though the degree of hatred necessary to traumatize is variable. Masochism is thus 'the sadism of the love object
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fused with the libido of the subject.' The masochist denies the experience of being hated, accepting hatred as though it were love. It is his need for love which makes him masochistic; he magically revives the relationship with his past object by provoking hatred. Also: to be loved means for him the licence to be naughty. Masochism is not induced by the sense of guilt over the Oedipus complex; the masochist's Oedipus complex is already under the influence of masochistic mechanisms of earlier origin.
His sadism is partly a normal response to the person who has ill-treated him, but more importantly it is the possessive and reproachful infliction of himself on the love object whom he intends to force to accept him. He is so full of unremitting recrimination because it proves his love-worthiness; 'he would rather be right than happy.'
The original traumatic situation is re-enacted by identification with the aggressor. In this the masochist resembles the depressive. The treatment of the masochist has been much hampered by false theoretical premises—e.g. that he wishes to suffer pain as a substitute for sexual gratification, whereas in fact suffering is only libidinized secondarily.
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(1959). The Psychoanalytic Quarterly 27, 1958, No. 1.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 40:365-366