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Gordon, R. (1987). Masochism: The Shadow Side of the Archetypal Need to Venerate and Worship. J. Anal. Psychol., 32(3):227-240.

(1987). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 32(3):227-240

Masochism: The Shadow Side of the Archetypal Need to Venerate and Worship

Rosemary Gordon, Ph.D.


THIS PAPER is essentially speculative. The reactions, behaviour, and phantasies of several patients have led me to reflect whether there might be a connection between masochism on the one hand and, on the other, the belief in, worship of, and surrender to, a deity, albeit in its perverted, its shadow form.

Five Cases of Masochism

A man whom I will call Richard had been in analysis with me for eighteen months. He was in his early fifties, a lecturer in a theological college, and married with three grown-up children: two sons and a daughter. He was of average height, sported some middle-aged spread, and always wore dark and very conventional suits. He complained of finding it very difficult to be alone, to find satisfaction in his profession, and to have the right sort of relationship with both his junior and his senior colleagues.

The main theme in many sessions was his preoccupation with death, his fear of death, his anger with death. And closely related to this battle with death was his anxious concern about the existence of God. Indeed, he felt angry and resentful that God did not seem to deign to prove to him that He exists. He did not give him the sign, the evidence for which he craved. For in spite of a life ruled by his belief in God, he was a man of the age of scientific and concrete proof, a man dependent on belief because unable to give himself over to faith.

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