Psychic Masochism

"Psychoanalysis is exclusively a therapy for neurotics; we can do little for schizoid personalities..."
nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnninnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn --Curable and Incurable Neurotics (1961) p. 19

"...our main premise [is] that the basis of every neurosis is pre-Oedipal psychic masochism." nn--Counterfeit-Sex (1951) p. 71.

In The Revolt of the Middle Aged Man (1954) Bergler wrote: "psychic masochism, while still largely an unknown disease, is one of the most widespread of human failings. To define it briefly, it is the unconscious wish to defeat one's conscious aims, and to enjoy that self-constructed defeat." It is much more comforting, he added, to view oneself as a victim than to admit "that one is an unconscious seeker of defeats, humiliation, kicks." (pp. 80-81). Unpalatable indeed.

"Psychic masochism is...only misdirected aggression, turned against oneself and secondarily libidinized. By retrieving the original aggression from the hopeless amalgam the ex-neurotic has the power to fight more successfully the war every human being wages on two fronts: the superego [interior world] and the obstacles of reality. [exterior world]"
The question is: is Bergler right?

As early as 1920 in Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud began to sense that, contrary to his earlier beliefs, masochism did perhaps contaminate the psyche: "The account that was formerly given of masochism (the turning around of the instinct upon the subject's own ego), requires emendation as being too sweeping in one respect: there might be such a thing as primary masochism--a possibility which I had contested at that time." (The Freud Reader, Peter Gay, Ed. (1989, p. 754) Freud's observations on the central role of masochism weren't followed up by any other of Freud's followers: other than Bergler.

Bergler acknowledged Freud's achievements, and it became the foundation he required to go deeper into the mystery of the psyche. Bergler became convinced that the oral period (the first 2 years of life) constitutes the major influence on one's emotional health.

The members of The Edmund Bergler Society of Toronto believe that an understanding of the dynamics of psychic masochism may be one of the deepest, darkest, and most liberating secrets of our human nature. That being so, it is encumbent upon us to make this information more understandable, and more available. (Return to homepage)