The Strange World of Emotion

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Sadism and Masochism
and Phantasy

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Sexual Violence

These ideas on phantasy apply to a heterosexual male. I used phantasy and dreams in my attempts to understand the reasons for sexual violence. When my subconscious feelings of violence began to emerge into my usual phantasies and dreams, then these phantasies and dreams became very unpleasant and nauseating. The time I spent analysing them became a time of social isolation and purdah. They were too unpleasant to share with anyone.

In my 20s  I was confused by sexuality. My life-style was either living alone, sharing a flat with friends, or participating in communal living. In my 30s  I felt emotionally burned-out and so went to live with mother after her divorce. She was engulfed in bitterness over dad. I stayed with her till she died at the end of my 40s. 

By my 30s I had developed an ascetic, puritan attitude to sex. By the time that my self-analysis started, during my early 40s, all my feelings on sex were based on hate.

Sub - Headings
Degrading phantasies 
Three themes
Self-pity and Fear
Confronting Sexuality
Punishment and Eroticism
Rape and brutality
End note

By my 40s, when sexuality appeared in my dreams, it was always in degrading and violent ways. My dreams were my only outlet for the need to ridicule sex, either to prevent a build-up of sexual desire or after having been on the receiving end of mother’s domineering will.

By the end of her marriage, mother's ideas of sex had become consolidated into one of  "purity". I realised that her idea of purity was a defence against sexual fear and hate. As a reaction to that mentality  I switched from puritanism to degradation in my phantasies.

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Degrading Phantasies

I often had dreams of myself as a woman, and being sexually abused and raped. There were two reasons for this type of phantasy.

The first reason highlights the confusion caused by a lack of awareness. One day at the place where I worked a female employee had tried to manipulate me in an emotional way and my response had been one of anger (which I kept suppressed). That night in my dream I portrayed myself as a woman, thus allowing me to identify with the female employee symbolically. Then followed images of rape and degradation. But my dream of being degraded was actually my wish to degrade and punish her. Only in this way could I express my anger.

In the dream I had used a process of  ‘displacement’, that is, I had displaced the punishment from the woman at the place of work to myself. Displacement involves the intertwining of anger towards the aggressor with anger towards myself (for failing to stand up for myself ). This confusion has the effect of producing identification of oneself with the aggressor. So displacement is likely to occur if the problem at issue is also a problem that exists towards one’s parents.

The more general meaning of the symbolism of degradation was that it represented my confused attempts to neutralise my identification with my mother. This approach underlined the failure to handle the original anger in a composed and realistic way. In fact, suppressed anger can be quite hard to identify ; when it cannot be identified, then it cannot be handled skilfully. [¹]

The second reason, which was the more prevailing one, was the need for my sense of individuality to reject social dependency. When trauma is experienced in childhood, it generates a weak sense of will power in the child, and hence a weak sense of individual identity [²] ; to overcome this weakness the person attempts to build up a self-sufficient will by repudiating social dependency. Sexuality (in its aspect of bonding) is the dominant form of social dependency. Hence phantasies of sexual degradation often represent the attempt to neutralise sexual bonding.

This type of phantasy has social implications for a person who cannot restrict his feelings to phantasy. The man who assaults and rapes a woman is most likely to have phantasies of sexual degradation ; so that rape becomes a way of degrading and punishing a woman, rather than a way of having forbidden sexual enjoyment. Underlying this phantasy will usually be found the person’s hatred of his mother.

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Three Themes

My self-analysis reduced the intensity of my jealousy, thus allowing a better balance to be achieved between jealousy and narcissism. This produced a noticeable effect. As my jealousy changed, I found that my sexual phantasies changed. Now they featured only what was considered to be ‘immoral’ in today’s culture. These phantasies represented the first forbidden, hence ‘immoral’, excitement of my adolescent puberty. [³]

At the time of puberty, the new sexual feelings may be experienced in an atmosphere that disapproves of them, or feels awkward about them. If so, the more immoral that one’s feelings are felt to be, so the more exciting will be one’s dreams and phantasies of sex as a compensation. Only when this juvenile excitement is abreacted can a mature attitude to sex evolve. [4]

Therefore, initially, my phantasies of sexuality revolved around two main themes:

1). My phantasies of degradation were my battles against my identification with my mother.

2). My phantasies of immorality were my battles against the narrowness and fear of traditional Puritanism.

To these themes a third one emerged when my self-analysis ended.

3). I rescinded my ascetic prohibition on experiencing emotional relationships. So I became absorbed in phantasies that offered the possibility of seeking happiness through sexual partnerships. [ When a person lifts a prohibition against a repressed subconscious attitude or idea, then that attitude or idea can rise quickly into the surface consciousness.  Surface consciousness is the ordinary consciousness, as distinct from the hidden aspects of consciousness (the subconscious and unconscious minds).]

By the end of my self-analysis I had considerably reduced the compulsiveness of sexual desire. The effects of bonding remain, but they are no longer so compulsive either. Now I do not dream of sexual themes so much. The hallmark of a successful resolution of a long-standing conflict is that the person no longer needs to dream about it. Then dreams no longer have the function of discharging the internal conflict. At this stage, sexual dreams become a matter of choice rather than compulsion.

[ In actuality, a psycho-analysis never completely eliminates any problem. Even after a successful analysis, a trace of the problem still remains, since the problem is never forgotten. However, the trace does not generate any significant conflict ].

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Self-pity and Fear

Themes of sexual degradation lead to sadistic and masochistic desires. These desires are particular responses to infancy trauma. Trauma generates hatred or self-pity in the child. If the child focuses on the hatred, it can be felt either as self-hate or as the hatred of other people ; these emotions transpose into guilt or pride. The child can use these complementary responses to create its two identities, which are described in another article. [5]

However, if the child’s responses to trauma focus on self-pity then different reactions can occur. In this scenario the violence of trauma generates two fears :

The focus of this article is on the fear and self-pity that sexuality can produce.
If the self-pity factor transposes into the self-pity mode of jealousy, then sexual desire [6] becomes linked to the pride or guilt at the base of the person’s identity. Sadism or masochism can become dominant.

The emotional dynamics of these states of consciousness are : [7]

Masochism = jealousy (self-pity mode) + guilt (self-hate mode).
Sadism = jealousy (self-pity mode) + pride (mode of hatred of others).

Sadism and masochism are destructive forms of power and pleasure. The core idea is that sexuality poses a threat to the person, or even that sexuality has damaged the person.

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Confronting Sexuality

For a heterosexual male, sadism or masochism can each function in two ways, reflecting the different responses to the feeling that femininity has damaged his masculinity.

Masochism arises in one way when I desire to punish my femininity, thereby weakening it ; I may have phantasies of being a woman who is being punished. Or masochism occurs when I desire to punish my masculinity for allowing the damage to happen ; this is my way of strengthening my masculinity through discipline.

Sadism arises when I need to refute the femininity of other men or women, as when I see an effeminate homosexual male. Or sadism is generated when I need to belittle the masculinity of other men, because my own sexual image suffers in comparison ; this confrontation helps to strengthen my own masculinity.

In both cases it is a choice of either reducing my femininity or building up my masculinity.

The unconscious ideas that maintain these desires are : [8]

Masochism implies that I need to be a scapegoat.
Sadism implies that I need a scapegoat.

In my view, Freud failed to clearly identify the internal conflicts of the male. When a man dreams of having intense conflict with other men there are two possible interpretations.

Both scenarios feature violence. Underlying anger will usually ensure that the internal conflict becomes very intense in either case ; the anger arises as the means of overcoming the fear that authority or sexuality in other men engenders in the man.

The difference between the scenarios is determined on
the issue of sadism.

If sadism is present then the conflict centres on issues of masculinity or femininity, and the threat that sexuality poses to the man. Sadism can be recognised when the violence is excessive and ‘over the top’. The absence of sadism means that the conflict is not a sexual one but only one of authority ; pride is present but not the jealousy. For a confused person a conflict dream may oscillate between both scenarios.

Understanding the issues in terms of masculinity and femininity enables the underlying dynamics to be more accurately diagnosed and more easily understood than simply classifying them as homosexual themes.

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Punishment and Eroticism

For a heterosexual male, masochism is practised when the person cannot usually admit his hatred of his mother; the hatred of the parent is repressed and then displaced onto himself. Sadism is practised when the person can admit (or at least feel) his hatred of his mother.

There is a less aware, more everyday, manner of experiencing sadism and masochism ; this again reflects hatred of feminine sexuality. In general, when a person’s mood is pride (in the mode of hatred of others) and sexual desires arise whilst the pride is still dominant then sadism will be the response.

Similarly, when a person’s mood is guilt (mode of self-hate) and he finds himself in a situation where sexual desires arise then this combination of guilt and jealousy will generate masochism. This situation needs to be separated from the more usual one when jealousy follows guilt : in the latter situation the sexual thoughts arise as a response to guilt, and since they are generated when the guilt has faded so they are free of masochism. (See article Oedipus and Electra, sub-heading Jealousy and Guilt).

One morning I was in the canteen of the hospital where I worked. I observed a mother being angry to her daughter, who was about six years old. The mother pulled up the girl’s dress in public and spanked her lightly on her knickers. It was obvious to me that spanking was an erotic pleasure for the mother, teaching the child that eroticism was degrading (because the girl was humiliated in public). For the mother, eroticism links to anger ; therefore sex is aggressive and sado-masochistic. The question is, how much is child-punishment practised for the erotic satisfaction of the parent ?  When it is so practised it conditions the child to be like the mother – sexual tastes are still an aspect of bonding.

The two common abreactions can generate intense sexual emotions, and these emotions can lead to ambivalent attitudes. When the abreaction of guilt ends in resentment I reject sexual desire as being a sign of degeneracy, but I can still indulge in sexual attraction. It is only jealousy that I reject, not narcissism. However, when the abreaction of pride ends in bitterness, even sexual attraction is completely rejected – all forms of sexuality are felt to be disgusting. [9]

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Rape and Brutality

When catharsis starts from non-sexual themes then the subsequent resentment is also non-sexual in content. But when phantasies have sexual content then guilt becomes sexual guilt ; now resentment generates mental or physical violence as the backlash against ‘immorality’.

It is sexual guilt that leads to most of the violence in society. The unconscious idea that creates resentment is ‘people are repulsive’. When sexual guilt is dominant then resentment becomes more specific and changes into the idea that ‘people are sexually repulsive’. Violence is now directed at persons of the opposite sex or opposite gender.

As an example, consider the soldier under great stress in warfare. Being on the winning side means that catharsis is always arising, and some of these joys will have sexual content. In any situation where his sexual guilt becomes dominant then the succeeding phase of resentment will drive him to turn to women in rape and pillage.

It is not only the soldier under stress who victimises women. I relate one of my chief memories of my political demonstration days, in my 20s. During one big demonstration, I ended up near to one male policeman. He was almost on his own – there were only a handful of other policemen within supporting distance of him. He was the target for stone throwing by several male demonstrators. I was only a few feet away from him. Suddenly he seemed to go berserk and, ignoring his male tormentors, attacked three women standing quietly near him. He began to pull their hair, hitting and threatening them with his truncheon. His face had a savage expression on it. Why did he attack innocent women ?

This incident puzzled me for years. Eventually my psycho-analysis gave an answer. Under the stress of physical intimidation by men his sense of masculinity faded ; he needed to rebuild his pride by confronting women, thereby refuting his own femininity. Hence, under the impulse of anger, he chose to assault women rather than men.

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In general, if a man (whether a policeman or a civilian) decides to attack a non-violent bystander then his resentment over his sexual problems will exert a very strong influence over him. His resentment will control his decision whether to assault a woman or a man. If he is heterosexual and has strong sexual guilt then he will attack women in order to diminish his own femininity ; if the masculinity of other men is more of an issue for him then he will prefer to attack men so as to increase his own masculinity.

Bitterness leads to a different scenario. Violence is used to create some degree of independence against external authority. For example, in warfare the soldier is always experiencing sorrow over the loss of comrades and over the incompetence of higher command. So the abreaction of pride must be a frequent occurrence. If bitterness is extreme then the soldier may use violence against his own command system: he may attack the hierarchy of his own group (such as unpopular officers, especially those who are martinets) or refuse to help the group when it needs him.

End Note

In the examination of the subconscious dynamics of sexuality, sadism and masochism present the most difficult problems for analysis. The person has to follow an insight wherever it leads, even when it leads into foul waters. In the attempt to understand the reasons for sexual violence, the person has to wade through a nightmare land of disgust, confusion and degradation.


The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it.  For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. There are some notes on identification in the articles on Transference and Aspects of Personal Identity.
A more abstract understanding of the meaning of degradation in one's life is given in the article Levels of Suffering, on my websites Discover Your Mind and Patterns of Spirituality[1]

[²]. The article on Bonding focuses on some problems of a sensitive child and explains an unintentional source of infancy trauma.
Ideas on infancy trauma are explained in more detail in two articles on my website Patterns of Confusion. The first article, Vulnerability of the Ego, focuses on the origins of violence. And the second one, Guilt & Meaning - part 2, centres on why trauma occurs unintentionally ; a shortened version of this article is Infancy Trauma, on my website  The Subconscious Mind[2]

[³]. My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See home page. [3]

[4]. The reversal of values from morality to immorality is a feature of catharsis. Some results of this reversal are described in the article Oedipus and Electra, sub-section Reversal of Values.
Catharsis is the first stage of the abreaction of guilt, and is explained in the article Catharsis and Suggestion. [4]

[5]. Ideas on the two identities of each person are described in the article Confusion. [5]

[6]. Sexual desire is based on jealousy. My use of the terms "sexual desire" and "sexual attraction" is described in the article Two Modes of Sexuality, sub-section Two Responses. [6]

[7]. Any emotion is always a feeling (either positive or negative) that energises a mental concept associated with it. The mental concept is normally unconscious, so I call it an unconscious idea. Emotional dynamics are the principal unconscious ideas and their associated emotions that drive any particular state of consciousness. [7]

[8]. Unconscious ideas are introduced in the first article on Emotion. [8]

[9]. My analysis of the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction. See home page.
For the terms "sexual desire" and "sexual attraction", see footnote 6. [9]

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Two Modes of Sexuality - sexuality is dual in form.

Bonding - continues the bonding patterns.

Oedipus and Electra - symbolism in sexual practices.

TV / TS - transvestism & trans-sexuality, plus voyeurism and groping.

Sadism and Masochism - sexual violence and degrading phantasies.

Structure of Sexual Response - four relationship responses.

Partnerships - the way that change affects partners.

The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
All Rights Reserved

Ian Heath
London, UK

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