Masochistic Personality Disorder – What Is It?

We often disguise our pain with humor resorting to hurtful self-deprecating remarks. While it can be a subtle sign that you are in pain, it can also denote something more about your personality. Constantly putting yourself down can denote a tendency towards a masochistic personality disorder. 

The term masochism was circumscribed to sexual behavior psychology, but Wilheim Reich applied the term masochism in a broader sense. He was able to see other areas where that term applied. 

The American Psychological Association does not officially recognize masochistic personality disorder (MPA for short), nor is it included in the DSM-5. However, a definition is included in the DSM-3. The definition provided is a personality disorder in which individuals often experience a type of gratification from guilt feelings as a consequence of self-derogation, self-sacrifice, misery, or humiliation. In some cases, an individual may receive gratification from submitting to physically sadistic acts. After some revision, the APA decided to remove the disorder since it overlapped with dependent personality and similar behaviors. Additionally, many believed that the disorder would be used to blame victims of abuse. 

However, masochistic personality disorder should never be confused with Stockholm syndrome or any similar phenomena. They are both very different. 

Masochistic tendencies are rooted in the person’s personality–something none of us have much say in. Personalities are a combined product of our environment, genetics, and early life experiences. Inherited aspects of your personality are called traits or temperaments. Your learned behaviors form your habits, and a collection of habits make up your character. Your personality also has quirks, for example, having a bright personality or having an anxious temperament. 

Although masochistic personality is not recognized by the American Psychological Association, many licensed professionals recognize it. The criteria they use encompasses characteristic traits such as people-pleasing at your expense or denying positive acknowledgment. 

Like many disorders, the early roots of masochistic personality disorder begin during childhood. For some, early parentification may have caused them to believe that other people’s needs come before their own. As a result, they may fear punishment for expressing their needs. In his essay, Anthony D. Smith, a child psychologist, poses the example of a child with an anxious temperament forced to tackle adult tasks because their parents are incapable. They may feel that their self-worth hinges on their role as a caretaker. Additionally, positive reinforcement of caretaking duties imposed on the child may cement the idea that their worth hinges upon taking care of others. Unfortunately, many children grow up in similar family dynamics. 

A child with an insecure parental attachment and predisposition for people-pleasing may continue that same way for the rest of their lives–sacrificing themselves for others. Unfortunately, those who have masochistic personality disorder are at odds with themselves. They live their lives battling between desiring to have their needs met and believing that it is better to put others first. They live to help others because they feel that that is their role in life but yearn to be taken care of. However, they feel guilty for having reciprocal relationships because they feel that they are being selfish. Hence, they may sabotage the relationship., 

The symptoms and emotional landscape of someone with a masochistic personality disorder may be similar to someone with a dependent personality. However, the two personalities could not be more different. Someone with a dependent personality seeks someone to take care of them. Someone with masochistic personality disorder seeks someone to take care of. 

Our personalities are an amalgam of habits, temperaments, and quirks. Hence, they are malleable. Fortunately, if you have a masochistic personality disorder, you can unlearn your self-defeating and self-sabotaging behaviors. Typically, therapy is the best course of treatment. If you have a masochistic personality disorder, reach out to a therapist for guidance, courage, and tools to grow into a better and healthier version of yourself. 

Take care!


Dempsey, K. (2019, September 27). Are you a masochist? here’s how to tell. and what to do about it. The Awareness Centre. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from 

Ruffalo, M. L. (2019, March 23). Masochistic Personality Disorder: Time to Include in DSM? Psychology Today. Retrieved 2021, from 

Smith, A. D. (2021, February 19). Masochistic personality, revisited. Psychology Today . Retrieved September 17, 2021, from 

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