What is it, exactly?
When I asked myself this question recently, it seemed to me that it was causing oneself pain or difficulty on purpose, ostensibly to achieve something desired.
Exercising at the gym
Watching the news on TV

However...the dictionary has several definitions, and three out of the four have one thing in common: *pleasure* is derived from pain, degradation, etc.
So, unless you're one of those crazy people who experience an endorphin high after exercising, that doesn't qualify, and honestly none of the other (admittedly humor-based) examples do either.
So though we joke that the friend who stays in the job with the craptastic boss is actually a masochist, that's not the description at all.

So what is? What makes us do things that are painful, tiring, saddening, frustrating, in order to reach a goal or obtain something that we think/hope will make our lives better?

(**Note: I am not a masochist myself, but there are times if I wonder if I am. ;)


Jeri said...

Because continuing through the storm is the only choice we have, sometimes.

I'm not a masochist, either.

Random Michelle K said...

Masochism isn't pain for an ends, such as dieting and exercising for a goal.

Masochism is suffering as an end in and of itself.

Masochism is pain because it feels *good*. Or pain of a type that relieves another type of pain, specifically, physical pain that relieves mental or emotional pain.

I don't truly think it's something that can be explained rationally, but oddly enough, it is something that has been on my mind a lot recently. I was a cutter in high school and college, because physical pain was a relief from the mental and emotional turmoil of depression. I don't think that's true masochism, but it does give me a small understanding of it.

Anne C. said...

Yeah, Michelle, that became my understanding of it after looking into the true definition.

Charley said...

Masochism is enjoying pain (because it does in fact release endorphins that stimulate pleasure). Some people are hard wired in the noggin to enjoy this pleasure - in the sense that the pain is a way to be pleased, just like having an ice cream sunday is a way to be pleased, or making love is a way to be pleased, or as Michelle says, cutting is a way to be pleased.

The pleasure can be physical, emotional, spiritual, etc etc etc.

Anne C. said...

I find it interesting (and this is not a negative commentary on those who have replied already, just something I noticed) that two of the three comments so far have been focused on the first part of my post, about the nature of masochism, and say little about the second part, what (not masochism) makes people do things that are difficult or cause themselves pain?

Think I should change the title of the post?

Charley said...

Good question, Anne; I think the two are related, though. I do things that are painful precisely because I WANT the reward. Skinner would be proud of that behaviorist statement, but it's true. The reward is worth the pain.

That's why rats would rather push a button that gives them a pleasurable sensation and literally starve themselves to death in the process, than eat the cheese that's right nearby.

The pleasure associated with that stimulus was WORTH the hunger pains and death of starvation, at least to the rat ;).

Same thing goes for us, too, I think - the pain BRINGS pleasure, thus we endure the pain.

Of course, I could say that your continuing questions about this subject means your more a masochist than you admit, but that might be dangerous!

John the Scientist said...

"What (not masochism) makes people do things that are difficult or cause themselves pain?"

Because it gives them a sense of superiority over those who do push themselves.

Because it it is a sort of workout for mental self-discipline, and can become an ingrained habit, especially among those lucky enough to have parents who encouraged the delay of gratification (within reason).

Because in many cases it bestows actual superiority of some sort - athletic training and mental training for job skills are positive example, the "one-upmanship" of geeks in competitive trivia mode is a negative example.

Because of the endorphin release (I get a burst of that about 3 - 4 miles into a run, and despite how much I hate the first few miles, I am always in a better mood afterward, especially if I've pushed myself so hard my hands are shaking uncontrollably at the end of the run.

John the Scientist said...

over those who do NOT push themselves


Random Michelle K said...

Anne, I responded to that because with my recent bout, I've been reminded somewhat forcefully reminded of that time-- was actaully thinking about writing a post on it, but it's hard to talk about things like that without really upsetting people.

Anne C. said...

Michelle, you're welcome to guest post here if that helps. (Though I'm sure even those NOT near and dear to you get upset when they consider such issues.) You know I am a great admirer of your openness about your experiences.

Random Michelle K said...

That's the thing, if you talk about the desire to hurt yourself, it's taken as an "OMG LOCK HER UP! TAKE HER SHOESTRINGS!" sign, when in fact (at least in my case) what I have is an awareness of the desire to cut, because I know and remember that doing so was a physical release of emotional pain and turmoil.

And I can't say that people aren't wrong to freak out. People often speak very obliquely of suicide, and so friends and mental health associates are right to err on the side of caution, because we're talking about a mistake that can't be undone.

In '94--days before I graduated from college--a guy who was a year behind me in high school, and who was also supposed to graduate from WVU that year, jumped off a local bridge and killed himself.

Although we were not friends per se, he was kind to me in high school, and we had many friends in common in college.

His death was unpleasant on many levels,and I got to see (not for the last time) how much damage a suicide can do.

And that is why, although I may still have a desire to cut, I can no longer act upon that desire, because I will not do to my family and friends what I saw happen when Mike killed himself.

So I keep quiet about it, acknowledging it, but knowing that even talking about it can hurt others, which is something I will not willfully do.

Anyway, I've kinda done it here, but I'm hoping you'll all recognize this as a theoretical discussion and not a danger sign.

Like I said, it's a very hard thing to talk about, because there are so many different levels upon which other people can be hurt.

So now I go to the gym. It's a more acceptable form of physical suffering. ;)

Anne C. said...

Thank you, Michelle. :)
Interestingly enough, there are things I can't say on this blog for fear of worrying others and it's not even as serious as cutting or suicide.

Actually, I was pondering earlier how difficult it is (for me) to really vent, because I interpret my own venting (this is the self-deprecation kicking in) as self-indulgent. It's OK for others to vent, but not me?

Random Michelle K said...

Anne, I give you my full permission to bitch and vent and whine as much as you like.

That better? :)

Anne C. said...

Nice try, Michelle, but I think that restriction is hardwired in at this point. ;)

Random Michelle K said...

How bout a contest then? Who can bitch and whine and come up with most outrageous reason why their life is SHEER MISERY!

Charley said...

I don't know you Michelle, and I barely know Anne, but if that's what's going to happen I'm totally in. BRING IT ON :)

Anne C. said...

I'd lose any contest like that. My life isn't crappy enough.

[whine] My life isn't crappy enough to win crappy life contests! [/whine]

Nah, dwelling on the doom and gloom is too tiring. I'm going to change up. (See current post)


Random Michelle K said...

Come on Anne, you have to WORK it! (Seriously, this often helps me a lot)

Take something bad or frustrating, no matter how small, and build it into a monumental and ridiculous story.

The point is to laugh at yourself.

Monday morning, every time I turned around I kept getting crushed by work, and then frustrating news, and EVERYTHING. It was TERRIBLE!

(back of wrist to forehead)

Finally, after a morning of sheer, unadulterated, work-place hell, I sought to escape and have lunch with my friend.

Unfortunately for me, not only was it POURING DOWN RAIN! Streets in town were flooding and there was water everywhere and I didn't even have BOOTS but was instead wearing shoes made of TISSUE PAPER that were instantly RUINED and so I got all cut up walking across gravel and to add to that she was RUNNING LATE and I hate to STAND IN THE RAIN FOR HOURS! (ok. It was only five minutes, but still.)

Finally, after forging the rapids that were rapidly forming across VanVoohris Road, as well as the insane and rude drivers from those damned NEW states that come here and take over the town every year, we made it across the road and to the restaurant.

Finally, after the misery of the morning, I collapsed in the booth, ordered my drink, and took a deep breath.

Then to add INJURY to INSULT when she brought my my tea and I added the lemon I GOT LEMON IN MY PAPER CUT! Is there ANYTHING in the WORLD worse than lemon in a paper cut? I think not!

There. Top that!

Charley said...

That's funny, Michelle - the same exact thing happened to me on the same day....only after I got lemon juice in my papercut, my friend got a little wonky with the salt shaker and got salt all over it to boot!!!!!!!!!

Lemon juice AND salt in an open, gaping, vicious wound? Mercy me!

Anne C. said...

"Thank YOU for bringing up such a painful subject. Why don't you give a nice papercut and pour lemon juice on it? We're closed!"

Michelle, all I have to do is turn around and look at myself, practically a sultana covered in jewels complaining about the one big diamond she doesn't have. Whadda crybaby.
Makes me roll my eyes and laugh every time. :)

Random Michelle K said...

Anne, you're not getting into the spirit of it!

Perhaps this quote will help: "Nothing bad ever happens to a comedienne--it's all material."

You have to *work* the material to turn it into a joke! Massage the material! Force it to your will! And in doing so, what seems like a tragedy actually does become funny.

Trust me.

Anne C. said...


I guess I've never been one for hyperbole. Whenever I look at something after the emotions have passed, it always seems smaller and less important than it was. (Hey, the water was cold, I tell ya!)I will try your technique when I'm in the midst of an emotional storm and see how it works though. :)

Random Michelle K said...

I like to make people laugh, so I'm always looking for ways to take what happens and turn it into an amusing story.

It helps.

Most of the time.

Anne C. said...

You are good at helping people laugh, Michelle. :D