I decided to post this today - it's from a 6-hour class I taught on the Masochistic Character Structure - the third of five classes on character structures, which are sets of defenses that we create in early childhood and affect us deeply for the rest of our lives. Every aspect of a person's being is affected by character structures - mind, body and emotions. We create them to survive the slings and arrows of our imperfect childhoods with imperfect parents, but like the cocoon of a caterpillar, when we are ready to become self-actualized adults, we must shed them, "break through" our character structures. Not easy. It requires help. But there's no end run around it. The good news is, as you'll see in the last small but significant section below, that underneath it all is a Higher Self with great capacities and gifts to give to life.

Why am I writing about this one first? Well, it's kind of a linchpin of sorts. It is created at the midpoint of early childhood (between 1 1/2 and 3 years old), and almost everybody has some amount of masochism in their personality. Have you ever sabotaged yourself in some endeavor or relationship? Masochism. Have a string of projects you never completed projects? Masochism. Chronic muscle stiffness? Masochism. Passive-aggressive or sadistic behavior towards yourself or others? Masochism.

Read on, and remember that knowledge is power and the truth will set you free.

PRESENTING PROBLEMS (When first coming to therapy)

- Chronic feelings of suffering and chronic low-level anxiety, both emotionally and physically;
- Submissive behavior, and lack of self-assertion (inability to say, “No”);
- Intense feelings of shame and humiliation;
- Feeling trapped;
- Self-destructive behavior patterns (sabotaging success in jobs and relationships, accidents, sexual acting out, etc.);
- Obsessive/compulsive problems, particularly around sex, cleanliness and orderliness;
- Preoccupations with sex, masturbation, pornography and/or excretory functions, accompanied by intense guilt, shame and self-punishment;
- An inability to let go of or change repetitive patterns in abusive or ungratifying relationships;
- Inability to tolerate pleasure or success without guilt or anxiety;
- Sadistic, cruel and abusive acting out, or pervasive worrying about urges to do so;
- Primary “falling” fear: of the bottom falling out;
- Primary holding pattern: holding in;
- Primary longing: to be free/spontaneous;
- Primary survival struggle: the right to be assertive.

(Developmental Period - 19th to 30th Months)

- Parents offered conditional love to the child based on compliance with their will (that the child “be a good boy or girl” and control impulses);
- Attempts by child to assert its own will or say “No” were overpowered by parents and greeted with threats of abandonment or withdrawal of love;
- Parents were excessively involved in child’s eating and excretory functions (child may have been pushed to eat more than it wanted, toilet training may have been severe, enemas given, etc.), and in general, there was a strong focus on eating and defecating in the family;
- Father may have been passive, submissive or absent while mother was dominating, smothering, or harsh (often with a self-sacrificing, martyr-type mask), or father may have been harsh, controlling or sadistic while mother was permissive and indulgent;
- Parents may have been excessively concerned about “messing up” (around personal hygiene, household cleanliness, finances, order in general, etc.);
- A sudden interruption in the parent-child relationships may have occurred in the child’s second year of life (birth of a sibling, divorce, absent parent due to work, illness, death, etc., or a physical illness of child).


- Body is typically shortened, thick and muscular (to restrain assertiveness and negative impulses), with chronic tension in the body; there may be excessive body hair;

- Neck is short and thick (from a “turtle-like” pulling in of the head);

- Shoulder muscles enlarged (to bear burdens);

- Buttocks are pulled in and squeezed together (to control the impulse to mess up and let out), which pushes the pelvis forward;

- Waist is short and thick, encased, compressed and collapsed (from pulling in and down from the top and up and in from the bottom to control impulses to let out); in women, hips and thighs are often thick and heavy; in men, the abdomen often balloons;

- The abdominal compression affects the whole diaphragmatic segment, making exhalation difficult and hindering all of the organs in the area;

- There is often an awkwardness or clumsiness in the person’s gait and movements, with frequent minor accidents (messing up), along with a general uncomfortability in the body;

- There is anal and genital tension and spasticity (causing acute suffering and inability to freely experience pleasure) as the whole pelvic floor is contracted;

- Skin tends to have a brownish hue due to stagnant, held energy charge; there may be severe problems with acne;

- Chronic areas of tension: the neck, shoulder girdle, pelvis and buttocks, and most of the large muscles;

- Chronic physical ailments of the throat and colon/anal region, such as sore throats, colitis, constipation and hemorrhoids, and digestive problems;

- Expression in the eyes is one of suffering, often combined with compulsive smiling.


- Fully charged energetically, but energy is tightly held in check (though not frozen), so this person is “boiling” inside;
- Energy moving upward and downward is choked off at the neck and waist (causing compression) and outlets for energy discharge are blocked (throat, anus, genitals);
- The highly charged energy is stagnant in the skin;
- Chakras (energy centers): Crown - (spiritual connection) deflated; Third Eye - (intuitive abilities) open; Throat - (self-expression) contracted; Heart - (love feelings) open, but constricted; Solar Plexus - (universal wisdom) open; Sexual - (pleasure and creativity) partially open; Base – (grounding and connection to physical life) partially blocked.


- Feelings are often predominant and strongly felt, but held in, literally packed within by massive armoring, creating chronic feelings of pain, suffering and anxiety;
- Negative feelings, which are intense in this structure (including desires to punish, crush or be sadistic to others), and their expressions, are severely prohibited, accompanied by powerful feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation if any self-assertion is made, and a fear of exploding violently;
- Positive feelings of love, including humor and joy are very active, but encased deep within and inhibited from full expression; pleasure and any strong surges of energy are perceived as a threat (of exploding or the bottom falling out);
- Extreme efforts are made to be kind, pleasant, pleasing, servile, self-sacrificing and ingratiating in order to hide the inner hostility and spitefulness, which is considerable; negative feelings are expressed mainly through passive-aggressive behavior or provocative attitudes;
- The will is weakened by the constant holding pattern, but it is strong enough to express its resistance (to the parents’ crushing will) through stubbornness, defiance and passive refusal (to move, to be successful or happy, etc.); the will is also often directed to make the individual appear stupid or eccentric, or to dissimulate, so there is much inner doubting about one’s own intelligence or wisdom;
- The mind can be very orderly, but usually obsessively so, with much ruminating on details, serving as a distraction from feelings;


- An inadequate sense of self caused by the negation of spontaneous, assertive expressions and deep feelings of inferiority; self-assertion is severely limited and there is an emotional heaviness (feeling burdened, “stuck in the mud”, “too hard to move”);
- Consciously identified with trying to please, while unconsciously identified with sadism, spite and hostility;
- Disguised exhibitionism combined with self-derogation and self-deprecation and a chronic compulsion to damage the self;
- Strong castration/mutilation anxieties (fear of retaliation for inner negativity and exhibitionism);
- Intense fears of being abandoned, due to a perceived reliance on others for both stimulation and “decompression” from stimulation and pent-up feelings;
- In the “anal-compulsive” (“retentive”) character type, there is great concern about orderliness, cleanliness, efficiency and control, with great difficulty tolerating change;
- Main defenses: reaction formation, ruminative thinking, undoing, externalization, reversal, rationalization;
- Typical masks: self-sacrificing, martyr (“I suffer for you.” “I am special, noble and superior because I suffer.”), pleasing, submissive, ingratiating, slave (“I live only to serve.” “I have no selfishness in me.”), efficiency expert, perfectionist (“I am superior because I never mess up.” “If I fail, it is because I didn’t try hard enough.”), pacifism (“I have no hurtful intentions towards anyone.” “I have no aggression or hostility in me.”);
- Childhood history may include: clumsiness and many minor accidents, “good boy” or “good girl” behavior patterns in childhood, followed by rebellious or cruel acting out behavior in adolescence, overeating (to stuff down feelings), chronic sore throats, acne, digestive problems (coupled with anxiety about vomiting), constipation, and excessive neatness or sloppiness.


- Relationships, while able to be engaged in and sustained, are fraught with tension and pressure, at times exploding into outright hostility and abusiveness as the suppressed and highly charged negativity seeks an outlet;
- Trying to get appreciation and approval, permission to feel, and relief from guilt are predominant motivations in relationships; this is attempted either through exaggerated pleasing, servile and submissive behavior (that is experienced by the recipient as hostile, controlling and contemptuous), through self-deprecating attitudes and self-damaging behavior, constant whining and complaining, or through directly provocative behavior; the angry reactions provoked in others by these characteristics will then seem to justify this person’s self-righteous fury and/or self-punishing guilt;
- Intense preoccupation with sex and frequent masturbation are common as this person continually seeks pleasure and release, both of which are intensely desired and also inhibited; fascination with pornography and/or sadomasochistic fantasy is common (seeking to turn pain, submission and humiliation into “pleasure”); orgasms are controlled by pushing and squeezing actions (of the buttocks, thighs and pelvis);
- Surrendering to love is related to as both potentially liberating and potentially crushing, with pain as a necessary ingredient and good feelings in love and sex as “too much.”


- “I will be loved as long as I submit to the will of others.” “If I assert my independence, I will be crushed.”
- “To get love, I must please others.” “I can never say no.”
- “I must never express my negativity.” “I will hurt myself to prevent others from hurting me.”
- “If I feel too much, I will explode.”
- “I am inferior and disgusting because of my negative feelings.”
- “Life is hard and suffering unavoidable.”


- Great capacities for pleasure, humor, optimism, playfulness and joy;
- Genuine supportiveness, strength and desire to be of service to others;
- An expansive, open heart with deep compassion, true kindness and understanding;
- Positive assertiveness and healthy aggression with substantial amounts of energy;
- Ability to be spontaneously creative in the moment, surrender ego control and trust the natural order in all things;


Luis said...


I really appreciate this article. No words enough to thank you.

Luis said...


I think there are missing pieces in this article like the "THERAPEUTIC APPROACH" that you have in other posts. If the article have missing parts, Could you please publish the whole one.

Many thanks again.

Charlotte Holloway said...

Dear Peter I am a student studying integrative psychotherapy in the UK and I found your summary of the masochistic structure painfully helpful! I, too, would really appreciate your view on what the therapeutic i.e. repair implications and indications are for this structure are.

Do you work directly with the body as a therapist? I am interested in Mollon's energy work and AIT. Do you have any experience of or thoughts on AIT?

Best wishes Charlotte

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you. This is the most accurate article on the psychology of masochism I have seen as of yet. I found myself relating to the majority of these characteristics; and I think you've helped me find ultimately where it's coming from, and what I need to do now to heal.

cordoba36 said...

Yes, I agree with other commentators. This is the most revealing description of the masochistic character structure I have ever read. Very helpful - thank you!

Anonymous said...

Very informative...and what is the suggested therapy?

Peter Loffredo said...

If you click on the Character Structures link on the right of the from page and scroll down to the masochistic character structure, the last 2 sections are "Therapeutic Tasks" and "Therapeutic Approach."
Thanks for reading.

trevruss said...

I've just found this page after a conversation with my coach about fear of rejection and the masochistic character structure. I'm 46 and this is the first time I've ever encountered this descriptor of me... After reading through the traits and characteristics of this character structure, I'm floored on how accurately it describes me even down to the body type! Now all I want to do is to know better why I am this way and how to heal and become my true self. Any others have resources that they would recommend? Peter?
Thanks, Trevor

Peter Loffredo said...

Thank you for your interest in the FPL blog, Trevor. Some great resources for more of this kind of information would be "Bioenergetics" by Alexander Lowen and "Core Energetics" by John Pierrokas.
All the best,

Anonymous said...

The link is missing. Could you paste it in? Thanks!


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