An excerpt from Lesson 4 of Deconstructing the Myth of Soulmate*:
I don’t tend to like bringing Christianity into things, and yet I do it all of the time. We’ve reached a point where I need to go there. Because, you see, Christian mythology is also based on several descent and separation stories. And, whether we like it or not, the Christian ethos has informed the entire foundation of western culture.
One of Christianity’s most insidious, destructive themes is that of sadomasochism. Yep, that’s right: the notion that I have to sacrifice myself in painful ways in order to attain salvation. Or the notion that it is your fault that I’ve been screwed and so you must suffer.
We’re not talking whips and chains here, folks. We’re talking psychological sadomasochism and sometimes behavioral sadomasochism. But it’s super unconscious, which means it’s not like many of us are saying out loud “oh yes, society and relationships, please hurt me more!”
So hang in here with me once again while I break this down.
This idea is based on one of the prevailing mythological lenses we use in our culture. ‘Mythological lens’ is another way of saying ‘paradigm’ or ‘world view’. It’s important to recognize that not all of us are Christian. However, Christianity permeates the physical, social, economic and relational structures of our society.
Myths and worldview guide the ways our society – from infrastructures to relationships and personal identity – are formed. Understanding them helps us to undo the more destructive parts, cuz we can get to the root of things.
The myth of The Fall or The Garden of Eden myth, is one of three predominant myths for western culture. In short, this myth posits the idea that two existed at the beginning of time. One was curious and did something she shouldn’t have, and as a result She AND He were Cast Out. Like, out of the garden, out of paradise, forever.
(Side note: Eve wasn’t actually the original. She was preceded by Lilith, who was cast out for wanting equality, but that’s another story.)
The myth of the fall is based in the idea that there is a fundamental split between spirit/flesh or man/woman. The way we hear it told is essentially saying that Eve made Adam turn away from God. Adam responded to the temptation, and they were both cast out.
Here we see women being portrayed as the temptation leading to man’s spiritual downfall.
Here we also see an underlying idea that humans were once good, and that the evolution of our kind has been one of increasing descent and awfulness.
Now, even just typing this up kinda makes my skin crawl. Gender binaries. Hubris. But zooming out to understand that these myths have informed a few thousands years of culture-shaping is important.
Masochism as we use it today refers to the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from one’s own pain or humiliation. Generally speaking, it’s the enjoyment of what appears to be painful.
Masochism is a term coined by a 19th century psychiatrist who listed it under “general pathology” in his book Psychopathia Sexualis — which immediately made it a sexual, pathological, psychological phenomenon (try saying that five times fast!).
Freud then put masochism under the rubric of perversion. It later became known as a neurotic psychological disorder.
In the psychology of sadomasochism, a person either consciously or unconsciously feels that they deserve or should accept pain, punishment, crisis or suffering without understanding why. They believe — again, oftentimes quite unconsciously — that for their needs to be met, they must somehow hurt or suffer first. There can be abject feelings of worthlessness or really deeply buried ones.
I think that, really generally speaking, many of us are masochists in some way. We bear or have dealt with the pressures of jobs we hate, incompetent management, inflation, taxes, tech issues… We eat things we know cause our bodies discomfort or pain…
We can break it down that way for sure, totally absent of sexual gratification. Although sometimes we get whipped up into the drama of complaining or airing our suffering. That can have a sexual energy to it.
Point being: masochism is not a fringe theme. It’s very present.
Before science and psychology regarded masochism as a disease, religion regarded it as penance — a remedy for sin. Penance entails humiliation, shame, maybe some pain, and is seen as a movement towards health. Penance is a means of atoning, or finding spiritual satisfaction or purification that brings one closer to god.
An example? Nuns practicing self-flagellation, the act of flogging oneself out of a desire for union with the passion of christ while paying penance for the sins of the flesh.
Makes for a pretty sadistic god figure, who endorses and even requires such pain.
Masochism in this sense is an attitude which includes a dedication to suffering. It recognizes value and meaning in that suffering. Suffering for a purpose.
What do lots of Christians learn from a young age? Christ died for your sins, y’all. He suffered. So you better be good. And feel pretty bad, deep down, about your inherent sinfulness. This body thing? Blech. Gross and sinful.
The first thing you see when you walk into a Catholic church is Christ bloodied and bleeding on the cross.
Now, masochism doesn’t just show up in Christianity. We see suffering for a purpose throughout human cultures in forms such as indigenous rites of passage. For example, cultures who send young boys off on vision quests where they are castrated or have to castrate themselves in order to ‘become a man.’ Pain as initiatory rite.
So what does it look like in our society?
Well, there’s the association between flesh and feminine, flesh and sin, sin and body, making bodies temples of shame. Especially feminine ones.
There’s the assumption that we’re born guilty, and gotta work that shit off.
Here’s another idea: Eve felt guilt for ‘causing’ her and Adam to be cast out, and therefore a need to atone.
Guilt and the feeling of needing atonement is the basis of masochistic psychology.
Guilt and feelings of anger are the basis for the psychology of sadism.
Here we have the idea that lots of bodies have essentially been placed as “less than” in order to work off some ancient debt based in a story that I’m pretty sure was supposed to be a metaphor — a metaphor that was interpreted over and over again, eventually with the goal of making it more successful at conquering land and empire. That’s the history of the Christian church.
A metaphor that went from being about the struggle to KNOW – as in the Gnostic version – to being about making sure humans had to go outside themselves for powerful knowledge.
Adam didn’t take responsibility for his own actions, and Eve accepted blame for Adam’s choice. She even takes it a step further and blames herself for causing it. Booooo.
The idea here is that the resulting psychological consequences have kinda defined the nature of human relationships since the origin of the myth. And again, this stuff tends to operate really unconsciously.
All the thousands of years priestesses spent initiating men into the mysteries of sex became stories of vulgarity, sin and shame. Those priestesses became whores and prostitutes. And that, the oldest profession that began as a sacred duty, became a shameful identity.
Through sadomasochistic myths and psychology, we get the idea that growth has to be linked to suffering.
But what about some more practical examples? Of every day life? And again, always use your discernment – maybe this stuff doesn’t vibe for you!
But what about:
- Working in the Non-Profit world or in nursing, where folks oftentimes have a hard time exercising personal boundaries to the detriment of their mental, emotional and physical health?
- Our systems of debt and repayment?
- The idea that the nurturing, good parent must be selfless and boundaryless?
- The ways we see over and over again that women are paid less, and accept less, than men in the workplace?
- The idea that love is pain (and, I mean…isn’t it sometimes?…hmmmmm)
Masochistic practices can be found in the ways we sometimes tend towards creating self knowledge through pain – and sometimes humiliation. Underlying sadomasochistic thought patterns that are very often unconscious, leading us to accept imbalances of power and inequality include:
- I deserve pain, punishment, crisis, suffering, humiliation (enforced humility) and denial, and I don’t know why
- making excuses that sound like rational reasons in order to justify such conditions
- There must be something wrong with me
- For my needs to be met I must hurt, suffer or sacrifice first
- I am essentially worthless, while intellectually knowing better
These might not be thoughts you have on a day to day basis, but what about when you’re upset or triggered?
Masochistic orientation creates a circumstantial reality that is defined by personal crucifixion – compulsive sacrifice of self in a lot of ways. This means that it is woven into trends of self-sacrifice, self-sabotage, martyrdom and more. All of these can lead to personal and relational crisis.
Let me say this again: We live in a society where self-sacrifice is taught as a way to make and have meaning in our lives. And we’re not taught to think critically about that.
I wanna be careful here. This is not a matter of you being at fault for bad or painful things that have happened to you. The attitude here is still one of inquiry and non-judgment. This is about taking responsibility for healing and changing patterns, not accepting responsibility for harm that has been done to us.
In astrological language we’re dealing with the Virgo/Pisces axis. Why do I bring that up here? Because we’ve got a lot of Pisces going on right now. Also because the higher octaves or expressions of those signs also point us towards the medicine for the guilt and shame that can be so present within us at very deep levels:
- Unconditional love — of self, and then of other
- Love with boundaries and discernment based in a core sense of what we’re worth and what we need
- Remembrance of divinity, unity, love and light
- Using acts of non-harmful purification (salt baths, solitude, house cleaning, catharsis) to initiate ourselves into new stages of life and relationship.
- Cultivating practices that help us to work towards our goals diligently and mindfully, while also knowing when to let things go.
- Remembering that all is love. If you found your friend in a puddle on the floor, crying and speaking of self-loathing, what would you do? Can you do that for yourself in those moments? There’s intense, passionate love for ya.
There are times when trying to help or save someone is a masochistic act that actually perpetuates that person’s bad behavior — we take their struggle on as our own, therefore denying them the experience of figuring their own way through their own ordeal. This also leads into themes of codependency.
Devotion to love and acceptance, yet with boundaries so that we protect our own sacred path as well as the path of others… well, that seems more like what I think Jesus was trying to get across.
*To read more, or participate in Deconstructing the Myth of Soulmate: Your Guide to Venus Retrograde in Gemini, you can join my Patreon at any level now to get access to the first 4 lessons. Stay subscribed for as long as you want (3 lessons left!).
Masochism: A Jungian View by Lynn Cowan
Pluto: Volume II by Jeffrey Wolf Green