Spiritual Masochism

Posted on April 16, 2013 | 1 comment

Masochism is defined as the tendency to derive pleasure from one’s own pain or humiliation.

This concept has a spiritual cousin that I’ve seen on display. Spiritual masochism is the feeling of rightness that comes through one’s own pain or humiliation.

The spiritual masochist lives in unforgiveness.

Forgiveness should hurt, if it is available at all. They will offer to do anything to receive forgiveness, yet when it is done still feel the weight of the wrong. There is no release of guilt.

Being forgiven is conditional, and this person lives expecting it to be revoked. In the mind of this person there is something inherently wrong with them that makes them unworthy of forgiveness.

The spiritual masochist is quick to explain away praise, thanks, or gratitude.

Praise is uncomfortable because this person believes everyone views them in the same way they view their self. Unworthy.

So they are quick to gloss over expressions of praise. Or deny the need for thanks.

Thanks, gratitude or praise reduces the pain of what the masochist has done and thus causes the spiritual component to be lost.

The great irony is that this person will later wonder why no one appreciates or cares about them, validating their sense of unworthiness.

The spiritual masochist’s most real spiritual experience is letting God down…again.

Letting down God is all they feel capable of. Because they believe there is something fundamentally unlovable about their self, they seek ways to intentionally expose shame in order to prove it.

So when they sin, it is proof of their lack of worth, proof that they are not forgiven, proof that they are too far gone for God to care about.

Because their actions validate how they already perceive their self, they go through a cycle of degrading their self and then trying harder to earn the forgiveness (from God and others) that is so elusive.

Spiritual masochism is the opposite of grace.

In Jesus, our shame has a covering. Grace is Christ’s acceptance of us in the condition we are in. Not to be left there in that broken condition, but to be shown compassion.

God does not degrade, He builds up.

Part of the experience of grace, and for me the part that took longest to learn, is understanding the truth of our inherent worth.

We have worth, not because of what we produce, but because we are crafted in the image of God.

We have worth, not because of what we do, but because of what has been done for us in Christ.

We have worth, not because we are well-known, but because we are known by the Father.

That is the idea of loving your self – believing the truth that your worth is intrinsic because you are God’s special creation.

And that is the first step to breaking the bondage of spiritual masochism.

What about your intrinsic worth is difficult for you to accept?


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1 Comment

  1. Awesome! Thanks for the reminders! I have a dear RC friend who struggles with this (spiritual masochism). Is it typical of the RC church, do you suppose – as in, the way they are taught from childhood? NOT that others of us don’t struggle with this sometimes. MBW

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