Psychotherapy Off the Wall

Most victims of sadistic attack would find the notion, that the attack was perceived as retaliation by the perpetrator, hard or impossible to understand or to accept. And, indeed, the provocation involved is often very nearly invisible. The attack may be conceived as a reaction to the other’s aggressive stance, moral turpitude, former misdeeds, unfair advantages, invasiveness, faults, errors of judgement, or even attempts to achieve social empowerment (as through make-up, attire or manner). And, in order to act out sadistic impulses, the perpetrator usually views him/her self as morally or rightfully (eg., as a parent or an official) in the position of judging the other’s apparent or real conduct.
And the sadistic response is not restricted to males. The response of the rape perpetrator or the sadist is really little different from that of a woman if she is going to fight with a man. She is likely to choose the groin as the most vulnerable point for attack. And, the intense excitement and sense of gratification which many women feel during training in rape-proofing, or in successful counter-attack when they are attacked, although it is called a sense of ’empowerment’, is probably completely equivalent to the experience of sadism — even although sadism has usually in the past been attributed almost exclusively to the male.
This point of view is certainly not a popular one. The most usual counter-arguments are that there is an important difference between attack and retaliation, that no attack is ever justifiable, and that the sense of ’empowerment’ is a product of relief from fear of the anticipated danger in the situation. Unfortunately for these counter-arguments, the difference between attack and retaliation is largely that of the point of view of victim and perpetrator (which, of course, does not in any way justify any attack); although surely wrong, the perpetrator obviously does think of the attack as justified by his/her justification; and the experience of empowerment, far from being one of reduced distress (i.e., relief), is usually experienced as an increase in positive feelings approaching exhilaration. The whole point of this argument, of course, is not in any way to diminish the experience of any victim, but rather to remark that sadism, and particularly sadistic impulses, are common to almost everyone – they are not qualitatively different events occurring in a number of particular and anomalous people. That is, we all share in the experience of sadism in some degree, if only when we judge another’s conduct and/or criticize or rebuke another.
Returning to a lighter vein, the Marquis de Sade never truly understood ‘real’ sadism. A real sadist is one who, without the social grace to make an excuse, refuses point blank to be mean to a masochist. Now, that is sadistic!
But the aggressive (rape) or punitive (sadism) ‘retaliation’ is not always directed at people. Its target is sometimes an object, to which the attacker attributes his or her sense of being demeaned, and on which he feels justified or permitted to inflict pain or damage. So it was no surprise to Felicity when, while reviewing his fantasies, he discovered that his patients Harry, Hector and Hugh, who most markedly evidenced sadism, were not involved at all in the expression of their sadism sexually, or toward people. Harry expressed his sadism toward animals, and Hector and Hugh expressed their sadism toward things.

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