Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Pleasure In Pain

Happiness has a darker side. Annals of history are replete with horror stories of men and women who have derived pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Is there innate sadism in all of us?

Sadism: verb, the act of enjoyment of cruelty to others. Or so says the precise intonations of the Oxford English Dictionary. The definition is but a hollow approximation, as it explains nothing of this human trigger to perverse happiness that exists in us all. The spine chilling pictures from Abu Gharib, with smiling marines, battering an already senseless prisoner, capture it far better. Happiness has a darker side. Annals of history are replete with horror stories of men and women who have derived pleasure from inflicting pain on others. From the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts, slavery, holocaust to urban legend snuff movies that are films that capture torture and the murder of a victim on camera.

The term 'sadism' was popularised by psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886 and stems from the writings of the Marquis de Sade (de Sade's writing style had been referred to as "le sadisme" for years, Krafft-Ebing was the first to use the term in a clinical manner).

While clinically sadism is counted as a disorder and a sexual perversion, we often use the term in our day-to-day parlance to describe a person who loves to hurt someone emotionally. This could be for any reason, from disagreement on a belief to having suffered pain (physical or emotional) at the hands of someone else. And by this definition, there is innate sadism in all of us. We wouldn’t like to accept it openly, but in the deep recesses of our mind, we may often be surprised to see how much we love to see our enemies in pain. Many good people, in defending their deeply felt beliefs, cross the line of reason and perpetrate emotional if not physical violence to others. The dark forces in human nature are close to the surface, and the smallest thing can trigger them unless we remain conscious of the dangers. The urge to defend our opinion is natural. And defence too easily turns into attack.

Psychologists say that such an emotion is "normal," often a product of jealousy and insecurity. According to consultant psychiatrist Puneet Dwevedi, "this streak emanates from our inability to handle pain which in turn fuels the urge to see others in similar pain.’’ The mature way of handling pain would be to absorb it, strengthen the inner spirit to deal with further adversities and move on.

But the average person tends to take a less noble route – by taking out their frustrations on people less powerful. Raghav Munshi, a software professional in Delhi claims that his boss fits the bill of such a "everyday sadist". To prove his claim he cites an example. "I was running fever and yet I turned up at office to finish off some pending work and my boss despite seeing my sorry state kept on giving me more work."

According to clinical psychologist Rakhi Anand who works at VIMHANS, Delhi, such people suffer from deep-rooted anxieties and complexes. "Such people are often found to have suffered from some kind of pain, trauma or abuse during childhood. As a result they don’t feel guilty for spoiling someone else’s happiness," says Anand. The underlying logic being that if you are unhappy in life, anyone else also ought to be.

True sadists enjoy inflicting pain. The fact that their victim is enslaved to their whim and fancies gives them a great high. Psychologists say that while sadism is a very commonly observed disorder, unfortunately there hasn’t been much research on the subject. "We don’t know facts like the incidence of the disorder or if is it more prevalent in certain age groups," says Dr Madhumati Singh, psychologist with NGO Samvedna. Though one thing is sure that it is not caused by any chemical imbalance in the body but due to factors in the immediate environment of the person. The typical characteristics of such a person would be suffering from a number of complexes, inability to trust anyone, tendency to blame others and a string of unsuccessful relationships. And it’s surprising to see how commonly this streak is found in any given set of people. According to Anand, people who criticise a lot, speak out their minds without considering the sensitivities of people around him…all suffer from certain degrees of sadism. According to experts, critics and journalists are two popular professions that thrive on their sadistic approach. "Critics love to rip apart works that have taken people year’s to accomplish, it stems from the critic’s own inferiority complex and criticising other people — justifiably or unjustifiably — gives a them a false sense of power that eventually gives a vent to their own anxieties," says Anand.

Another identifying feature of people with a sadist streak is their faulty coping mechanism. When face-to-face with an adverse situation a sadist tends to hide his/her resentment and anxiety and let them linger. And these anxieties find a vent when the person sees someone else undergoing similar trouble or pain. The ideal way out would be to identify the source of the problem and deal with it directly and openly rather than nursing a grudge against a person/thing.

Happiness has many a fountainhead, both good and bad. In the end it just depends on which you let flow.