Faith, God, Love

When Does Christian Asceticism Turn Into Masochism?

Asceticism is defined as severe self-discipline and avoiding of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. Whereas Masochism is the tendency to derive sexual gratification from one’s own pain or humiliation or (in general use) the enjoyment of an activity that appears to be painful or tedious. Is there a possibility for asceticism to turn into masochism?

Some early Christians believed that they would be less inclined to sin if they inflicted pain upon themselves. Hence, they whipped themselves, wore prickly belts under their garments, and even castrated themselves to be more holy. Can we glorify God by hurting or mutilating ourselves? Certainly not, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), so how can we please God by destroying His temple. This is just one instance where Christian asceticism has turned into masochism.

Some Christians have the martyr victim complex. In psychology, a person who has a martyr complex, sometimes associated with the term victim complex, desires the feeling of being a martyr for his/her own sake, seeking out suffering or persecution because it feeds a psychological need. (Wikipedia)

They are invariably unhappy and unfulfilled because they deny their own needs for the sake of others. They view life as a struggle, and themselves as a bastion of righteousness in an ungrateful world.

They consider themselves a light to the world, a shining example of how a good and selfless person should behave. They honestly believe they are a model of virtue. They also believe that their goodness will eventually “rub off” on others. If they are abused and mistreated, they will suffer such indignities, because eventually their tormentor will see the error of their ways, and recognize what a special human being they are hurting.

Martyrs are often attracted to difficult and abusive people. They have a compulsive need to change them, make these people good, and make them appreciate and respect them. They pick spouses who are brutal or intolerant, who lack a conscience, who deceive and manipulate them, and who resist the martyr’s efforts to reform them. It is interesting that they unconsciously choose to be around impossible people, and that their efforts to rehabilitate the latter are doomed to fail.

The victim role is an important component of a martyr complex. It justifies in their mind that others are responsible for their pain. They engage in compulsive blaming to reinforce this conviction. The blaming functions to deflect the basic neurotic tendency of their behavior: They set themselves up to be victims. They do this to avoid taking responsibility for their life, but also to show that their own behavior is beyond criticism.

Martyrs are caught in a neurotic struggle that began in childhood. Since such behavior is a complex phenomenon it is difficult to describe a particular parent-child interaction that may account for it. Martyrs often learn to be victims from a parent who assumed this role, usually the mother. She sacrificed herself for her family and reacted passively to a brutal and uncompromising husband. She kept her family intact, and often shielded the children from the more negative aspects of her husband’s behavior, absorbing the blows herself.

The characteristics of neurotic martyrdom in adulthood can be summarized as follows: The person cares for and helps others while sacrificing their own needs. They find people who they feel require their help the most, usually those who are selfish and intolerant. They help by showing others how to be good. They submit to abuse as an appeal to the conscience of the abuser. When this doesn’t work, they resort to guilt-trips, nagging and other types of passive-aggressive strategies.

On a deeper level, martyrs are very needy for love. Unfortunately, they unconsciously believe that the only way they can get love is through suffering. The suffering makes them feel special and wanted, and it brings meaning to their life. Their suffering is tied to their ego. They are actually proud of it. Take away their suffering and they seem lost. The desire for martyrdom is sometimes considered a form of masochism.

Christians with the martyr victim complex should learn how to love themselves. This will help them realize that they are as important as anyone else, and what they think and feel is valid. For many, this is the most difficult part. Maybe they have grown up thinking that others are always better than them, and they don’t matter, and people aren’t interested in them unless they please them. But that thinking will only lead them to conclude that others’ happiness is more important than theirs, which is not true.

First, they should learn from Jesus to assert their rights when the occasion calls for it. Jesus said to the officer who struck him in front of the high priest for no reason: “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23)

Secondly, they should learn from Jesus to consider their needs. If that means others do not get all of them, all the time, then that is also fine. People can learn to adjust and be responsible for themselves. Matthew 8:18 tells us:”When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” Different were the reasons, which at certain times moved Christ to depart from the multitude; as that he might have an opportunity of private prayer, or to preach, to others, or to show he sought not popular applause, and to avoid sedition: his reasons here seem to be with respect to himself, that being wearied as man, with the work of the day he might have an opportunity of refreshing himself with sleep.

Finally, they should learn from Jesus to say no to unreasonable requests. “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matt 12:38-39)

All Christians must come to realize that love does not exist apart from God and that true love can only be experienced by one who has experienced God’s love firsthand. We love ourselves based on God’s abiding love for us, and in response to this love we share it with all whom we come in contact with—our “neighbors.” In fact, it could be argued that were someone to NOT love himself it would be an act of sin, as it would, in essence, be rejecting God’s love. Perhaps a more biblical phrase would be, “You must love one another out of obedience to God, which cannot be done outside of experiencing God’s love yourself in the first place and accepting what that love reveals about yourself.”

Reference: The Martyr Victim Complex Described
http://www.yourlifecheckup.com/article.php?artid=65

Let “The Father’s Love Letter” remind us of God’s great love for us:

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