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Saturday, 18 February 2012

Which One Are You: Sadist or Masochist?

Good movies always make me think of existential questions. For example, the other day I saw Secretary (2002) with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, and I started thinking about pain. A friend recommended it to me because she knows I like weird movies. 

So you’ve been warned!

First, let me tell you why this movie struck me as very original and unusual. The story is about a young woman who just got out of a mental institution and went looking for a job. She was committed because of her nasty habit to cut herself to feel pain. And there is a really sweet moment in the movie where her boss (Mr. Grey) guesses the Psychological reasons for cutting:

Why do you cut yourself, Lee? Is it because the pain you feel inside has to come to the surface? When you see evidence of the pain inside, you finally know you are here. Then, when you watch the wound heal, it’s comforting, isn’t it?

Sound familiar? I bet everyone has had one of those moments where you wanted to feel something, anything. I have thought about inflicting pain on myself a lot of times, really. It’s not because I am mentally ill, mind you, but because like every human being, I see pain as proof of being alive.

So Lee Holloway cuts when she’s upset, just like alcoholics drink and addicts take drugs. There are a lot of things that ease emotional and even physical pain: cigarettes, alcohol, medication, adrenaline, etc. But the most powerful weapon against stress is the human brain. Many physical illnesses originate from the brain and so most of them can be cured with placebos.

Anyway, let’s get back to the topic. Lee liked pain because it was the physical representation of her internal world. It’s like wanting to match your drapes to your carpet. And so, she chose cutting. But soon she found an even better way to express her inner turmoil… she just let her boss spank her. No, I’m not kidding. The movie’s about a strange working relationship between a secretary and her boss, where weird sex games occur. While Lee is a masochist, her boss happens to be a sadist, who punishes bad secretaries for making typos. Ouch!

But surprisingly, the two are such a good fit that they are healed by their odd relationship. And naturally, I started thinking about my own dirty fantasies and pain tendencies. I soon concluded that I’m a masochist, just like Lee. But why is that? Why do people like pain? I mean, society doesn’t exactly view it as normal, so why is it so primal? I guess it’s because we all have a deep desire to feel the whole specter of human emotion, and some of us like to dip our toes in the dark parts to feel alive.

Curiosity killed the cat. And it spanked the secretary for her spelling offences.

On the other side of the coin, there are the sadists. Lee’s boss, Mr. Grey, wasn’t exactly proud of his actions. He regretted treating Lee that way and even tried to stop it at some point. But in the end, he couldn’t resist his true nature. Maybe he had abusive parents. Maybe he watched too many psychological thrillers. Or maybe he was just a regular guy who stumbled upon something that made him feel alive. Who knows…

Thing is, you can’t be both. I have never in my life wanted to hurt a human being. While both are present in all of us, one always dominates. For me, maybe hurting is some sort of punishment for something I have done in the past. I did like to ground myself when I was little (my parents wouldn’t go there, sigh). So I’m a proud masochist.

Which one are YOU: sadist or masochist? How does that help you in your life? Or does it stand in your way? Are you curious about pain and how do you see it exactly?