Self-defeating personality disorder (also sometimes referred to as masochistic personality disorder), whilst not included in the current edition (fifth) of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), is still frequently referred to by mental health professionals to help explain various aspects of behavior.
What Is Self-Defeating Personality Disorder?
In order to be considered as suffering from self-defeating personality disorder, an individual will be suffering from a minimum of five of the following symptoms :
– avoidance of accepting help offered by other people
– drawn to people and situations which lead to negative outcomes (e.g. to relationships with abusive partners) despite availability of more positive options
– avoidance of pleasurable activities despite having the psychological capacity to experience pleasure (unlike those suffering from anhedonia) or a reluctance to admit to feelings of enjoyment (e.g. due to feeling guilty such feelings and that they are ‘undeserved)
– tendency to induce anger in, and rejection by, others, but then feeling emotionally shattered when this happens
– undermines own abilities by not undertaking vital tasks (of which s/he is capable) that would allow him/her to achieve his/her personal goals, leading to under-achievement and under-performance. Also, may set self clearly unobtainable goals which ensure failure and humiliation.
– indulges in excessive, unsolicited self-sacrificing behavior
– rejects, or undermines relationships with, those who treat him/her well (instead, forming relationships with those who are likely to have a negative impact upon him/her – see above) as feels unworthy of love, particularly the love of ‘decent’ people
Theories Relating To How Self-Defeating Personality Disorder / Masochism May Be Related To Adverse Childhood Experiences :
– Francis Broncek theorized that self-defeating personality disorder / masochism is linked to the episodic or chronic experience of not being loved as a child, as having been rejected / abandoned as a child, and / or having been used as a scapegoat in childhood,.
– Berliner (1947) stated : ‘in the history of every masochistic patient, we find an unhappy childhood, and frequently to…an extreme degree.’ He also proposed the idea the masochism serves as a defense mechanism which protects against the development of depression or, even, schizophrenia.
– Grossman (1991) stated that self-defeating personality disorder and masochism are linked to severe traumatization inhibiting a person’s ability to sublimate the pain psychological pain generated by the traumatic experience into productive mental activity.
– It has also been hypothesized that a child who has been brought up by a very strict parent or other significant authority figure ,and has been treated in such a way as to make him/her feel worthless , unlovable and frequently deserving of harsh punishment, may grow up to internalize such views so that they form part of his/her set of core-beliefs. Such individuals are also likely to have profound, pent up feelings of shame and guilt which they seek to exculpate and atone for through self-punishment (both consciously and unconsciously) or by subjecting themselves to abuse, mistreatment and punishment by others.
Treatment for this disorder can be complex, not least because those suffering from it may well shun offers of help (a symptom of the condition – see above). However, treatment options include group therapy, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).