Masochistic Personality Disorder was removed from the latest version of the DSM. Some eminent scholars, notably Theodore Millon, regard its removal as a mistake and lobby for its reinstatement in future editions. Whether or not it it is documented in the manual or not, there is ample evidence that it exists in some form and causes misery for anyone who suffers from it. I have seen evidence of this in my practice where clients almost revel in the idea of self-defeating behaviour, prepare for it, expect it and are never surprised when it happens.
The essential characteristic of Masochistic Personality Disorder (often called Self-Defeating Personality Disorder) is a pathological pattern of self-defeating behaviour. People with this disorder:
- Cater to other people’s needs. They try to satisfy others without waiting for them to ask for help.
- Aren’t competitive or ambitious.
- Go out of their way to be at the service of others.
- Are very considerate of others.
- Are tolerant of others and never criticise or judge with cruelty.
- Don’t like being the centre of attention.
- Have a lot of patience and a great tolerance for discomfort.
- Aren’t ironic or pedantic.
- Are ethical, honest, and trustworthy.
- Are naive and innocent.
- Don’t suspect that others have ulterior motives.
- Will often feel they deserve to be treated badly.
- Will use bad relationships or situations as a basis for victimhood.
- Will use rage and anger when overwhelmed which initiates next cycle of self-defeating behaviour.
Also, sufferers can often avoid or dismiss pleasant experiences. They often allow themselves to be dragged into situations or relationships in which they’ll suffer. In addition, they frequently don’t let others help them. They will often choose relationships that will hurt them even when better alternatives are available. Their personality means that pleasurable experiences are met with guilt, depression or even further self-defeating behaviour. They often incite angry or rejecting responses from others to be able to feel defeated or humiliated. One extremely negative aspect of this disorder is that suffers consciously fail to pursue personal ambitions even though it is well within their capability to do so and they reject anyone who tries to help them while sacrificing themselves to others without that help being solicited or asked for. It is a constant cycle of defeatism. The masochist has been taught from an early age to hate herself and consider herself unworthy of love and worthless as a person. Consequently, he or she is prone to self-destructive, punishing, and punitive self-sabotaging behaviours.
That brings me to the link with codependency. In many aspects the lines are blurred between the two issues. Codependents often use victimhood as a controlling measure to maintain their dependency and this often slips into areas that could be describe as self-defeating. Many of the traits presented above can also be attributed to many codependents. This adds another complicating element to treatment that any therapist treating codependents needs to consider.