Our shadow betrays itself when we experience conflicting thoughts or beliefs, or when we engage in behavior contrary to what we tell ourselves we believe. We avoid facing this discrepancy, called “cognitive dissonance.” We rationalize and make excuses. We lie to ourselves, we distract ourselves; we hide from the discomfort, the shame, of admitting we are wrong. It’s mortifying.

Jungian analyst Lyn Cowan says masochism provides a healing mortification. She espouses it as the way to really admit one’s failings. We need this

when we are absorbed in self-blame, self-attack, being hard on ourselves, giving ourselves no mercy, no quarter. It is as if our souls in their mortification cry out for condemnation, hard penance …There are times when one is simply but emphatically not okay. As homeopathic medicine knows, the remedy is not necessarily to introduce an opposite. …The antidote to humiliation is not pride, or a reassertion of one’s self-respect or virtues or positive qualities. It is humility. There are occasions of fault, failure, exposures of shameful weakness, which can be borne only by yielding completely to the feeling of them. Mortification is a heavy reminder that the matter is not all right. At such times, feeling bad is better handled by feeling worse …We need our offenses and our feelings about them realized and affirmed, not cursorily excused, for this is an appropriately serious affirmation of our soul’s suffering and our human limitation[1].

Masochism finds “deliverance and redemption” in mortification, she says. But in all my years as a self-hater, I was never able to deal with others’ criticizing me — until Vipassana meditation taught me compassion for myself. My social masochism did not enable me to admit failings.

What about kinksters, who talk about getting catharsis? Does their experience enable them to face their dark side?

[1] Cowan, Masochism: A Jungian View, 1982, 65-66.

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