Friday, May 20, 2016

Is there Such a Thing as a Sadistic Masochist?

I hear people accusing themselves and others quite often of being either a sadist or a masochist. Sometimes the terms are used correctly (on the surface, not in principle). Sometimes they are turned around or used backwards.

Sadist: An individual who derives pleasure from inflicting pain upon others. Though sadism is usually related to sexual pleasure, there is a sub-set of sadism that revolves around joy in knowing that you have caused others to suffer. Sexual sadists often begin simply--spanking, nibbling, slapping--in order to "spice up" their sexual encounters. As they progress, they may find that they have difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm unless they seen true pain in the eyes of their partners. If left unchecked, a sadist, sexual or otherwise, could become addicted to the pleasure they derive from inflicting pain. This may lead them to commit unspeakable crimes or acts of torture.

Masochist: An individual who derives pleasure from receiving pain from others. Again, masochism as a psychological term primarily refers to the paraphilia--abnormal and/or unsanctioned sexual behaviors. In this case, a sexual masochist may begin with role-playing similar to the sadist, only on the receiving end of the spankings, nibbling, etc. These behaviors become a psychological condition when the masochist finds that they have difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm unless they experience some form of physical pain. The severe masochist may experience irreparable harm at the hands of their partners, especially if they become involved with an unchecked sadist. The results could be devastating for the masochist and overly encouraging for the sadist. A non-sexual masochist may find that they seek pain to help them "feel alive." Masochism should not be confused with cutting or other forms of self-mutilation, as masochism involves activation of the pleasure center of the brain but cutting does not.

Cutting (self-mutilation): The act of causing physical harm, usually leaving visible scarring, to one's self. Unlike masochism, there is no sexual component to self-harm or self-mutilation. The individual does not typically experience the rush of positive endorphins that we associate with pleasure. Instead, much self-mutilation is an act of penance in which the individual feels that they have done something wrong or are not worthy of something, so they harm themselves in an attempt to atone for it. They may cut or burn themselves enough to leave a scar as a punishment and a visible reminder. Again, there is no pleasure associated with these acts, only pain.

Here are a couple things to keep in mind. A mean person is not necessarily a sadist. They may be lashing out to cover up some other feelings of insecurity. A "glutton for punishment"--someone who seems to have a hard time saying "no" or who tends to take on challenges that may go beyond their abilities--is not necessarily a masochist. They may have a need to be challenged or they may feel too insecure to turn down a request from someone. Bondage and domineering can be healthy sexual role-playing behaviors when adequate safeguards (safe words, mutual respect, time spent afterward reassuring the dominated partner of their worth) are in place. Self-harm is a serious cry for help. Although not a complete guarantee, many cutters end up attempting suicide at least once before anyone realizes that they need help. They tend to be really good at hiding the evidence of their self-mutilation so that others cannot detect the growing depression or anxiety that lead to the harmful behaviors.

As for the sadistic masochist, the two concepts cancel out each other. 
     Sadist==>"someone else"
Even with a split personality, receiving pain yourself is not causing physical pain to someone else, outside of the realms of science fiction.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Conflict Management Styles: How Do You Handle Disagreements?

As my last post was about the misunderstanding that surrounds the word "conflict," I thought I would round things out with a brief look at conflict management. I'm sure that many people understand that conflict management is the way in which an individual handles interpersonal conflict. In fact, I rarely come across anyone who misuses the term "conflict management" itself. Yet, there is a little confusion about the meaning of a couple of the typical styles of conflict management.

[Note: The majority of the following information on conflict management styles is based on Jay Hall's Conflict Management Survey: A Survey of One's Characteristic Reaction to and Handling of Conflict Between Himself and Others (The Woodlands, Texas: Telemetrics International 1969).]

Let's look at two dimensions of conflict management: 1) your concern for your own personal goals (concern for self); 2) your concern for others and/or the relationship you have with the other party with whom you have the disagreement (concern for others). We can rate a person's interest as high, moderate, or low on each of these dimensions, resulting in five basic conflict management styles.

  • Avoiding: low concern for self, low concern for others. An avoider either does not really care about the conflict and its outcome, or they do not care about the the relationship they have with the person with whom they have the conflict. When the avoider is in a lower position than the other person, the withdrawal from the conflict usually indicates fear of upsetting the individual. When the avoider is in a higher position, the withdrawal prevents the other person from being able to air their concerns. In either instance, avoidance tends to breed frustration and resentment and the conflict is very rarely resolved without some sort of emotional explosion involved. There are times, however, when avoiding a conflict may be the wisest course of action, especially when dealing with a very stubborn individual and/or when the conflict itself does not merit too much investment of time or effort because it is truly a minor disagreement.
  • Accommodating: low concern for self, high concern for others. The accommodator has a tendency to give priority to the needs and wishes of the other party. One of the downsides of accommodating, however, is that it does not foster creative thinking and effective solutions to an issue at hand. By bowing to the wishes of another, an accommodator may be short-changing themselves and their ability to effectively solve problems. In addition, the other person may be blinded by their own ideas to the solution to the disagreement, which they take to be wholly valid because no one is arguing with them, that they may miss some crucial data that would help them make a better decision. Resentment and a feeling of martyrdom may arise in the accommodator if this conflict management style is used to excess. This technique is fine, though, when the accommodator truly has not strong preferences as to the resolution or if they truly believe the other person is correct.
  • Compromising: moderate concern for self, moderate concern for others. This is the conflict management style term that has a tendency to be misused. Many individuals believe that a compromise is the win-win scenario. True, it does tend to represent a middle ground in which the needs and desires of both parties are taken into consideration. However, the resolution to the conflict results in a win/lose-win/lose scenario. In order for both parties to win something, they must also be willing to lose or concede something else to the other person. Both parties walk away with some measure of contribution to the solution to their conflict, but at an ego price that may be small or large, depending upon how far they were willing to go toward satisfying the other person. While compromise is a better solution than either one individual winning at the complete expense of another, there is still a more beneficial conflict management style that allows both parties to save face.
  • Competing: high concern for self, low concern for others. This is another term that sometimes gets thrown around a lot in many different contexts. In the realm of conflict management, there is nothing friendly about a competitor. Like accommodating, competing stifles the generation of creative solutions to the interpersonal conflict. This style has a tendency to lead to tension, resentment, and hostility between parties and these feelings may also leach out toward others in the environment. A person's need to always "win" an argument turns people away from engaging in what would otherwise have been fruitful conversations because no other ideas are allowed to be discussed. The competing conflict management style may prove beneficial in an instance in which the individual truly is the intellectual authority on a subject and the other parties involved have no real idea as to viable solutions. This style is also typically used when the relationship between the disagreeing parties is not vital or important and/or the necessity to accomplish a specific goal outweighs personal feelings.
  • Collaborating: high concern for self, high concern for others. This final conflict management style is the true win-win scenario. In this instance, both parties work toward a solution to their conflict that is satisfying to everyone involved. Users of this style tend to view conflict as a mutual problem to be solved and they encourage openness and honesty with each other so that a mutually beneficial resolution can be reached. Ideas may be criticized as the parties seek to find a maximally, and mutually, satisfying solution, but the persons involved are not criticized. Collaboration is the ideal method of conflict resolution. However, it is not used quite as often as compromising in part because it is difficult for individuals to set aside personal differences when involved in an interpersonal conflict. For this method to work, both parties have to concentrate on the empirical problem at hand, leaving out their personal feelings and egos. This style is also most likely to occur when the relationship between the arguing individuals is built on mutual trust.
For those of you who are visual, here is a chart that helps to summarize these five conflict management styles.

All individuals have a preferred conflict management style. For example, I admittedly lean toward the avoider style because I don't particularly like arguments, especially ones involving very stubborn individuals. However, I do strive toward a win-win or compromise scenario if 1) I see that the other person is willing to bend, 2) the issue is very important to me, and/or 3) I recognize that not standing up for myself could lead to being bulldozed down the line. A successful conflict management strategist recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each style, reads the situation and the other party effectively, understands their own strengths and weaknesses, recognizes and understands their own preferred conflict management style, and knows when a particular style would be more successful to finding the best solution to the problem at hand.

On a side note, I find it a fascinating exercise to try to identify the conflict management styles of politicians, especially during an election year.