What Is Sadism: An Essay On Sadism

 What Sadism Is: An Essay On The Psychology Of Sadism


We all behave some way or another in our lives, whether it be healthy or otherwise. But seldom ever reflect on these behaviours, which is unfortunate as our behaviours say a lot about our values. Though many don’t reflect, we shall. That is, in this essay, we shall reflect upon the behaviours and values of sadists, and examine how their values relate to their behaviours. Read on to learn more about sadism.

Table Of Contents

  1. Human Tendency
  2. What Is A Sadist?
    1. When Pain Is Pleasurable
    2. The Joy Of Control
    3. I Suffer Without Suffering
    4. Closing Remarks On The Sadist’s Values
  3. The Sadist’s Preference
    1. Sadist’s Control
    2. Social Sadist
    3. Closing Remarks On Sadistic Control
  4. Sadism And Nihilism: A Clarification
  5. No To Sadism, Or Yes To Masochism

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Human Tendency

We all have tendencies in our life to be one way or another; the child has the tendency to be naïve and innocent; the adult has the tendency to be closed-off and unimaginative; and, the scholar has the tendency to be overly analytical and cold. And we often think nothing much of these tendencies, for they have become so common in our lives that we may pay little if any attention to them.

But it is most peculiar that, of something so fundamental to our behaviour, we care not much for. The average man or woman never ceases the hustle and bustle of daily life, to withdraw into a quiet place, so as to hear the wind which carries their voice: what am I, who am I, and why am I this way? Indeed, much like a pond of water in the darkest of nights, the average person is devoid of reflection.

In that strange and esoteric thing which we call “daily life,” there are thousands of tendencies, it is a vast garden with an uncountable assortment; and we are of such fortune as to be capable of reflecting upon what said garden bears, to perceive the beauty of the complexity therein, even though a mere handful ever do.

Be it the beauty of a flower that blossomed early, or the beauty of a flower which blossomed late, there are many flowers for which one could spend an afternoon consuming visually. I, however, have in mind a particular flower, one which is rather thought-provoking in nature.

What Is A Sadist?

When that small fraction of those who are reflective and likewise brave enough to ask, “what am I?,” they respond with what they have been told is positive and joyful; desirable and necessary; virtuous and socially acceptable. They have not a response predicated in original thought.

Put otherwise, when we grow old in our cultures, surrounded by the values and ideals of our communities, we become conditioned to respond to questions of identity in ways which are community bound; to some extent, we identify with the immediate world around us. Shackles and chains our cultures have become!

That is to say, those who are of impoverished living standards are to be more likely of the mindset that wealth and materialism are undesirable and invaluable; because both wealth and materials are manifestations which infect one’s spirit with a sickness not curable by our most advanced of medicines; it slowly withers the spirit into a diseased ridden carcass, left to decay on an impoverished street which traveled by none but the inconsequential.

And in contrast to the impoverished, we will hear from affluent members of society, who are in possession of an abundance of wealth, that their way of being is the utmost preferable mode of being. That is, the rich pursue wealth because they are resistant or adverse to the idea of not having; when they so desire a house, their desire can be fulfilled as readily as their whims have made it; when they desire the hardiest of meals, it can be had at a mere snapping of the fingers. It is of precisely these affordances which their values so guide them to pursue.

Thusly put, when speak of the sadist, we must first speak of the values which correspond to them; for if we are to understand what sadism be, then we must first visit its origins; to understand the path which one walks, most certainly, can be done through the lens which purviews the path that one had walked: otherwise put, we may speak of the future through lens of the past; for one must adopt some set of values before they act upon world, even if those values are implicit. And thus, values come before action.

But what are the values of the sadist? Though there are numerous values which adequately characterize the sadist, we shall take it upon ourselves to only ponder those values which are quintessential for the sadist: namely, hedonism, control, and suffering.

When Pain Is Pleasurable

Hedonism, as deployed by the sadist, has in common a great many features with that of a stained window inside a holy church. Where hedonism is short-sighted and bound to immediate pleasure, to be acted upon rather than to act upon, the stained-glass cuts short our view of the world by obscuring our vision; the window allows for little if any sight beyond that which is most immediate.

Similarly, the sadistic hedonist is indeed short-sighted, for their value of pleasure makes it necessarily so. To differ pleasure is to value, to some extent, non-pleasure, and that is not what the sadistic hedonist is in pursuit of. It thusly follows, the sight of the road ahead remains hidden by the distractions within the immediate environment; the temptations which dangle before the senses overwhelm the foresight and disrupt all ability to see beyond the immediacy of sense-perception. We all have the ability to see further than those physiological limitations which be hard-wired into our ability to perceive, but the sadistic hedonist has not, for they have become preoccupied with that which sits before them.

And for those who be so preoccupied with the pleasure of the immediate, a selfishness is required. To speak more precisely, I agree, selfishness can be argued to describe us all, for we are all selfish in the evolutionary sense. But among common folk, selfish is deployed as an antonym for altruism; put otherwise, although altruism and selfishness are not mutually exclusive from the framework of evolutionary theory, such is not the case among common parlance. When one describes selfishness in this common fashion, it is in reference to the lack of altruistic and empathetic behaviours: a lack thereof. And since the sadistic hedonist is in pursuit of their pleasure, there is not any moral dilemma to be found when the occasion arises wherein which the sadist must choose between either harming another and gaining pleasure or refusing to harm another at the sake of pleasure; the harm of another be the easiest of options: selfishness comes as no great difficulty for the sadistic hedonist.

Though such may be hard to fathom for the average person, that is, to fathom the harm of another for some immediate pleasure, such is not the case for the sadistic hedonist; only because their pursuit of pleasure detaches them from the world.

To explain further, in order for us to be attached to the world, we need, inherently so, some sense of consequent: that when we do “X” there is some consequent on “Y”. We must know that when we break the law, there are undoubtedly numerous sanctions which await us. Such is sensible, as we become guided in our actions by the anchor of the rigid world. But for all the importance which such a knowledge bears, the sadistic hedonist cares not; and thus, they be detached from the world, for they cannot perceive the consequent of some action. Put otherwise, when we perceive some future state of affairs, we are rooted in our understanding of the world: we know in the most concrete of fashions what will happen; but the sadistic hedonist cannot project forwardly and land in the future states of the world, they are untethered: uninfluenced by the stationary position of the world and infinitely malleable in their direction of travel. The sadistic hedonist is detached from the world.

And so, we may conclude on the hedonistic tendencies of the sadist, that he or she is not only short-sighted and selfish, two traits which already have many hinderances; but her or she is also detached from the world.

The Joy Of Control

Control is composed of many values, the least of which are power over another and devious and unscrupulous intent to manipulate another for some selfish or hedonistic gain. And our sadist has just such values: namely, power of others and unscrupulous manipulation. These are necessary values for the sadist, as he or she will have to place another into some form of subjugation to a sadistic will, and they must do so against that subjugated person’s will to have otherwise.

The sadist seeks to place another beneath their feet, to subject them to whatever they so pleasure. If the sadist can take note of some psychological vulnerability in the barriers which surround someone’s mind, then they will without warning use that weakness to gain control over said person. And the sadist will go to great lengths to find such a vulnerability as well; much how a man of love will go great lengths for his one and only one true love, so too will the sadist go tremendous lengths to find either one or many vulnerabilities in our mental barriers. All so the sadist can grab hold of such a vulnerability and drag us through a bedrock of broken glass and jagged stone. The sadist wants a manipulative control, so they may break and bruise our bodies and minds, to leave us alone and humiliated in our suffering, like Jesus of Nazareth. Reign down upon us with all their fury they so desire, the sadist comes for you and I.

I Suffer Without Suffering

Bloody, beaten, and sprawled up into a ball, hiding from the pains of the world and searching for anything which drags behind the movement of life to hold onto. The sadist deeply values suffering, regardless of the fashion in which he or she is able to experience it in.

Suffering manifests in two ways, though these two ways are not mutually exclusive and are more often than not occurring in tandem. More specifically, suffering can manifest internally, wherein which it is felt most vividly throughout one’s body and mind, like the shifting of the earth beneath our feet. But suffering can likewise manifest externally, where it can be seen most readily by the world. Of these two manifestations, the sadist has a yearning for; although the one which is most preferred at the time will depend on the context.

The sadist enjoys the internal suffering of another in the same way that a child delights in the creamiest of filling inside the sweetest of baked goods. The droopy mental state of a broken human enlivens and arouses the sadist. And such is even more so the case if those who are drooped inside their minds were so drooped by an act which was performed by the sadist him or herself. Nothing is more rewarding than to gaze upon one’s own masterpiece with appreciation; to stare at the beauty of a willful effort which brought about some change in the world: awe-inspiring.

However, internal suffering can be rather hard to take notice of sometimes, and thus is why external suffering can be quite preferable as well.

To see another belittled in a social setting, to harm the potential for others to be successful at school or a job, to see the saddened and broken faces of another as one assaults their well-being: all examples of external suffering. The sadist bathes in these simple pleasures of life. To not only witness the destruction of another, but to also have witnesses bear sight to the suffering of another; much similar to the artist who seeks an audience for their craft.

So, when the sadist so seeks an audience, external suffering is indeed most preferable. But when a sadist seeks nothing more than to cause pain, then they will choose either internal or external suffering. As the drug-addict contemplates extensively the route of injection, so as to achieve a certain high, likewise will the sadist contemplate their avenue of suffering.

Closing Remarks on The Sadist’s Values

Without these values, the sadist would be no longer. It is by virtue of such values, namely, hedonism, power, and suffering, that the sadist be a sadist. If the sadist valued not the pursuit of immediate pleasure, and likewise had no enjoyment in having control over another, then there would be no sadist. For one must enjoy the immediate pain which another so feels if they are to be a sadist; to bask in the immediacy of momentary-pleasure brought about by the abusive control of another. If there be not any hedonistic pleasure, nor any pursuit of abusive control, then we have not someone who, by definition, seeks to abuse others through control of their vulnerabilities: we have not a sadist.

But we need look no further than behaviours or the environment to verify. Since values manifest into material conditions, like when an autocratic regime transforms an environment where flowers once grew into a dishevelled and greyish warzone, to a point where all previous descriptors that pertained to such a place no longer apply, we bear witness to values impacting quite harshly the world around us. Thus, though we may verify through the analysis of values as to whether someone is or is not a sadist, we have also the secondary option of looking plainly at the world: to see nothing but what the case be. It is from the case, that is, what state the world or behaviours be, that we can then infer backwardly towards values. But such cannot be done without the risk of error.

Whenever we infer backwards towards values, from the position of current conditions, there is an issue relating to multiple correspondences between values and conditions. And such increases the potential for false identification of some values via the analysis of material or behavioural conditions. For example, one might behave aggressively towards another, such that they have genuine intent to bring about pain, while likewise enjoying most thoroughly their doing so; however, such not only corresponds to sadistic values but also to values related to vengeance or revenge. And so, when we consider the conditions related to sadism, we ought to maintain a skeptical attitude towards any one-to-one correlation that we may become tempted to suppose.

The Sadist’s Preference

Control shall be the case upon some occasions, though not upon other occasions; it is something which we frequent in our own behaviour, and something which frequently influences our behaviour: active and receptive. Control is just another part of our life.

Control may be of the healthy sort, wherein which one differs the impulse to eat sugary foods, but control may also be of the unhealthy sort, wherein which one seeks out an abusive power over someone or something. To domineer over another in either a ruthless and maniacal fashion, so as to derive pleasure from the possession of power over another, or in a manipulative and Machiavellian fashion, so as to derive pleasure from the suffering of another. Such a variety speaks volumes about control; it reflects the diversity therein that regards the nature of control.

But for all such diversity therein, I have in mind two specific varieties of control that we ought focus our literary gaze upon, for these instances of control are indeed prevalent amongst sadists.

Sadists Control You

We are but movie goers. We sit, we watch, and we consume and think. Not once do we leave our seat to vacay the washroom or snack-bar, despite our strongest of urges; we remain still and focused, looking onwardly and intently. For we have not a choice to do otherwise, unless we so choose to exit the theatre early, far before the film reaches the point wherein the plot resolution is arrived upon, in timely fashion: not too soon nor too late. Such is the nature of our life, for we sit quietly in the theatre of consciousness, that never-ending stream of information which ebbs and flows: the complexity of being.

The dynamics that so readily present to us in conscious experience are astonishing, that is for sure. Beauty beyond our wildest of dreams regularly falls from the lofty heavens above into the open receptors of our senses, to share nothing but the glory of being. Though for all such beauty, we may likewise be subjected to pain and harm; and such is where the sadist finds it to be most preferable.

The sadist yearns to gain control over our conscious experiences, but he or she so yearns to do not in just any arbitrary fashion; nay, the sadist seeks to gain control of the guiding voice inside one’s head. That voice which we all seek for trust, comfort, and reassurance; not the voice of our reason, no; rather, the voice which informs us of our own self-worth: the voice most often associated with self-esteem. For when the sadist gains control over the reins which guide how it is we esteem ourselves, they shall have no bounds to which they need abide by when discussing with us; only because they will have control.

Control over our first-person perspective via the means of self-esteem is a rather favourable avenue for the sadist, though likewise an unbearable avenue for the victim. Any who so suffer from having a sadist’s grip upon their esteem shall know nothing of light nor peace. And to make matters worse, there are numerous ways in which this dynamic relationship between one’s self and a sadist can happen: of a friend, of a lover, or of family.

Of a friend: a sadist can appear. We grow up with some intuitive conception of friends, but more often than not such intuitions are falsehoods masked by the nullification of normalcy; said otherwise, we come to expect what is normal, and if what already be normal be less than satisfactory, then we shall come to expect nothing more than disappointment. And so, we are betrayed by the normalcy of our world, for we will accept friends who are of a sadistic sort. But let us elaborate.

If we confide within a friend some deep secret, one which no other ought nor shall be made conscious of, then we have slid across the table of friendship some power to another. This secret may weigh heavily on our being, and so the act of sharing places a great trust onto the other. But if the occasion so arises, an occasion for the friend to use just such a secret in some harmful manner, and said friend indeed does so, then the friend bears the mark of a sadist.

Like when a heated argument arises between thy self and thy friend, to a point wherein experience has not been granted as our guide, tempers evoke us to say things we would not normally. When tempers flare, what we speak has the intent to hurt the other. We will badly yearn to come atop the victor of the argument, to have struck down our two-faced foe who we at times call a friend. Here, those who have been chosen, those who have been entrusted with a secret which we so want them to safe-guard, may decide to use precisely such a secret as a weapon against another; a way to hurt them in their immediate well-being.

Threaten to share such a secret, some will; use such a secret as a means to verbally assault the other, some will. The point being, some seek to utilize a vulnerability to gain control over one’s psychological well-being. But there is a difference to be noted.

Of course, some of us will have occasioned these types of heated disagreements with our friends, and perhaps both parties have said regrettable things, for which they subsequently apologized to one another for. However, it is of precisely these circumstances, namely, of having a friend who seeks to manipulate via the personal information we choose to share, that some others are subjected to in a constant fashion; only because they have a sadist as a friend, a lover, or family member.

One can have a friend who is a sadist that does nothing but subject them to pain and suffering, all while doing so under the guise of friendship. For instance, when a friend verbally insults another, or speaks harshly about one’s sensitivities, they are subjecting someone to unnecessary pain and suffering. It is even more obvious that such behaviours are sadistic when the harasser begins to laugh or continually reiterate the hurtful comments. Likewise, a lover can be a sadist in ways which seem non-obvious to one another, though are absolutely apparent to those who have been educated to spot sadistic tendencies. For instance, when a lover wants to subject their sexual partner to pain while having sex, or subject the other to humiliation, then such is an act of sadism, not love.

But these relations which we have with a sadist, that is, when the sadist comes as a friend, family, or lover have all been discussed from the view of sadistic control of esteem; the use of personal vulnerability to domineer the self-esteem of another. There are indeed other kinds of sadistic control, of which manifest in these kinds of relations as well.

Social Sadist

We are social animals, most certainly. We value our social appearance amongst the crowd or group, especially when we are in the company of other affluent members of society. Great lengths are taken to ensure the best and only the best of our being appears in a social gathering. It could perhaps be said that our status is valued in precisely the same way that a peacock values the presentation of their feathers.

But when sadism creeps into this domain, the aspects of our status which are, in terms of societal values, less than preferable become weapons to be used against us. To explain further, when we attend a party, we dress above our own class. For instance, if we take the commonest of night clubs and compare them to the loftiest of night clubs, both will have an attendance that dresses in the utmost respectable fashion: put otherwise, both those who attend the common and high-status nightclub will dress in accordance with the upper class of society. And so, we are aware of that which is preferable in society, that which is high-status and low-status. And it is just such knowledge which a sadist can use against us.

A sadist can manipulate and hurt another via manipulation of social status. When our friends are sadists, and they so seek to harm our social status for pleasure, then we shall become the object to laugh at; we become singled-out and teased, pushed to the bottom of the social group. When our lovers are sadists, and they so seek to harm our social status for pleasure, then inappropriate comments shall be made at dinner outings that regard the intimacy between the lovers: “he’s incredibly bad in bed,”, “she is only useful for sex”. Of course, those comments can be made in private to one another, as a means to grow or end a relationship, but when brought to the public sphere it is to harm one another; only because these comments will directly impact one’s ability to find a mate or navigate the social environment with confidence: thus, the comments are not only designed but also spoken with the intent to lower the other person’s rank in the public social hierarchy.

So, our social lives cannot be in greater jeopardy than when we are stuck with those soulless individuals who be sadists; for their toxicity will erode our social well-being. But it is one thing to have a sadistic friend who manipulates our public perception so as to harm us, and it is another thing entirely to have a sadistic family.

When our family is sadistic, we will run into many psychosocial development issues. That is, if we have been burdened with the problem of a sadistic family while likewise being in our infancy, then we shall encumber issues of esteem, of which will impact us for a life-time.

During our youth, we are vulnerable, impressionable, and readily open to the world around us. But when we have a sadistic family, or perhaps just a sadistic parent, then these qualities dissipate quite speedily. The infant who is poked fun at for bed wetting shall become self-conscious and insecure, as they have come to associate social rejection with that who which they are. The child learns to feel insecure and undesirable around those who he or she ought to have expected protection and care from.

The sadistic family knows very well that the child yearns for acceptance and affection from their immediate environment, as the child seeks to do nothing more than bond with the members of his or her fellow tribe. But the sadistic family will utilize the child’s status in the family as a means to hurt the child for the sake of joy. For instance, some might suppose the last-born child to be the ugliest or least preferable child, or that first child was somehow a mistake. Anything which will diminish the social ranking of the child within the context of the family, the sadist will do.

And these psychosocial challenges that are so gracefully handed down from the sadist to the child will bring about a life-long struggle with self-esteem and public discourse. The child who had had the sadistic parents will entertain self-doubt at much greater levels, will experience social anxiety at much greater levels, and will experience negative emotions at much greater levels as well. As though one were belted across the face, a sadistic family bruises and beats the self-esteem into something rather unrecognizable.

It has become apparent, then; the proximity of a sadist can determine the quality of a life, to some extent. For when we mistakenly allow the sadist in, treacherous things happen.

Closing Remarks on Sadistic Control

As we have thus far discussed control, we framed it as a manipulation of the internal and a manipulation of the external. On the one hand, we spoke at length about the nature of internal manipulation: namely, when the sadist seeks to gain hold of the first-person perspective of another. The sadist so seeks to guide the content of thought through the filter inside the mind. And, on the other hand, we spoke on the nature of social status and how such can be used to manipulate another, to harm another, to control another. But we have not spoken of the similarities between these two; the reciprocal relationships which manifest between them.

The first-person perspective is intrinsically linked to the perception of status because part of our first-person perspective is derived from how others regard us. We may walk most confidently when we are most welcomed by our immediate social environment; we derive esteem through the positive light which others regard us in. For instance, we are anything but strangers to those thoughts which accompany us in social settings: “I wonder what she thinks of me,”, “I wonder if he thinks that was too honest”. Our esteem is linked to status, and so, the first-person perspective is linked to status, definitely.

Furthermore, status likewise depends on the first-person perspective. In social settings, we present ourselves in some fashion, be it confident and outgoing or insecure and reserved. And to a great degree, our appearance in social settings are determined through the self-esteem which filters our consciousness. The insecure person shall seldom engage in a social style which would lead to the top of the social hierarchy: confident, brave, and prepared for action. Likewise, a confident person shall seldom engage in a social style which would lead to the bottom of the social hierarchy: insecure, cowardly, and unable to act. Our first-person perspective and status have a reciprocal influence on one another.

Sadism And Nihilism: A Clarification

Before ending our analysis of sadism, we need clarify a common misconception about its nature; that being the confusion of sadism for nihilism.

There exists some habit amongst the public to suppose that the sadist is a nihilist; but the sadist is precisely the opposite of the nihilist. In fact, the sadist is much similar to the common public than to the nihilist.

The sadist has a lot in common with the average person; they see the meaning in everyday activities, they recognize the existence of values, and they understand that which is good and bad. But the sadist has a lot of differences from the average person as well. Whereas the average person values permanency, stability, and tranquility, the sadist values destruction, instability, and chaos. The average person seeks to build, hold together, and relax, but the sadist seeks to break down, knock over, and watch the chaos. One builds a house, the other blows it over.

Thus, the sadist cannot be a nihilist since he or she can see the value in things; he or she can understand and appreciate the notion of meaning. That is something which the nihilist cannot do. The nihilist cannot see meaning, nor can they understand the values which we ascribe to things. And if the sadist did happen to be in such a predicament, then they could not destroy or hurt his or her victims, as doing so requires an understanding of the victim’s values.

So, where, then, did the misunderstanding arise from? Put simply, we mistakenly assume that destruction presupposes a devaluing. When we break a relationship, it must have been because we had not valued it so; when we break our belongings, especially in an intentional fashion, we must have not appreciated it. That destruction entails devaluation, however, is false. We can place great value on thigs and yet accept their impermanence; for instance, we may value our lives, deeply so, but at the same time be welcoming of death: to view it in a positive rather than negative light. Thus, destruction can express not only a positive sentiment, but also a meaningful one. Therefore, the sadist’s view on destruction has no necessity to be nihilistic; and, in fact, I believe it is quite the opposite in this case.

The sadist prefers destruction not because he or she so seeks to have a world of nothing, but much rather, because he or she indeed has a world of nothing: envy. A sadist destroys the pleasure of others because they envy what meaning and excitement others have; the sadist values meaning, perhaps more so than the average person, because they have not much of it. The sadist only wishes he or she was a nihilist.

No to Sadism, or Yes to Masochism?

We may now spot the sadist in our life, as we have become aware of their primary values and behaviours. We know what they seek to control and why they seek to so; that is, whether it be an assault on our immediate consciousness, or our social status, the sadist seeks to harm us for pleasure. And they do so, more often than not, because they are envious of that which we either have or could have. They benefit from leaving us broken, beaten, and insecure. But we now have a choice. Do we cut the psychological tether which keeps us close to the sadist, or do we continue down a path of masochism?

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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