Thursday, October 9, 2008

Benign Masochism

Why do we indulge in “Benign Masochism”? What kind of twisted pleasure do we get out of exposing our body to immense pain?

I was in Phuket (Thailand) last week and experienced so much pain due to the gastronomic indulgence of spicy food that I wondered why this fascination with pain. Why was I subjecting myself to this eyes and nose watering, every cell burning experience and yet enjoying the sensation?

"Benign Masochism" is a term coined by scientist Paul Rozin. He says that “people like chilli peppers for the same reason that they like dangerous sports such as sky diving, bungee jumping, climb difficult mountains, ride roller coasters and watch scary movies. All of these activities excite the body by making it respond to a dangerous situation while the mind is certain that these circumstances are safe.”

We have a feeling of control within the uncertainty. Uncertainty within control is probably what turns us on. Pushing the limits of our pain and tolerance gives us a unique high and propels us towards the next high.

Chilli tends to lose its hotness as we progress into the “hot” meal, because our taste receptors undergo a process called adaptation. Similarly our brain tends to adapt to all experiences, whether painful or pleasurable and eventually both seem to affect us less and less.

Rozin says that people often eat chilli at a heat level close to the highest they can tolerate, which means that eating chilli is like pushing the limits of pain and tolerance. It is a subconscious desire to experience pain so that the experience of pleasure is heightened.

Often we try that sort of pushing our limits? We go on roller coasters that defy gravity, drive fast cars at break neck speed, choose to stay in abusive relationships, insert needles into our bodies, go for tattoos and indulge in various other forms of “benign masochism”.

Is it really a subconscious human desire to feel pain? Or are we perpetual pleasure seekers?
I doubt that pain and pleasure can really be separated. They both seem pretty much like two sides of a coin, so what is the real cause of pain?

I think it is our inability to control the outcome that is the main source of pain? Only if we could accept that life is not about control but about acceptance; our pain would most definitely be diminished. The aim is not elimination of pain, but just a diminishing of pain as our love of “benign masochism” will most certainly ensure that both remain a part of our innate humanness .

So next time you feel down and despondent or extremely euphoric, just remember that it is not the situation but your view of the situation that leads to your experience.

The key to living is therefore to live as passionately, creatively, and courageously as possible and choosing to see the situation as being within control and accepting the inevitability of the outcome.

Our fascination with pain and pleasure will never disappear, and our life will remain all the more colorful for it.



dilip said...

hi. I ran into your blog while looking up 'Benign Masochism' on google. Interesting article and blog you have.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your feedback Dilip. Much appreciated.