The Difference Between Masochism and Self-Harm


We have briefly talked separately about masochism and self-harm, but where is the line drawn, and are they interchangeable?

The core distinction between them is the intention, or motivation of the person looking for the pain. Masochists derive meaning from pain, be it sexual pleasure, spiritual satisfaction, physical thrill or endorphin rush. There is self-consent and choice. The individual makes a conscious and consensual decision for the pain to happen.

Self-harm, on the other hand, tends to be an instinctual action and is normally out of control. The motivator is for emotional relief, like a pill that takes away the heavy emotional turbulence going on in the mind. It’s not pain for pleasure, it’s pain for temporary relief.


I am a masochist who is into power exchange and strong mental intimacy. When i was younger, i was into sexual masochism and i didn’t understand power exchange at all, but as I grew older I experienced a transition from being a sexual masochist to being a metal/power masochist (if the distinction is fuzzy, see my post on types of masochism).

It is highly possible for someone who originally desired pain for emotional relief to find BDSM masochism therapeutic, and enter the SM culture in that way. There could also be people who are masochists by nature who feel excluded from the society, and get into depression and search for pain for emotional relief.

Understanding whether something is a form of masochism, or self-harm, i think, should never be based on a checklist, but needs to look at the motivator, life experience and history.


• Helpguide – Cutting and Self-harm
• Submissive Guide – Masochism
• Psyke – Self Mutilation
• Biodiverse Resistance – Self Injury, Masochism and Incomprehensible Dichotomies
• sub Terrain – Beat Me: My Search for the Spirituality of Self-Harm
• some great FetLife conversations HERE, HERE and HERE.


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