EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 4, 2012

Some people thrive on pain and suffering

Are there people who go around looking for bad things and hurt feelings? I have a relative (in law) who keeps the family in turmoil because she is always looking for a new way to be hurt or have something bad happen to her. If you share your trouble, she has a worse case than yours. She seems to enjoy being miserable.

Indeed there are.

In fact, some people are actually “addicted” to the experience of negativity in whatever form it occurs. This is consistent with reinforcement theory, which says that a “reinforcer” is anything which facilitates behavior. That simply means to make something increase or become easier. Usually something which reinforces a behavior is thought of as a reward, a pleasant experience or desired thing.

Human neurology is so construed that things many of us would find negative actually enhance pleasure for some. This may include some complex life experiences. For example, the most pleasant time for some has been when they were ill or hurt or degraded. Thus they may seek to replicate the original experience.

Those as dedicated to pain and suffering as is your relative will be difficult to change. It has to come from a moment of insight, self recognition. Often the task of change is less pleasant in the eyes of the addict than the pain itself.

The cure lies in confrontation. Maybe Bob Dylan said it best: “He who isn’t busy being born is busy dying.”

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, you can e-mail Dr. Larsen at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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