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Sadistic Personality Disorder: Inflicting Pain For Personal Gratification

Updated on November 21, 2016
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Marc Hubs, author of "Reflections Of NPD" is a writer/researcher on the mind, science, psychology/psychiatry, metaphysics and consciousness.

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Sadism & Sadists

The words sadism, sadist and sadistic have a dark stigma attached to them and it's no surprise why. Sadists, or people who are sadistic, are most commonly known to derive feelings of personal pleasure by inflicting pain upon other people.

Many people believe that for it to be classed as true sadism, then it has to be sexual in nature. This isn't true. Getting pleasure from inflicting pain on someone physically, even if it isn't sexual in nature is still a form of sadism. Additionally, neither does sadism need to be either sexual or physical; it can also be emotional or psychological/mental.

Technically, there is no longer such thing as a sadist and the word would probably now be considered derogatory. Although the possibility for an official diagnosis of Sadistic Personality Disorder did previously exist in the DSM-III diagnostic manual, it was removed from the DSM-IV.

The reason for the removal from the DSM-IV was due to the fact that many researchers were unable to differentiate Sadistic Personality Disorder from other forms of personality disorders because it was found to occur in unison with so many other personality disorders and in particular, malignant narcissism, which also isn't an official diagnosis (although Narcissistic Personality Disorder is).

Sadism & Controversy

Although Theodore Millon proposed Sadistic Personality Disorder to the DSM Personality Disorder Work Group and despite wanting to continue studying it, Millon's proposal was rejected. Millon had proposed four subtypes of Sadistic Personality Disorder - Explosive, Tyrannical, Enforcing and Spineless.

According to Millon, adults who suffer with Sadistic Personality Disorder are not being labelled whereas many of their victims are being diagnosed with Self-Defeating Personality Disorder (otherwise known as Masochistic Personality Disorder) as a result of being subject to sadistic abuse.

Rather than sadism being defined as a personality type or even subtype, and due to the fact that Sadistic Personality Disorder was found to have the highest rate of comorbidity to many other psychopathological disorders, sadism is now considered to be a non-disordered personality trait.

That is, sadism is neither a personality type or subtype - it's just a trait. However, despite this trait being present across a wide range of personality disorders, it is also known to sometimes occur without any accompanying symptoms or indications whatsoever of any other kind of personality disorder.

In other words, it is officially acknowledged that some people are sadists and that they may indeed have Sadistic Personality Disorder but it's not possible for them to be officially diagnosed with it. However, most narcissists and/or sociopaths/psychopaths (or narcopaths) are sadists by default, as many of them naturally have a sadistic streak.

Studies have also shown that other illnesses, including alcoholism, have a high rate of comorbidity to Sadistic Personality Disorder. Another personality disorder commonly found to occur alongside Sadistic Personality Disorder is Conduct Disorder, which only affects children and adolescents and is seen as a precursor to Anti-Social Personality Disorder (sociopathy/psychopathy).

Sadism Defined

One thing that many people find themselves surprised about is the psychiatric definition of sadism. Sadistic behaviour not only includes physically or sexually inflicting pain upon other someone else for one's own entertainment but inflicting any sort of pain, including emotional or mental pain, upon someone for any type of self-gratification, can be considered to be sadistic.

Such self-gratification may be done in order to remain in control of finances or a relationship, it may be done to cover up secrets or abuse or it may be done to boost self-worth, ego and/or feelings of power. Alternatively, it may be done purely for pleasure.

This means that when a narcissist or sociopath/psychopath (or narcopath) is intentionally manipulating or controlling a victim for self-gratifying reasons then they are displaying sadistic traits; traits which would have previously been associated with Sadistic Personality Disorder. The pleasure taken by a sadist upon committing such acts does not necessarily have to be enjoyed, as it would as if it were a form of entertainment.

So long as the ultimate goal in carrying out that behaviour, whether it be emotional abuse/blackmail, mental/psychological abuse or physical/sexual abuse, has the ultimate intention of some form of self-gratification, then that behaviour can be considered to be sadistic.


The definition of sadism doesn't just include inflicting emotional or physical pain upon another person but also includes seeing, or witnessing, others undergo discomfort or pain.

For this reason, schadenfreude could also be considered to be a form of sadism. Schadenfreude is a German word which means to take pleasure in the suffering of others without having to commit any hostile acts towards them.

The word schadenfreude is borrowed from German in many languages, including English. Literally translated, schadenfreude means 'harm-joy'.

The closest other English terms that exist to describe this behaviour are epicaricacy, which is derived from Greek, and morose delectation, which means "The habit of dwelling with enjoyment on evil thoughts".

Another English expression with a similar meaning is Roman holiday, taken from a poem by George Gordon, Lord Byron (Childe Harold's Pilgrimage).

The poem describes a gladiator in ancient Rome who expects to be "butchered to make a Roman holiday" whilst the audience watch on in enjoyment and derive pleasure, in the form of entertainment, from watching the experience.

Whilst Sadistic Personality Disorder is no longer an official diagnosis according to the American Psychiatric Association, there is a renewed interest in continuing to study it. Every-day sadism links in with subclinical psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism and therefore forms part of what is known as the dark tetrad of personality.

© 2015 Marc Hubs


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    • sparkster profile imageAUTHOR

      Marc Hubs 

      4 years ago from United Kingdom

      No, they can't - that's the point. They are pathologically dysfunctional and therefore are not capable of doing so. I agree that there is no such thing as normal, just as there is no such thing as weird. People with such psychiatric illnesses are not just different as you describe it. Would you be able to live a happy life and have loving relationships if half the people in your family were rapists ot murderers or paedophiles? I seriously doubt it!

    • profile image

      4 years ago

      Isnt everyone a lil bit sadistic in some way shape or form? Isnt there a label that could be placed upon every persons characteristics if they were to be examined? Theres no consistent definition of normal. Everyone should stop allowing someone else to label them or classify them. Sparkster cant people who are different in one way or several ways still live happy lives and have loving relationships? It seems to me that could be achieved if that intent was set.

    • profile image

      clifford cox 

      4 years ago

      I think persistent and continuous nagging can be sadistic. My mother could drive people up walls with her nagging. It seemed to have started with continuously insisting that I "play" with my autistic little brother. It continued when I would visit home when in graduate school. Why did I continue visiting home when it was pure torment!?! This illustrates the power N parents exercise over their children!!!

    • sparkster profile imageAUTHOR

      Marc Hubs 

      4 years ago from United Kingdom

      It links in with subclinical psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism to form part of the dark tetrad of personality. However, it's not a trait specific to either one and can exist alone with no other personality defaults.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      4 years ago from California

      Wouldn't sadism fall under psychopathy? I wonder if there is a difference. Fascinating topic!


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