Semirhage, the Lady of Pain
These names bring to mind people who not only excel at inflicting pain, but derive physical pleasure from it. The pain can be physical, psychological, magical, or emotional, and sadists use pain and the fear of pain to manipulate and control others.
Sadists: The Origin
The term sadism is derived from the French word sadisme, which was coined for the Marquis de Sade, a French nobleman who wrote a number of erotic works that combined blasphemy, criminal acts, violence, and sexual fantasies. His writings depicted the pleasure of inflicting pain, and he was considered extreme even by the Gothic writers of his era.
But though the term originated in the 1800s, sadism has existed for nearly as long as mankind has. Though most people are familiar with sexual sadism—a condition common enough for it to be classified as a disorder—sadism comes in many forms. At its core, it is deriving pleasure from the suffering of others.
Sadism may be a combination of the “darker” personality traits: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Sadistic personality disorder is not currently recognized as a personality disorder, but when it was, it was often found alongside other personality disorders. However, given that it shares a lot of traits with other personality disorders, it is difficult to distinguish sadistic personality types from those with, say, psychopathic disorders.
One psychologist listed the five most common sub-types of sadist:
Explosive sadists tend to lose control when frustrated, disappointed, hopeless, or humiliated. They seek revenge, become unpredictably violent, and may even attack those closest to them. They lash out as a result of perceived mistreatment.
Spineless sadists are insecure and cowardly, and they tend to strike first in anticipation of danger. They use aggressive hostility to forestall and prevent aggression, sending the message that they aren’t fearful. They use sadism to mask their true feelings of fear and insecurity, and tend to search for scapegoats to gang up on.
Tyrannical sadists force their victims to cower, as they derive satisfaction from the submission of their victims. They are cruel, frightening, and relish the act of brutalizing and threatening others.
Enforcing sadists tend to use authoritative positions—drill sergeants, university deans, police officers, prison overseers, and so on—to control the punish people they believe to have broken the law, rules, or regulations. Because they are inflicting punishment on lawbreakers, they often believe their actions to be “right” or “justified”.
Everyday sadists gain emotional benefit from either causing or observing the suffering of others. For example, a co-worker who smiles as your boss shouts at you, or derives emotional pleasure from making you suffer. If you do something to set them off, they will retaliate and seek revenge, further hurting you.
Everyday sadism is common a lot more common than expected. One study found it was prevalent among a broader spectrum of people than they anticipated. Some of the participants were more likely to enjoy crushing bugs (27%, with another 27% assisting the person killing the bugs) or “attacking” their fellow participants. These tended to score higher on the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS).
The SSIS uses ten questions to rate people’s sadistic impulses:
- I enjoy seeing people hurt.
- I would enjoy hurting someone physically, sexually, or emotionally.
- Hurting people would be exciting.
- I have hurt people for my own enjoyment.
- People would enjoy hurting others if they gave it a go.
- I have fantasieswhich involve hurting people.
- I have hurt people because I could.
- I wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone.
- I have humiliated others to keep them in line.
- Sometimes I get so angry I want to hurt people.
(Information courtesy of Psychology Today)
Anyone who scored higher than 5 out of 10 would be considered an “everyday sadist”.
Oddly enough, a lot of sadists aren’t physically violent. Sadists that are raised in a violent culture or background do tend to violence (like bullies and domestic abusers), but a lot of sadists tend to use emotional and psychological weapons against their victims. They have been likened to “emotional vampires” that feed off the terror of the people they control.
Sadism runs rampant in literature, and sadists are always the villains of the piece.
- Ramsay Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire uses physical torture (castration, amputation, flaying, etc.) and psychological abuse to instill fear in Theon Greyjoy, turning him into a wrecked, broken shell of the man he once was.
- Peter Wiggin, Ender’s older brother from Ender’s Game, flayed squirrels and subjected young Ender to cruel games.
- Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter uses the blood quill to torture two students, and she uses an “unforgiveable curse” to get Harry and Hermione to give her what she wants.
Rarely are they redeemable characters, as their lust for violence, control, and inflicting suffering on others dominates their personalities.