A woman will seek psychiatric attention for depression in response to desertion by her husband. She will regale the psychiatrist with an endless tales of repeated mistreatment by her husband.
The therapist discovers that this pattern of mistreatment has existed for twenty years, and that while the poor woman divorced the brute of a husband twice, she also remarried him twice, and that innumerable separations were followed by innumerable reconciliations.
What is going on here? In trying to understand what has happened, the therapists recalls the obvious relish with which the woman had recounted the long history of her husband’s brutality and mistreatment. Suddenly a strange idea begins to dawn: maybe this woman endures her husband’s mistreatment, and even seeks it out, for the very pleasure of talking about it. But what would be the nature of such pleasure? The therapist remembers the woman’s self-righteousness. Could it be that the most important thing in the woman’s life is t have a sense of moral superiority and that in order to maintain this sense she needs to be mistreated? The nature of the pattern now becomes clear. By allowing herself to be treated basely she can feel superior.
If the world is treating us well we have no need to avenge ourselves on it. If seeking revenge is our goal in life, we will have to see to it that the world treats us badly in order to justify our goal. Masochists look on their submission to mistreatment as love, whereas, in fact it is a necessity in their never-ceasing search for revenge and is basically motivated by hatred.
M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled