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The Need for Pain

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I was abused as a child, locked alone in a room for five years with no food or human contact. Ten years later, I am married and we just bought a house, but it seems some of my demons are moving with me.

Several years ago I tried to kill myself. I haven’t had any attempts since then, but I have gotten very low. And it’s then that I imagine my worst tortures, usually on other people. If my thoughts became manifest, I would be arrested on the spot for any number of crimes.

I can’t stand being around people other than my husband. Big groups, small groups, I am terrified of even people I know well. By the same token, I also come up with the most sadistic ways of torturing people. Contradictory to that, however, I am starting an EMT career. I enjoy the work. It can be very exhilarating.

But therein lies more contradiction. I am jealous of some of the people. Recently I was on the scene of an accident with a critical patient (spine injury, arterial management, the whole works). And I desperately wanted to be her, the patient. I wanted to be in her place. I *wanted* to be in her place.

Sometimes I want those things to happen so bad, I could shove a knife through myself just to relieve the physical pressure that builds up (never have, but have come close). It’s not about killing myself per se, but feeling that pain and those injuries and experiences. I hate being touched by anyone except my husband, and yet in EMS training where I have to be the patient and things get very touchy, I enjoy it because they’re looking for what’s wrong and they’re going to fix it.

I’m told that these desires are related to my past abuse, the intense feelings of psychological pain that I want to be manifested physically because physical wounds can be healed.

The Need for Pain

Answered by on -


I understand exactly what you’re saying about the need for pain. Thank you for having the courage to write about this and wanting to change. You seem to have very clear understanding of your (very intense) causes. I believe individual therapy with a counselor familiar with childhood abuse is important. I would do this sooner rather than later. The volatility of your thoughts indicates this is something you don’t want to delay in attending to.

I believe connecting past abuse with current symptoms is a good start. However, just as physical wounds can heal with treatment — psychological wounds can heal with the right care.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

The Need for Pain

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). The Need for Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 24 Jun 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.