Masochism and Gambling


There is little doubt that some gamblers derive pleasure in losing – by feeling despondent – and that psychic masochism is a key element in the determination to gamble on a regular basis.

In 1935, psychoanalyst E. Kris asserted a series of events that motivated gamblers from light experimentation with the ego continually rising, to a traditional cycle of increased losses, to a need for encouragement, and finally to a hazardous increase of tension.

Based on this scenario, gambling succeeds from innocuous recreation to a matter of life and death. In 1940, Theodor Reik associated gambling to an enslaving burden with oedipal desires, but aggregated that participation fulfills an interpretive function as well.

In 1945, Otto Frenchel interpreted gambling as satisfying an interpretive function. Seeing that oedipal guilt can never be wholly corrected, however, he concluded that actual gamblers must necessarily be ruined.

Their never-ending search for forgiveness can never be achieved. On the other hand, R. Greenson drew clinical data from his five patients in 1948, classified that gamblers — as being orally fixated.

He then speculated that gamblers entreat for Lady Luck, the approving treatment that they have not established from their parents. Greenson also concluded that the urge to gamble cannot be fulfilled by fantasizing, but must have an action planned; that is, the gambler must persist to play.

In 1953, author Robert Lindner introduced a substantial psychoanalytic study. Following the study of a single patient, he theorized that gamblers are trapped in an unsavory appeal to destiny as they struggle with such questions of ‘subjectively’ killing their fathers through death wish, and obtaining punishment/rewards for their hidden sexual desires.

Lindner portrayed this dilemma as impossible to resolve. Further, winning aids to awaken guilt for oedipal urges; on the other hand, losing is an actual proof of punishment for those urges.

Edmund Bergler’s psychoanalytic studies were the most circumspectly documented case addressed by a psychoanalyst and showed a veritable overview of psychiatric observation.

His theoretical accounts have garnered far-reaching recognition among both scholars and the general public. His theories on gambling also remained one of the sources most commonly quoted.

The Psychology of Gambling, published by Bergler in 1957, accounted his career’s thirty years experience in treating distressed gamblers. His research was founded on sixty gamblers he himself treated and on the abrupt contacts he had with a few hundred more.

His major contention was that compulsive gamblers are aberrants motivated by an unconscious urge to lose. Their incessant gambling shows a self-destructive desire to abuse themselves by rebelling against the logic of adult authority.

The misery of losing is aroused into an abiding masochism that the gambler yearns with frantic passion, not being able also to limit his or her gambling.


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