When D/s Becomes Abuse

Author: Raven Shadowborne © 6/29/2000



Often it is difficult to tell if a d/s relationship is abusive. Because of the dynamics involved and the many variances from one relationship to another, certain things can be seen as abuse by one person, but as perfectly healthy to another. However, during many discussions of such a topic, I have found that certain things show up repeatedly as signs of abuse. They are exactly the same as those things that show up in vanilla relationships as abusive. Being involved in D/s does not preclude someone from being abused. It is not a safety net against emotional, mental or physical abuse. It can in fact be a tool which makes it easier for an abusive person to abuse their partner. 

A d/s relationship is based upon a power exchange. There is a submissive person and a dominant one. This entire dynamic places one person at a disadvantage when it comes to abuse. Things which are abusive can be explained as the dominantís orders or rules. As a submissive, it is imperative that one be on the lookout for signs of abuse and take their time in finding the right partner to be sure that they will not fall prey to an abusive person. 

To make this even worse, some people who have been abused in the past, are unfortunately easier to abuse in the future. Old behavior patterns, created by past abuse, though overcome, can be reinitiated if done properly. Self esteem issues will resurface. Unfortunately, despite a firm belief abuse survivors have that it will never ever happen to them again, it can happen again and can be very easy to undermine the hard won growth from past abuse because the foundation is already there. Some people who abuse others know this and will seek out people who have abuse in their past because flat out, they are easier to control. 

In general, d/s becomes abuse when one partner is subjugated, not submitting. There are signs of this occurring. Some of them are withdrawal or isolation from friends, discontinuing work or hobbies that used to be important, degeneration of self esteem, and obedience out of fear not a desire to please. 

Withdrawal from friends and enjoyable activities, are usually the first sign of abuse. These things can occur by the dominantís direct order, or by their repeated insulting of these things, causing the submissive to stop talking to their friends, or participating in their favorite activities in order to avoid the insults. This is usually done first because it denies the submissive a support network, other points of view or anything else that might show the submissive the situation they are in as being unhealthy. Once the submissive is isolated, they depend more and more on the dominant to hold them up. They begin to close up on themselves. The dominant, his orders and their life together become everything to the sub, making it even easier for the abusive dominant to continue subjugating the submissive. Eventually this isolation can continue to include a complete withdraw of communication, support or any other interaction on a personal level from the person involved. This lays the groundwork for removal of self esteem by starting the erosion process. 

Degeneration of self esteem occurs in any abusive relationship. Quite simply the person who is being abused, no longer views themselves as worthy of anything. They begin to see themselves as bad or worthless. Instead of believing they can do things correctly, they firmly believe they canít do anything right. All of these things come about because the "dominant" involved repeatedly told the submissive that they were always making mistakes, werenít worthy of anything and other such insults and never noticed what was done right. These things do not have to be said outright, but can be repeatedly implied through the dominantís actions and reactions. For example, a dominant who is also a sadist, that uses punishment when he/she is in the mood for pain play, can cause problems with the submissive. He/she finds any little thing he can to punish the submissive for and eventually causes the submissive to fear them and believe they canít do anything right because they get punished for everything. Or if the submissive enjoys writing, the abusive dominant will ridicule it, making it seem a worthless time wasting activity, until eventually the submissive stops writing in order to please the dominant but is in reality stopping out of fear of his disapproval and to prevent those insults from being stated.

Obedience is important from a submissive. However, in a healthy d/s relationship, obedience comes from a real desire to please the dominant. In an abusive d/s relationship, that obedience comes from fear of the dominantís reactions. Obedience becomes a way of stopping the insults, arguments, irrational behaviors, or unfair punishments. Obedience becomes a way of proving to the dominant that the submissive is not "that" bad. A certain level of fear is always present in a d/s relationship, however when it is the main reason behind every action the submissive takes, then it has surpassed healthy and entered abusive. When the submissive sits around thinking of every little thing he/she has done today in terms of whether or not the dominant might get mad, then that is fear of the dominant, not a real desire to please. 

Unfortunately, abuse in a d/s relationship is harder to see because of the dynamics. In a d/s relationship, if a submissive asks someone if something is "right" or "wrong" the answer will often include such statements as "whatever your dominant says" or "itís a submissiveís job to obey". A submissive, who is not just a bottom, will feel extremely guilty for even thinking that their dominant is doing something wrong, or somehow abusing them. They will take the blame on themselves, and when they approach the dominant with their thoughts, they do so from that point of view. This allows the dominant to lay the blame on the submissive, and thus continue the cycle of abuse. The dominant will use the submissiveís personality as a way to keep the control of that submissive by saying such things as "itís a submissiveís duty to obey" or "a submissive shouldnít question their master/mistress." Eventually, this leaves the submissive with no outlet, extensive guilt, and a firm belief that they have no way out.

Even though abuse is not extremely prevalent in BDSM as far as I know, it does exist. It is often extremely difficult to notice, and even harder to remove oneself from the situation. Many different things combine to make it so difficult to see that the relationship has moved from "healthy" to "abusive". Abusive is not one argument, or one order that the sub does not agree with. Abuse is a lot more than that, and it takes time to become abusive. The relationship usually starts great. The submissive feels loved, protected, happy and other good feelings. Gradually it changes to one where the submissive feels fearful, guilty, bad about themselves, unhappy, and other negative emotions more often than anything else. Deciding whether or not a d/s relationship is abusive is unfortunately a personal decision, however, the signs above are things a person should be aware of just in case. It is important, when thinking of getting involved with someone, to trust your first instincts about that person. Those instincts could be right, and usually are. Lastly, it is extremely important that a person remember that abuse can and does occur in BDSM as well as vanilla. 






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