Q & A: BDSM and Abuse

7 Mar

Lil asks:  “How do you define the differences between abuse and BDSM, and do you think that, on some level, women who end up in abusive relationships were really seeking D/s, but were not aware of it and the massive differences between the two?”

What a great question, lil!  Thanks for asking my opinion ~ i hope it inspires you to finish your post on it.

i’ve been pondering the differences between BDSM and abuse as long as i’ve known about the lifestyle. There are so many ways to frame it.  Jade took one way in her comment yesterday.  She said:

“i think the line between abuse and TTWD can be summed up not in any activity but in two ways. 1. Intent and 2. How you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror afterwards.”

That makes sense, and i agree.  It the Top’s intentions aren’t honorable, if the Bottom feels diminished in the morning… those things matter.  

Of course, another huge difference is consent.  BDSM is consensual, abuse is coerced, pressured, or forced.  That doesn’t mean “it’s only abuse if you fight back”.  It’s abuse if you’re not consenting.  That’s a whole other topic, right?  And an important piece to remember.

But i’m going to come at the question from a different angle.

WARNINGS:

1.  This post may be a trigger for abuse survivors.  

2.  i do not know the particulars of your dynamic and am not making any judgements on you, your partner, or your situation.  If you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

3.  i will try to vary the gender assignments ~ not all offenders are male, not all victims are female.  If i slip into the pattern of He/she, i apologize.  That is not the reality.  Mostly, i’ll use “they” for the offender, even though that’s bad grammar, and “you” or “we” for victims, which makes it more gender neutral.

Ok, here we go.

When i talk with survivors of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, i have little mini-lectures i do.  i talk softly and slowly, pausing often to just breathe and let them react.  Often, i will tell them something like this:

There are two things about abuse that {i think} make it damaging, that do the most harm.  The first one is that the perpetrator always blames the victim for what he’s done.  Somehow ~

it might be wearing the wrong pajamas, being in the wrong place, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time ~

~ it might be because they’re  too pretty, too sexy, too bad, or even too special.

Somehow, the victim brought it on.  

It doesn’t make any difference what the abuser finds to blame it on, they always mange to make it the victim’s fault.  The abuser is not in control of their own actions, the victim “made them” do it, it was the victims fault.

And on some level, we tend to believe that.  We want to believe that we could have prevented it ~ that if we “had only…” then it wouldn’t have happened.  

The reality is we can’t prevent abuse.  It can happen no matter how careful we are, no matter what we do, no matter what we look like, no matter where we are…  

Abuse happens because we cross paths with an abuser, at a time when we’re vulnerable, for whatever reason.

Ok, so that’s one of the things that does the most harm. That the victim ends up blaming herself or himself.  And abusers are really good at convincing us of that, often without us even realizing it.

******************************************* 

As you’re reading this, stop and absorb a minute.  If you’re feeling upset or triggered, walk away.   Do something that makes you feel good.  You can finish later. 

But if you’re ready, we’ll go on.

***************************************

The other thing that happens when you’re being abused, the second thing that causes a lot of the harm, is that when you’re being abused, it’s not safe to feel your feelings.  When we’re being hurt,  we tend to “shut down.”  “Go away in your head.”    Different people call it different things.  

Some people talk about actually feeling like they’re outside their body, watching what’s happening like it’s happening to somebody else.

But most of us, when we’re being abused, being hurt, do some kind of shutting down on feelings.  Of course  – that makes perfect sense.  It’s part of what protects us, helps us survive the experience.  We do the same thing in childbirth, right?  If you have natural childbirth, at some point you just sort of “go away.”  It’s too much, and we shut down.  That’s why we often don’t remember every minute of what happened.

And that’s a good thing.  That’s a way of protecting ourselves.

The problem with that is that after the trauma is over, after we’ve survived, when it would actually be safe to feel those feelings ~ then we don’t want to.

Well, of course we don’t want to.  Why would we want to?  They’re not exactly pleasant, feel-good feelings, right?

But they’re ours.  They belong to us.  

And when they’re connected to abuse, they don’t actually go away.  

They just get tucked away in a corner of our minds.  

And then, at some point, they begin to pop out.  When we least expect it, least want them to, they pop back out.   Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts.  There they are.

Kind of like pushing leftovers to the back of the refrigerator.  They don’t just go away.

{Ok, at this point, i have a long lecture on how avoiding those feelings is what leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and why it’s not really a disorder, but a normal reaction to a difficult, painful experience…  and then on to the rules we learn about how the world works when we’ve been abused, and lots more, but clearly i am not going to do all that here}

Skipping back to the BDSM and abuse question ~ do you see where i’m going?   The two things that cause tremendous harm with abuse are reversed in BDSM.

In TTWD, the Dominant or Master takes full responsibility for His or Her own actions.   My Sir spanks me because He wants to, not because i made Him mad, or made Him lose control.  Big contrast.  

Now, there is that tricky element of us wanting what they’re doing, at some level also.  But that’s why we consent, right?  So it’s mutual.   Another big difference.

AND, there is no doubt that we feel our feelings.  For many of us, it’s important to feel them at the time, to stay connected with what’s going on.

For some people, they’re ok with not feeling them at the time, but then quickly claim the feelings afterwards.  We talk about them, blog about them, analyze them, tattoo them on our bodies…  We are all about sharing the feelings.

There are other differences ~ some of which may be immediately obvious.  For example, just being able to talk about what we’re doing and feeling is a tremendous difference.  Abuse is secret.  TTWD are private, but at least here in the blogosphere, they are not secret!

Enough, and maybe more than enough,  for today.   i’ll tackle Part II of the question tomorrow.

23 Responses to “Q & A: BDSM and Abuse”

  1. greengirl March 7, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    I appreciate that you have answers that go deeper than just “consent.” Consent is too simple an answer, too loaded with room for misunderstanding – for coercion that doesn’t look like itself. Thank you.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 5:44 am #

      Thanks, Greengirl, i think you’re right, “consent” is important, but it can be slippery.

      aisha

  2. Striving for Peace March 7, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Very well done
    and with care for the reader.

    I look forward to part 2.

    sfp

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 5:44 am #

      Thanks, Sfp!

      aisha

  3. vanillamom March 7, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    I second sfp…so very well done, and with great care for whomever may be reading here. Sometimes it fascinates me…the thing I do? Writing rape fantasies as well as “truer” BDSM themed stories…

    I’ve wondered, somehow, if those fantasies help me frame my own powerlessness as a child, surviving incest. Reframed it and made it …okay. Okay to claim the adult sexuality that comes from those feelings.

    It was a huge turning point for me to realize that its okay that being bound, or gagged and being fucked or spanked (or both) is okay within the parameters of my consent. And that it is okay for me to feel arousal with those feelings.

    yes, my child-self formed those sexual feelings…but as an adult I can live with it–knowing that I am safe when I am “powerless” with my Master.

    love,

    nilla

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 5:48 am #

      Dear ‘Nilla,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. It’s interesting to think about, isn’t it? i don’t pretend to understand how it works, but i would bet that on some level your writing is a way to rid yourself of some demons and make sense of your own experience.

      That much i would bet.

      The safety is a huge other difference, isn’t it? There’s a thought all by itself, what makes TTWD safe? And that goes beyond safe words, right? It’s the emotional safety that’s so huge.

      Hmmmm. Thanks.

      aisha

  4. faerie March 7, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Wonderful post aisha. That one line, “abuse is secret” resonated so much with me. I sometimes think carrying the secret of my abuse for so many years did at least as much damage as the abuse. I’m looking forward to part 2 🙂

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 5:51 am #

      @Faerie,

      Good point – yes, i agree, the secrecy part of it is huge. i compare the abuse to a tornado that sweeps through your life ~ when there’s real tornado, then the media comes and you get talk about what happened and the Red Cross comes out and people make donations and bring blankets and comfort and console…

      When you get abused, it may feel like a tornado, but the next day it’s as if nothing happened. No comfort, no support. Just the secret to carry.

      So yeah. i think you’re absolutely right. Thanks for commenting.

      aisha

  5. Dancing March 7, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Great post, thank you so much for writing. I often look back on past things and try to minimize what took place. Sometimes I even wonder if maybe I would have just asked for spankings the other type of unconsentual beatings would have stopped but this reminded that this was not something we could have spoken about and that my boyfriend at the time was not in control of his emotions or really even his actions. Vanillamom stated in her comment that she felt safe when powerless with her Master and I think that is key and I feel very lucky to have that now. For me the difference is in the type of fear….fear for my life vs. that excited anticipation type of fear that I don’t really klnow how to excplain but is good.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 5:57 am #

      @Dancing,

      Thank you.

      Yes, the way you describe minimizing it makes perfect sense. That’s easier to do when you’re not real in touch with the feelings connected to the experience. Like you say, when you remember how it really was, how it felt, it’s easier to see the reality.

      i think that’s the real risk of not being in touch with the feelings, we can’t remember what it was really like, and we develop flawed ideas of how it was, and then we judge ourselves and act on those inaccurate ideas.

      Good point on fear vs anticipation!! Yet another reason why BDSM has therapeutic potential.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      aisha

  6. smilingsoul March 7, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you aisha for writing so thoughtfully and carefully about this topic. I did not experience childhood abuse of a physical or sexual nature. This post gave me some insight on the aftermath of childhood abuse victims. As many of us know, it is not an unusual occurrence to meet people in the BDSM community that have experienced childhood abuse. Having nothing of my own experiences to draw from, this post will help me understand how to be sensitive and supportive of adult survivors I know and will meet in the future.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 6:02 am #

      Dear Smillingsoul,

      Thank you ~ i’m glad it was helpful. For sure, there are a lot of us abuse survivors in the BDSM community ~ and for real, there’s a lot of us everywhere ~ but i think we’re more open about it here…which is kind of interesting too…

      Anyhow, thank you. 🙂

      aisha

  7. Sss March 7, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Aisha,

    It seems like I am not the first to share that I have been abused as well. 🙂

    Very well explained. I would add that, for me anyways, I found the sexual power in my hands when I was too young to understand it a not healthy experience as well.

    Your comment on the secretive nature of abuse is right on as well. And secrets tend to translate into shame.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Sss

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 6:10 am #

      Dear Sss,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You’re so right about secrets and shame!! The shift to blaming the victim is the other thing that helps drive the shame, i think.

      Your comment about the sexual power is interesting. i think i know what you’re saying, maybe, but i’m not sure. i know that whole aspect of the impact is fascinating, and there seems to be great variation in how we view that and how we deal with it.

      Thank you very much

      aisha

      • Sss March 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

        Hello aisha,

        What I was trying to say but not well if that children normally are under the control of adults. And that is normal until the teen years when there is a natural struggle and move towards control of self.

        I was abuse from age 7 by my father. At that point, I became very aware that I had more power in the relationship than he. Both sexually and in normal life as a child. I saw how I could control a man by his sexual desire. This is not a healthy dynamic for a child. I think this may have contributed to my need to be submissive since that is about power and control as well.

        Hope this explaination is better.

        Sss

  8. mouse March 7, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    aisha,

    Thank you for writing this, especially the way you did. So many points were made…the abuser makes you feel that you’re wrong is a huge one. They make you feel worthless without them too.

    O went to work late and read the post with mouse (thank you so much for your warnings and suggesting the break). You’re spot on with the refrigerator analogy, there are a lot of left-overs in mouse’s fridge.

    The first owner, he would show mouse off at play parties and such, occasionally a munch, to demonstrate how submissive mouse was. Occasionally there might be a chance to converse with someone else, out of his earshot (or with his blessing) but mouse was always awkward. They would question mouse and honestly, mouse didn’t know the answers. There was a Domme once who got annoyed with mouse and yelled at her. And honestly mouse didn’t understand why and pushed the whole thing out of her mind once the owner was back with her.

    It was about consent. The fact mouse didn’t understand the first thing that was going on or even why she was there…it wasn’t viewed as being submissive as it was stupid. And mouse never thought of herself as being stupid. There’s so many layers to the emotions that go on and still get inside. Or outside…

    The triggers are just there waiting sometimes for the right moment and it’s always when mouse would least expect it…well, maybe not. Many times they come up when she’s feeling the happiest as if to remind her that she’s not worthy of happiness. The ground begins to shake and she can’t stop it.

    O is quick to remind that mouse wasn’t to blame for getting tangled up.

    And if she is going to be brutally honest with herself and with him she must admit that sometimes, late at night when the fears get inside her…she worries that the only reason he’s here with her is because of his involvement in her past. And if she’s ever “fixed” he’ll leave. Of course even as she typed this, he was beside her giving her a kiss on the head and saying he won’t.

    Anyway…Thank you, Thank YOU for writing this…You explained it wonderfully and frankly mouse cannot wait to read what you say in part two.

    Hugs,
    mouse

    PS if you feel what mouse wrote is too much, please feel free to remove it.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      Dear Mouse,

      Let me be clear, you could write a book in my comments section and I’d be fine with it. 🙂

      i love the image of you reading this with Omega standing by to help you process. That’s so wise.

      You do a really nice job describing your experience and some of your feelings. Thank you for sharing that here. i know that it’s not easy to write about it.

      i do want to say this ~ when you talk about the triggers and how they “come up when she’s feeling the happiest as if to remind her that she’s not worthy of happiness,” i want to share this one thing. We often don’t begin to process the feelings until we feel safe. As long as we’re in “survival mode” it’s still not safe to feel the feelings. It’s only after we’re safe that we can begin to re-experience them.

      But re-experiencing them means that your mind is trying to heal. i know that sounds crazy, but it’s not about you not being worthy of happiness. Your mind is saying, ok, you’re safe and happy now, NOW you can reclaim those feelings that got lost when you were being hurt.

      i know, i know, but you don’t WANT them back. Yeah. i get that. But reclaiming them is the path to recovery.

      Enough said, and i hope not too much. i’m so glad you’re finding this interesting, and so glad Omega is there with you…

      big hugs,

      aisha

  9. lil March 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Wonderful post. Thank you for taking the time and effort for such a detailed response. Jade made a great point too, which is part of the angle I was coming from in my half-written somewhat angsty post lol.

    I do think there’s a it of a difference between abuse of children, and abusive relationships as an adult. In an adult context I personally feel that consent isn’t the issue, though I do realize that there are people who have no options or help and one can get to the point of basically being brainwashed.
    Watching my sil, and her abusive relationships has made me believe that it does take a level of consent from the abused to be in a domestic violence situation.

    I look forward to your take in part two.

    I love the clarity in your points about the opposites, abusers blaming victims, and airing your feelings.
    A Dominant is responsible for his actions and claims that responsibility. Things are not done in anger with the intent to cause harm.
    Talking about how you feel is encouraged versus beaten to silence.

    And that whole going away thing? I got it down pat. Though I have found that D/s has has a dramatic affect on that and it’s a lot easier to be There.

    I feel like I have more of a response to this, maybe I’ll be back later to take up more space lol.

    Thank you for the thoughtful and thought provoking post.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 7:03 am #

      Dear Lil,

      Thank you so much! For asking the question and for the thoughtful comments… it is a fascinating topic, isn’t it?

      You say:

      “Watching my sil, and her abusive relationships has made me believe that it does take a level of consent from the abused to be in a domestic violence situation.”

      and of course in a way you’re right. And it’s complex. But yes, of course. Adults have options and resources that children just don’t have. Maybe more from me on that later…

      The ‘going away’ is a handy skill sometimes – i’ve used it for root canals… lol. And come back and respond more anytime you want to!

      i love that we’re talking about this.

      aisha

  10. jade March 7, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Thank you, aisha. i needed to hear this and be reminded of this.
    What are the three rules of abuse, again? Is it…1.don’t talk, 2. don’t think, 3. don’t feel.

    No matter what shape the abuse takes, these three factors always seem to be there.

    i would agree with all that you said. My comment was in no way meant to be all-inclusive. Nothing would ever be so. 🙂 But….consent that is genuine matters. Hugely important.

    My concept of changing how you feel about yourself is there because it is visceral. When you look into your own eyes, you know if you are okay or not. Somedays, i am not okay.

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Dear Jade,

      Yes. Exactly those rules.

      And no, i knew your comment wasn’t all-inclusive – good grief, neither is my post!! i appreciated a place to jump off from so thanks for giving me that!

      AND i agree that we often know when we’re ok and when we’re not. For many people though, that’s not a reliable yardstick, because if you’re shut down on your feelings enough, you can sort of know you’re not ok without recognizing the significance of that. If that makes sense. Which i’m not sure it does.

      Darn you, Jade, more for me to think about!!

      many hugs,

      aisha

  11. faithful March 7, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    your posts constantly make me think, reflect and smile.

    I thank you for that.

    ~faithful

    • aisha March 9, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Thank you, Faithful!! 🙂

      hug,

      aisha

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