Submission and Dependency

My last relationship ended with M walking out on me while I begged him, “Please don’t leave me…please don’t leave.” This, even though I was the one who’d insisted on putting an end to our relationship.

It was a profoundly disturbing moment.

For most of my life, I’ve been nearly obsessed with the idea of freedom and true independence. When I was younger, this took the form of isolation and dreams of “escape,” and as I got older, actually leaving home. In all of my adult relationships, independence has been a central theme; my most often-heard complaint was a feeling of being held back, or smothered, or that the other person was too clingy, too dependent on me.

When M walked out on me, that night, I realized that all this time, these past several years, I had been more dependent on him than he ever had on me.

As a child, I had frequent recurring nightmares, the most powerful and memorable of which involved me curling up in bed with one of my parents (though it was never clear to me which one), and being unable to scream as a monster of some sort walked into the room, scooped me up, and carried me out, without my mom or dad ever waking up. Once, I told a friend about this dream, and he joked, “Wow, you didn’t have abandonment issues.” I laughed – but it was startling, and something I had never thought of before. After all, I never had been abandonded, in any way (at least, not to my knowledge), and in fact had wanted, even as a child, to be far more solitary and independent than my parents ever allowed me to be.

* * * * *

In the foreward to his book SM 101, Jay Wiseman writes, “Some motivations [for BDSM] are pathological. Dominants may have “old stuff” going on regarding frustration, sadists regarding anger, submissives regarding dependency, masochists regarding guilt or self-loathing.” Of course, he goes on to say, this is by no means the norm – most people interested in SM do not have these sort of issues to work through, or at least (and this is important), no more than most other “normal” people do.

My fear in “coming out” to myself as a submissive (and even more, perhaps, as a masochist), is that it’s tied to my psychology; that there’s no way my desire to be tied up and beaten can be separated from past issues of dependency, guilt, and self-loathing. That notion’s only reinforced by quite a bit of what I’ve read on the subject, both fiction and non. Secretary, for example – the movie that really pushed me to start acknowledging my submissive sexual fantasies – features two characters that are far from normal. Mr. Grey, the dominant, exhibits a multitude of obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a need to control himself and his environment – not just his submissive. Lee Holloway, the sub, is introduced to us as she gets out of a mental hospital; she’d been placed there after her mother’s discovery of her self-mutilation/cutting. In her case, it’s made explicitly clear that her submission to Mr. Grey replaces her need to cut herself – she is able to stop because he tells her to. I’ve read other BDSM (nonfiction) erotica that has dealt with similar themes, especially in tying the submissive’s past of abuse, guilt, or low self-esteem to their eroticizing of those same feelings. It all seems to make some sort of sense – that one of the “reasons” for BDSM is to have a place to play with those emotions and traumas that haunt us.

But as satisfying and releasing as sex (of any sort) can feel, it’s not therapy, and really shouldn’t be treated as such. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that I’ve been able to twist negative feelings of dependency and self-hatred into pleasant ones of sexual submission and masochism – but this sort of sexual play doesn’t “heal” me, nor does it lessen the experience to know that it’s tied to some rather unpleasant parts of myself. More importantly, having “issues” of guilt or dependency isn’t necessarily a sign of pathology; when Wiseman points out that BDSM folk don’t have issues to work through any more so than do “normal” people, it’s a really important point: We’re all fucked up, one way or another.

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