More Pain Processing

The other day, my partner was looking at the scars left from the last time I used self-inflicted pain to jostle me out of a numbing depression. “I can’t imagine burning myself like that,” he said.  I pointed to the brandings on his hands, markings that were far, far more painful than anything I’ve ever endured.

“That’s different,” he said. “It’s different if it’s someone else doing it.”

That struck me as so odd. For me, pain has always been easier to endure when I’m the one doing it; I think it’s because there’s an element of control that I feel when I’m doing it myself. I’ve pierced my own ears several times by myself, and the pain was, I thought, pretty minimal. Yet when I went to get one of them redone by a professional piercer (I love self-piercing, but have come to accept that I do a pretty crappy job of it), I was in a cold sweat, and it hurt much more than I’d experienced at home.

Bringing it back to erotic pain, Juliet at The Power of And writes that in her experience, self-inflicted pain is “about control and clarity,” while other-inflicted pain [received in SM play] is about giving up that control, “letting someone else take responsibility.” For her, the two are completely separate, and so it makes perfect sense that she’d want different kinds of pain at different times:

When I feel sufficiently badly stressed or upset, I get both extremely protective of my boundaries, and confused within them; I start to feel very detached from my body. Letting someone else take control feels far too dangerous. SI [self-injury] is a way of reattaching, reconnecting – and for that to work I have to be right there, part of the reconnection. Bottoming, for me, creates detachment – in a different and much more positive way. So for me, the two things are a very long way apart; despite the superficial similarity of “pain”.

All of that makes perfect sense to me. I commented on her blog that I have experienced a few occasions where other-inflicted pain has helped me through a tough mental block—but then, the pain I received on those occasions was not in the context of a scene. It wasn’t play. And so I think, at least for me, the crucial difference is whether or not my desire for pain is of an erotic or therapeutic nature. Especially because pretty much all play is linked to the underlying D/s of my relationship with my partner, it’s difficult for me to receive pain in an eroticized context without it being tied to a state of submission, to a lack of control. And when I’m stressed, when I’m concerned with keeping myself intact, when I feel like shrinking away from an overstimulating world and reasserting my boundaries, submission play just isn’t something I want to be messing with.

But pain is. Controlled, almost ritualized pain—and like Juliet, I find that being the one to inflict it does provide a sort of reconnection that other-inflicted pain just can’t provide. Still, I wonder if there aren’t some ways in which my partner can help in this, as he has before, as long as the pain is something I can separate from eroticized pain, something I can separate from submission. How different would it have felt if he’d been the one to burn me?

1 comment so far

  1. Juliet on

    My personal concern with experimenting with other-inflicted therapeutic pain would be that it might affect the nature of the relationship. Being someone’s therapist doesn’t necessarily sit well with being their lover – even if the “lover” dynamic is a consistently D/s one. (Although that might make it easier to deal with.)

    Having said that, of course partners frequently help each other in various ways, so…

    Interesting post, thanks!

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