May/June 2002
Understanding Control
by FineArt


Like Punishment, the term CONTROL is widely used in the realm of BDSM and D/s. It is, in fact, often seen as the basis or foundation of the relationship and is frequently described as the Power Exchange! This scroll is an Old Dom's attempt to sort out varying meanings and applications of the term and see where it fits in the D/s lifestyle!

Control (abridged):
As a verb:
1) To check or test; restrain
2) To regulate, as in a controlled experiment; establish conditions
3) To have or exercise power over; to rule
As a noun:
1) Power or authority to guide or manage
2) Skill in the use of a tool or implement
3) Restraint or Reserve in one's actions (self-control)
4) A device or mechanism to restrict or regulate action

At its simplest, control can consist of physical restraint or simple rules of behavior. Particularly in a BDSM setting, this can mean bondage, a command, etc. of a temporary nature (perhaps the duration of a scene or a portion thereof). When occurring within a relationship, this exchange consists of the granting (or perhaps taking) of power or decision making from one to another. Physically, such control ranges widely... from constraining clothing - the leash or similar devices - to creating total constraint of movement. With extreme bondage or physical restraint, the exchange becomes absolute, pending use and honoring of a safeword. The Top or Dominant has total ability to do as he wishes. The bottom or submissive is at his whim! Concurrent with this, the Dominant assumes the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the submissive, whether because of the physical constraints or the elevation of the submissive into subspace where she is incapable of monitoring her safety effectively. In the case of command, the "controlling" mechanisms for the submissive may be the threat of discipline, punishment or simply the disapproval or disappointment of the Dominant. Internal drives to please, the need to not disappoint her Master are also extremely powerful factors in following the directives of the Dominant.

At the next level is the control of overall actions, behavior or the bounds of the relationship. This covers a tremendous array of potential, from a simple agreement for a complete scene, the establishment of expectations and limits in a formal contract, through the broad based understanding of needs, desires, aspirations, fears, limitations, etc. created through the establishment of long term commitments! Here, the mechanism of "control" is not physical, but psychological and emotional. For the submissive, it is the granting of her gift... the relinquishing to the Dominant the right or power to make decisions, to take actions... supported by the need to please or serve... that establish the basis of "control'. It is often the desire to serve, to please... or the need to avoid disappointing the Dominant that are the most powerful elements in following directives, fulfilling the agreements or commitments. However, the Dominant also has the options of imposing sanctions, discipline or punishments, in the event directives are not followed.

In return for this most precious of all gifts, the right to make decisions, take actions, the Dominant assumes some awesome responsibilities... to guide, nourish, and care for the well being and growth of the submissive. As the submissive assumes the commitment to serve... for following the guidance, directives or fulfilling the needs of the Dominant, the Dominant takes the responsibility of seeking to learn, understand and assure that the needs of the submissive are met. In the simplest sense, this may be the complimentary fulfillment of sensual needs. When the gift is complete, the submissive grants all without restriction beyond understood and agreed upon limits; the Dominant's responsibilities are equally comprehensive. The Dominant who fails to recognize and fulfill the responsibilities that come with the exercise of this control, or power, will, in time, doom the relationship to failure. In time, either the gift will be withdrawn and the relationship dissolved, or the quality will simply erode away.

At the next level of control, the Dominant is able to assess and control entire situations. At the sensual level, this can include planning and setting the conditions, the stage for a scene in order to assure that the desired results are met. On a broader scale, it can include such things as managing diet for health and fitness, getting the submissive involved in community affairs, establishing a situation where fears must be squarely faced and overcome or a myriad of other, similar things that lead to the development of the submissive. This requires the Dominant's looking beyond the submissive to include the context in which they interact. Then taking specific actions, making specific decisions to achieve the desired results or outcomes. Here the Dominant must begin to recognize, understand, and manage cause and effect relationships... to do things at a considerably higher level than the simple tying of knots or issuing of directives! The Dominant must analyze, anticipate, plan and execute... and monitor progress toward the predetermined goals! The Dominant must move well beyond instinct or emotion or spontaneity... to THINK!

At the highest level of control, the Dominant shapes the environment to achieve desired goals. This may be best explained by comparing to other parts of life.

In his 1954 book, The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker (perhaps the most influential management theorist of the 20th Century) wrote "It is a manager's first responsibility to make what is desirable first possible, then actual!" He went on, throughout this outstanding volume, to explain how the manager sets out, ultimately, to control the results, or objectives to be achieved. Carefully and logically, he points out that control of processes has true meaning and application only when there is understanding of how the processes produce the desired results. One of the many examples he gives is the manager who believes he is "in control' when he represses his subordinates, eliminating their desire or capability to do anything but those very specific things he allows. The implements of control are strict rules of behavior and threats of imposing sanctions if the subordinate steps beyond the bounds of allowed behavior... in a single word... FEAR. Fear seldom leads to motivation to excel or to grow... it creates instead an atmosphere of avoidance, cowering and cover-up. Over the long term, managers who rely on these methods do not achieve optimal goals or fulfill potential; instead they create a "not my job, cover your ass against blame and wait to get even" environment.

The more competent manager creates an environment where the desired results are communicated and understood by all... and seeks to put process controls only on those things that he knows impact these results... shaping the processes to assure that not only will the goals be reached, but in a consistent and efficient manner.

The most competent manager is able to do this with multiple goals in a complex environment... establishing the desired results, understanding the things needed to achieve those results... including the capabilities of and factors that motivate those who must work to achieve those goals. He furthermore monitors the processes to assure that they are functioning as planned, and keeps track of progress toward goals. He provides the feedback and rewards to the workers and maintains the equipment to assure that things will not only be achieved today, but in the future as well!!! He anticipates things that can go wrong, and put processes in place to ensure that they will have minimal impact if they cannot be prevented completely. Put simply, the manager is in control of his total environment... not just the pieces.

One need only substitute "Dominant" for "manager" and "submissive" for "worker" to see how this concept of control applies to the long term D/s relationship. The repressed worker would be the doormat submissive, the repressive Dominant little more than a bully. The potential richness of D/s lies in the growth of both the Dominant and the submissive... expanding capabilities, exploring new vistas... motivated, driven to continue on a journey of new and exciting things. In the view of this Old Dom, this is the true meaning of life... the excitement in life... that can be so enhanced when shared in an ongoing relationship which centers on the granting of the submissive's gift and the Dominant's acceptance of the responsibilities of structuring, then controlling the environment to assure that both mutual and individual needs are satisfied!

In my view, there can be no stronger, or better relationship!

Finally, no discussion of Dominant control can be complete without discussion of self-control. Self-control is the capacity of the Dominant to exercise restraint over one's own impulses, emotions or desires. Certainly each of these is legitimate for the Dominant to experience, and to show to the submissive. Despite the posturing of some, Dominants are human beings, experiencing the full range of human reactions and possessing human frailties! However, at a minimum, the true Dominant must be able to control himself if he hopes to have any lasting control over others or anything but the simplest of situations! To exercise control, the Dominant MUST overcome the EXTREMES of impulse (i.e. unanticipated opportunity), emotion (i.e. anger, rage), or desire (i.e. lust) to act in a logical manner. He must keep in mind the overall context and goals of the relationship AND the nature of the situation before acting. Objectivity, analysis, and logic become strengths of the Dominant. The most competent of Dominants will not "shoot from the hip" or resort to "knee jerk reactions" to situations. Instead, he will conduct himself in a manner that demonstrates he is, in fact, in control of the situation, beginning with self-control, in the most challenging of situations! By doing so, he will not only be much more likely to achieve desired results, but also merit the respect and admiration of the one who grants her gift and others who observe!!!

© 2000, FineArt - All rights reserved