July/August 2002


The Sources of Dominant Power
by FineArt


In the world of domination and submission, we often talk about the "Power Exchange". Power is thought of in terms of the capacity to influence, direct or control the actions, activities or behaviors of another or to make decisions regarding another. In the consensual D/s realm, this holding of power results from the gift of the submissive... the relinquishing of certain rights or granting of privileges to the Dominant.

Often this exchange of power is taken as a given, without deeper thought into why the submissive would give this precious gift. Much has been written about this from the submissive's needs or perspective as to why she would give up power. But I have found nothing written concerning what it is about the Dominant that would lead to the desire to give power to a particular person.

What are the sources of Dominant Power?

Position Power: The D/s and BDSM lifestyles are marked by a strong recognition of status and position that bestow either the perception or the legitimate right to exercise power. Together these are inherent in the position rather than person.

Titles and Assumed Positions: Master, Mistress, Top, Lord, Lady, Sir, Ma'am... The handles or screen names used, the titles either taken or bestowed very often indicate the capacity to wield power. In the virtual world, the use of capitalization in names and pronouns serves the same purpose. These are often accompanied by donning trappings that convey the capacity or right to wield power... dark clothing, thrones, carrying whips, scowls or deep voices. Occasionally we see those who assume that title or assumed position alone are sufficient to exercise power over others... or those who are readily willing to defer to another because of their title or assumed position. When simply assumed, without establishing the credibility or capacity to wield power effectively, these titles and trappings hold little true significance. They hold meaning when titles are either bestowed by others and, along with the trappings, are viewed as being earned by those you grant the gift of themselves or others, including other Dominants, as merited within a given setting.

Authority or Legitimate Power: Many positions carry with them the formal right or authority to take actions or make decisions which effect others. In hierarchical organizations and structured societies, these are quite common. The power rests in the charter, position description, ownership or recognized and accepted structures in a society, group, organization or other social unit. The right to make decisions or take actions exists without regard to the individual who occupies the position, but in the position itself. (This does not dismiss the personal characteristics or achievements that allowed the individual to acquire the position.) The boss, a policeman, a bishop, the schoolteacher or a licensed doctor are examples. In the realms of D/s or BDSM some positions also carry authority or legitimate power... the Dungeon Master or Mistress or a chat room monitor are examples.

Reward and Punishment Power: Closely related to authority or legitimate power is the right, within a position, to grant rewards or impose punishments. The boss can grant a raise, make work assignments, reprimand or even terminate employment within the authority granted by the organization and within legal bounds. By accepting the position, the employee also accepts (consents to) these rights. In most modern societies citizens grant governments the right to make decisions, impose regulations (laws) and take other actions that regulate their behavior and then to authorize others to impose sanctions (punishments) on those who transgress (law enforcement, eminent domain, judges and juries). In the realms of D/s and BDSM, there are those who assume that they hold the power to reward and punish simply because they have taken the role of Dominant. And there are always some willing to accept this power because of position alone.

No matter how Position Power is acquired, it is effective only so long as it is accepted (or tolerated) by those subjected to it. Kings are deposed, employees undermine their bosses or slack off in their work, laws are ignored when the holder of Position Power is not accepted or respected as being fair, worthy or capable of wielding that power well or wisely. The same can be said for the aspiring Dominant. Ultimately, the holders of Position Power answer to those over whom the power is exerted.

Personal Power: Other sources of power lie not in the position one holds but in the individual. Unlike Position Power, Personal Power must be granted directly from those who are subject to that influence rather being assumed to exist because someone occupies a particular position or holds some title or other. While it is usually more difficult to attain, in one-on-one relationships, even when the one subjected to the power is a member of a large group or even in an entire society, Personal Power is often much more effective.

Knowledge and Wisdom: Many people are able to wield power and influence over others because they have demonstrated possession of knowledge or experience that leads others to accept or defer to their decisions or seek their guidance. The doctor's advice is accepted not only because of the position held, but also because of the training and experience he has that allows him to hold that position. The respected professor not only holds the knowledge, but also demonstrates that he understands and can apply his knowledge. Knowledge, however acquired, becomes a tremendous source of power when its holder also has the wisdom to understand the needs of those who would accept their influence and use their knowledge fairly or to meet the needs of those over whom they exert their influence.

Charisma: The ultimate in Personal Power is charisma. It has many potential components. Personal appearance, communication skills, demeanor are all components of charisma. So is the capacity to address rather directly interests and needs of the individual to come under that influence. Charisma is not just charm and good looks... much of Hitler's influence was derived directly from the power of his personality. In the marketing world, charisma would be how all the other sources of power and the power holder's skills and personal characteristics are brought together and packaged, presented to those over whom power or influence would be exercised. Very directly, charisma is the total, combined appeal of the personality, capabilities and knowledge of the individual, combined with how they use whatever Position Power they hold, to exert effective influence over others. And it exists as a source of power only when others continue to grant that power.

In organized societies, from the level of small groups through entire nations, we rely highly on Position Power to maintain order. Yet, even here, those who exert the greatest amount of influence over time also rely on the sources of Personal Power. (King Charles I of England lost his head, quite literally, because he did not have the knowledge or wisdom to understand his subjects and abused his tremendous Position Power.) Those who depend solely on Position Power, who wield it without good judgment or recognition of those over whom they exert their influence will, at the very least, lose the respect of their "subjects" and oft times will be undermined if not rejected as power holders.

In close personal relationships, Personal Power plays a much greater role. In fact, Position Power often comes into being only after Personal Power is established and accepted.

In the realms of D/s and BDSM, the submissive would do well to closely examine the sources of power relied upon by a Dominant before granting her or his gift of submission.

And the wise Dominant will also understand his or her sources of power, building a set of skills, honing the tools needed to carry out the responsibilities of a Dominant effectively and responsibly.

© 2000, FineArt - All rights reserved