from a male submissive's point of view
In a post to Dom-sub Lifestyle listserv on Yahoo dated 6/16/02 this exchange took place. I originally wrote this as a post in reply, but since it was so long, and since it seemed like a good topic for this edition's column, and since I am too lazy to write what I originally planned to write, I present it here. The post was, and I stress that it was, a well thought out question with a rare depth of feeling and concern. It also was very basic to the flavor of this column. The post was:
the answer to the question in the 3rd paragraph as to why we have
come to "normalize abnormal behaviour [sic]" may be in
the 2nd paragraph immediately above the 3rd in which is said:
really hate to think I've spun my wheels for 35 years trying to
get a handle on a problem that has caused me (and some others) so
much turmoil in my life, only to find that it's 'normal'.
view is, that if you have truly tried without success to "cure"
something, perhaps it does not need curing (ie., it is not inherently
unhealthy, or only so to the extent that your perceptions and values
make it) or it is largely "uncurable." I think the second
situation often obtains concerning BDSM, although a strong case
can be made for the first point of view, and often by me.
to the consideration of a behavior's "uncurability," from
my personal experience I have tried without success to modify certain
behaviors, for example a "shame spiral" and have been
totally unsuccessful. I can manage one, I can apply an antidote,
I can counteract a shame spiral, but I cannot stop one from being
triggered within me. The same has been my story with anger, even
rage, which I will address at the end in an exactly parallel management
technique as for a "shame spiral."
some definitions. Shame is an emotion that we have to be taught.
Healthy shame is the basis of our spirituality--there is a God,
and you ain't it, or if you are, so are all the other folks in the
world. Healthy shame is humility. It is where your rights end and
the other fellow's begin. You are as-shamed of anti-social behaviors.
For example, little boys are famous for pulling it out and peeing
in public, once. Until they are shamed to learn that that is not
socially acceptable. And the difference between healthy shame in
a society and toxic shame probably is in the benefits either affords
or costs, as the case may be, the individual.
shame comes from being "shamed" by our primary care givers
in childhood. It may be emotional ("You shouldn't feel that,
that is so dumb or bad to feel that"). It may be intellectual
("Where did you get such a silly idea! That is so dumb. You
shouln't think that!") Shaming may be physical (the child is
spanked, slapped, beaten, etc.). Shaming may be spiritual ("There
is no God" or the old standby, "God will punish you for
that.") And shaming may be from sexual abuse (fondling, inappropriate
talk or jokes or compliments, say about a young person's physical
development, around a child, actual penetration, etc.). All of these
give the message that the child is inferior, less than, inadequate,
just an object, not fully valid as a human being, broken in a way
that cannot be fixed. The child has to take on the badness of the
shame, for if the perpertrator is the one in the wrong, the poor
kid is dead meat--the child totally depends on that caregiver for
life. It is an issue of life or death to the child. It is that serious!
"shame spiral," also called a "toxic shame [attack]",
is for me, now an adult, and for all I know who have dealt with
them to the best of their abilities as adults, is that "depression"
that follows a [shaming] thought triggered by the residual pain
of childhood abuse. I literally hear the primary woman in my life
(my wife, Mistress Cherie) say something that sounds just like (to
me) something my mother would have said when I was very little.
Even the body language and tone of voice (non-verbal cues) are so
similar.* No matter what was said in the now by that now-primary
woman in my life, it triggers a recollection on many levels, and
I hear (in my case), "Nobody loves me; nobody cares."
And that is an actual self-talk voice that my mind says those very
words to me over and over as I spiral down into shame which I experience
is where the model (an analogy to reality) gets a bit hokey, except
for the great benefit of being very useful in predicting my behavior.
Thus, it is a good model or theory, because it is useful. Theories
or models are neither true or false, they are only useful or not.
The model is that there is an inner child within me, still wounded
by whatever the abuse, real or perceived way back when, and the
"wounded inner child" tells me, "Nobody loves me;
nobody cares." The now adult me hears that voice chanting its
toxic and hypnotic mantra, and, having nothing to fall back on,
believes it--in that sense I am still that immature child in emotional
pain with no relief in sight except the unreasonable and unworkable
demand that the now primary woman in my life "fix" me.
She must change. That's called blame, and it will not endear you
to your mate.
short version is, "someone hit my button." Note that when
I say that, I am blaming her, failing to recognize or acknowledge
that it is, after all my damn button! And sometimes it sticks out
I hear that voice self talking to me, I start to feel my toxic shame,
and I spiral into a depression. The depression may be identified
as pouting, or feeling sorry for myself, or many other things, but
it is the emotion of toxic shame, it is depression--I shut down
for safety--to hide, to not strike back, to protect myself in some
here is the point as to why I cannot avoid such a "shame spiral;"
I can only manage one. Since, according to the model, it is my "inner
wounded child," the only relief is to become my own parent,
and counter the self talk with exactly this, "Yes, it looks
like nobody loves you, no one cares, but I love you [the adult me
to me the child], I care, and God loves you and God cares, and that
is enough." Then literally in my mind, I take my "child"
by the hand and parent him, removing him physically and emotionally
from the scene, taking him to a safe place where "they"
won't shame him (by hitting his buttons). I may even imagine taking
him to the park to play or watching a favorite TV program or ball
game. In this way I manage the shame spiral--I just make it ok to
have one and, in effect, know that the feeling will go away, especially
if the adult me nurtures the wounded child me, and THAT THE FEELING
OF SHAME WILL NOT KILL ME [not shouting], because the adult me will
not abandon the inner child, and to a 3 year old child, abandonment
is death. Without someone to take care of him, a 3 or 6 year old
child dies, because he cannot survive without care and protection.
As I said above, it is an issue of life or death to the (inner)
child. That, in my opinion, is why all these issues are practically
untreatable--shame, S&M, anger, rage, and others. Not knowing
that the emotion or emotional behavior is the result of childhood
trauma, it is still experiences by the adult as life threatening.
yes, I do not believe I was born a slave or a submissive. I learned
it. Real early, so I might as well have been born that way, but
I learned it, probably before I learned to talk. A fine point could
be made that I was born a submissive, since I believe that so much
of this childhood "shaming" took place prior to my "psychological
birth," at about 8 year old when our brains finally get fully
formed or "wired," that then, well yes, in that sense
I was born this way. And that is probably a valid point of view
as long as environment is taken into account.
now, one might say, "semanticus, if you believe all that about
the inner child and it works up to that point, why don't you just
go the last step and heal completely, and not let whatever hit your
button trigger you? Just getrid of the button."
answer is that not only is the trigger something that is said to
me, it is non-verbal messages--looks, glares, body language, threatening
movements, sighs, eyes rolling, and so on, [emphasis again] THAT
I LEARNED BEFORE I LEARNED TO TALK. So how can I talk myself out
of it? I can address the spoken part only so far. The non-spoken
part and the attachment of the verbal to the non-verbal part that
I cannot shake, remains. So to expect complete recovery is fantasy.
That, IMHO, is why Freud never cured anyone (besides his being a
coke addict). Or any other "talking therapy" has never
cured anyone. They are useful, but only to a point to where we can
learn to recognize the onset and manage it as an adult would. That
is as good as the cure gets.
I believe from my personal experience and the sharings of many,
many others, that in the most basic sense the thing this poster
cries out against is "normal" precisely because we all
have some of it in us, no matter what the problem. We all had less
that perfect parenting, and we all reacted in childishly fearful
ways to turn those incidents, no matter how horendous or trivial,
into big deals today. And we still carry them, and have scant chance
to eliminate them entirely. That, by any definition of the poor
term, "normal," makes it "normal."
to why, refering to the 1st quoted paragraph, about "today's"
outlook(s), that anything goes--that is because we have the luxury
in our abundant society in which to have such problems. They never
come up in a survival oriented society which are inherently either
patriarchial or matriarcal--everyone is too busy following the orders
"from above," because if they don't family members will
perish--they die! Patriarchy or Matriarchy or benevelent dictatorship,
or a general in war--those systems work for survival existances.
Everyone has to do his job or loved ones die. In a world of plenty,
we can "follow our bliss," as Joseph Campbell said, and
we have time for self discovery, introspection, self determination,
personal growth, assertiveness, but with those things comes a price--the
pain of what went wrong back then. It is the Tree of Knowledge (the
Biblical Tree of Good and Evil) all over again.
if you gotta get your share of that crop in before the locusts arrive,
you ain't got time for self contemplation. In fact, self contemplation
might killl you and others. That is the nature of having to live
only for survival.
me to add a thought to the signature line of this poster as a new
sense of what we may be made up of. He said, in quotes:
would hasten to add, "--and your past."
we wonder why we men marry our mother, and why the ladies marry
dad! To get resolution! To work through this stuff!!! I remember
Barbara DeAngeles crying loudly to a lady at a lecture I attended,
"It's his JOB to push your buttons!"