July/August 2002


What's a slave for?
from a male submissive's point of view
by semanticus




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:

> I don't feel that being sadistic is abnormal or unhealthy, rather it
> can be expressed in very unhealthy ways.

I'm curious... Is there *anything* abnormal or unhealthy in today's overly tolerant, I'm-ok/you're-ok, do-what-feels-good world? I have to think that if sadomasochism is 'normal', then so is murder, rape, theft, lying, child abuse, suicide bombings, flying airplanes into occupied buildings to make a political point...yadda yadda yadda... I mean, where do we draw the line?

I'd 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'.

Why are we (as a society) so inclined to normalize abnormal behaviour? Inquiring minds wanna know... (At least this one does)

Best regards, XXXXX
*Action reveals character*


IMHO, 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:

I'd 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'.

My 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.

As 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."

First, 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.

Toxic 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!

A "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 as depression.

This 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.

The 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 real far!

As 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 way(s).

Now 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.

And 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.

Well, 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."

The 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.

So, 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."

As 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.

But 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.

Allow 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:
"Action reveals character"

I would hasten to add, "--and your past."

Sigmund semanticus

*And 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!"