September/October 2001
Dumped by Your Dom/me?
by Dorothy Hayden


"Whatever has a beginning has an ending: make your peace with that and all will be well." -The Buddha


Submissives in the throes of a breakup with their dominant often ask me if I think the pain of relationship breakup is different from "vanilla" relationship breakups and how they can make sense of the feelings of horrific loss, confusion, anger and disorientation that they feel.

First of all, I think the dynamics of B&D; relationships are very different from "vanilla" relationships. Different dynamics give rise to different feelings about relationship loss.

For the submissive individual, the bond of relationship is everything. Being a bottom offers fulfillment by enabling the submissive to feel merged with another human being. The bond to the dom is an intense one, giving meaning, value, fulfillment and a sense of identity through the activities of serving and pleasing. For some dominants, however, an intimate bond is harder to achieve, as he/she sometimes treats the partner almost as a nonentity. A slave, after all, is a nonexistent person to the dom in whose eyes the sub may have less and less to offer. As a result, the dom often loses interest quickly and consequently tends to want to change partners more frequently to achieve the conquest of having a new slave (who sometimes is more of an object than a person).

After all, it is control and admiration that motivates many doms, rather than commitment to growth, exploration and stability in one relationship.

Being a submissive often involves a certain disavowal of self. The self ceases to be a decision-maker or a person capable of exerting initiative while in the relationship. Moreover, the normal identity of the individual is suspended in the process of serving the dominant. Being submissive helps a person to make sense of his life in certain ways: it answers the need for purpose in life, and for a sense of efficacy or feeling that one does have control over one's environment (through pleasing the dominant). The B&D; relationship also addresses the bottom's need for feeling that one's life and actions are right and good. The dom's will is an end in itself, an ultimate value for her/his slave.

The submissive also receives a sense of self-worth from his/her relationship to her master/mistress. People need to feel that they are important and valuable. Serving is a way of receiving validation and approval by one who is seen as perfect and omnipotent. And when the one who is seen as perfect deems the submissive as unworthy, the emotional result can be devastating.

The break up thus deprives the submissive of the opportunity for feeling competent; undermines the individual's self worth achieved through being a good slave to an esteemed master; and reestablishes the submissive's (often unwanted) necessity of making choices and taking responsibility from which he/she was sheltered while in the relationship. Now, suddenly, difficult judgments about what is right or wrong to do must be made on one's own. The wishes and commands of the dominant partner have been the ultimate source of rightness and goodness for the masochist's feelings. The demands to make decisions, to accept responsibility, to cope with pressure and crises, to prove of identity is shaken by the breakup of a B&D; relationship. For the submissive, the correct course of action had always been to please, satisfy and obey the dominant partner. The relationship to the dominant partner thus had taken over as the major value base for the submissive.

Relationship is extremely important to submissives; more so than to their dominant partners, and even more important than sexual activities. All problems of right and wrong had been resolved for the submissive and the anxiety and guilt and doubt that accompany such moral dilemmas had been removed. The submissive needed only submit and obey in delightful dependence.

Finally, the submissive gains a powerful and seemingly viable model of fulfillment in the relationship. The submissive achieves the utmost in intimacy by blending him or herself completely with the partner's will. The submissive also derives strong sexual satisfactions. Thus sexually, emotionally, and spiritually, submission provides intense fulfillment.

What happens when the relationship is over? When the dom leaves, the ultimate source of direction, feelings of competency, self-worth and meaning is gone. The result can be psychologically devastating. Especially when it is not her/his choice, the submissive feels frightened, angry, confused, depressed and overwhelmed.


Dealing with relationship break-up is dealing with a phenomenon that is a part of our common human heritage: loss. Especially if the relationship was long-term and sometimes even when it wasn't, the same mechanisms of mourning over that which is lost kick into place. You may mourn the loss of your companion, your lover, your protector, your provider. You may mourn no longer being a part of a pair. And if your life has been lived entirely through your dominant, and the person through whom you lived is no longer there, you may mourn the shattering loss of a whole way of life. Some submissives may mourn the loss of the purpose of their existence. And some, whose sense of self was built upon the dom's approving, validating presence, may find that they are also mourning the loss of that self.

Knowing what to expect in the mourning process may be helpful in knowing that what you're experiencing is what most people go through when they lose someone they love. Knowing that others have gone through it is to know that you're not alone.

How we mourn will depend on our inner strengths and our outer supports and will surely depend on our prior history of love and loss. Often a relationship loss in the present kicks off feelings of unresolved prior losses. Sometimes the loss of someone we love revives our childhood fears of abandonment, the ancient anguish of being little and left. Submissives, especially, who have always related to the dominant as a parental authority figure, are often flooded with intense feelings of fear, rage and abandonment that are residues from childhood traumas.

Generally, the stages of grief are: denial, anger, guilt, acceptance and adaptation. Some disbelief, some denial is a common first reaction. Especially if you didn't see the breakup coming, you may feel like you're in a numbed out state, unable to comprehend what you're hearing. You may spend some time thinking he/she doesn't/couldn't mean it, or thinking they'll come to their senses sooner or later. As the reality sets in, anger is a common next reaction. You hate him or her for abandoning you, especially after you've invested so much of yourself in serving and pleasing . Somehow, in your mind, pleasing them perfectly would ensure that they would always protect and guide you. Now they've betrayed the bond. You feel vulnerable, betrayed, enraged.

Often, guilt and self-recrimination take over. The dom, the ultimate source of good judgement, knowledge and power, must have made the right decision. You feel you must be unworthy. So, of course, you blame yourself. What did I do to drive them away? Could I have been a better slave? Did I not please them? Am I unworthy of their attention? Did they leave for another slave? How is that person able to please where I was not? These feelings are a normal part of this type of relationship mourning.

But, as there is an end to the relationship, there is also an end to the grieving of the relationship. You move your way from shock, denial, anger, and guilt to the completion of the mourning. And although there still will be times when you miss your master/mistress, completion means recovery, acceptance and adaptation.

You'll recover your stability, your energy, your hopefulness, your capacity to enjoy life and to invest in other relationships. You'll accept that the relationship is over - and be a wholer and wiser person for it.


If the process of recovering from the loss of your master/mistress seems too awful to contemplate, I've included some tips to recovering from the loss of a love to make the journey a bit smoother.

The tendency will be to blame yourself, because, after all, the dom is always right. Resist the temptation. Doms may need new models for all sorts of their own reasons which my include, believe it or not, their own shortcomings. So be very gentle with yourself - kind, forgiving, tender. Accept that you have an emotional wound, that it is debilitating, and that it will take a while before you are completely well. And for heaven's sake, don't blame yourself for any "mistakes" (real or imagined) that you think brought you this loss.

Get lots of rest, eat well, exercise, remember to take deep breaths, meditate, under-indulge in addictive substances (they retard the mourning process).

Go to your support group (or discover one) and get lots of comfort from people who have gone through similar scenes. People who have survived similar losses can provide support and guidance - and are proof that you too will survive. Stay close to friends and family. Get lots of hugs. Don't forget to laugh. The telephone is a great tool for support. Use it.

The longing to serve may be overwhelming. Don't make the mistake of getting into another situation until you have completed this grieving process. The result could be "rebound" and you won't be making solid decisions. You don't want to create more pain for yourself. Make sure that you're next relationship isn't a reaction from the former one.

Expect to feel afraid. You've been abandoned. The bond, the tie that held you together has been disrupted. You will fear being alone, fear that you'll never have someone to serve again, fear the pain, the desolation and torment that may lie ahead. But remember, fear can help you meet the challenges of life - and it will pass.

Embrace your feelings - its OK to feel depressed, suicidal (feel, not act), angry, guilty, desperate, alone, homicidal. There feelings are a natural part of the healing process. They mean you've loved. And again, they will pass.

When you can, forgive your dom. Don't do it for him/her. Do it for your own peace of mind and the quality of your future relationships.

And finally, begin anew. Let go of the loss and the pain, know that you are a stronger person, have the courage to begin relating again, and know that you are a better person for having loved.

-published in Prometheus Magazine, March, 2000

Dorothy Hayden, MBA, CSW, CAC, received her masters degree in clinical social work from New York University and has received advanced clinical training at the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health. She is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. E-mail: .

Dorothy Hayden, CSW, CAC
209 East 10th Street #14
New York, NY