Thursday, May 31, 2012

There are Differences Between Abuse and BDSM

In all fairness to my readers, possible triggers and disagreeable opinions ahead. Other reads are on the right.

I wanted to do a BDSM versus abuse post last summer, but I just couldn't cool off enough for it not to be a rant. Then the inspiration faded and I never wrote it. Given that thing1 has repeatedly reverted to her previous abuser, I have been inspired again.

These are of course, merely my opinions, and they aren't changing anytime soon. So feel free to disagree. That's the beauty of the internet--everyone gets their two cents.
Of course, the beauty of blogging is getting to give your own two cents to your hearts content.
And where else am I going to jump up on my soap box and preach to the masses? We call the people who do it on street corners crazy, those who do it on blogs are bloggers. Snazzy huh.

So for those of you who arrive here by searching for the term "the difference between BDSM and abuse", here's my ten cents.

There's no doubt thing1 needs someone to take her in hand. And I can't help but wonder if what she was looking for before the drugs, before the jerk, before she became what she is now, was something resembling a D/s relationship.

I have seen it written that the difference between BDSM and abuse is consent--an abused woman doesn't give her consent to be beaten and controlled, whereas a submissive has given her consent.
I disagree. While the circumstance are quite different, consent is given by presence--thing1 has given jerk consent to beat the crap out of her because she keeps going back for more.

Sounds cold doesn't it? And it does come from a bit of a cynical place, but I still believe it to be true.
I do realize that some women don't have anyone in their lives to support them and help them escape, but many do. And they just don't take the option.

And neither is knowing the difference between right and wrong the key element here. Thing1 once tried to tell me she could be with shithead now because he's grown--now he knows that what he did was wrong.
I beg to differ. He knew it was wrong to beat her head into the pavement. He just did it anyways. People do things they know are wrong all the time. Knowing that you have done something wrong doesn't make you a better person--it just means you're not a complete psychopath.

That being said, there are truly psychopathic people in this world who are capable of extreme and horrific abuse. I think those are the ones who are capable of digging their claws so far into someone's mind, the other person becomes somewhat incapable of separating themselves.

So if consent and knowledge of doing wrong aren't the defining differences, than what are?

I believe there are many. And I will probably miss quite a few of them. After all, this subject could be debated endlessly.

In my mind, one of the biggest differences is that abusive relationships come from a loss of control on the abuser's part; whereas, BDSM is very much about control--submissive gives control, Dominant exercises self control in the exertion of his will.

In abusive relationships, there seems to be a lot of "it's my fault" from the abused, and quite a bit of "you shouldn't have made me lose my temper--it's your fault" from the abuser.
I believe that responsibility is a hallmark of Dominants. Specifically, personal responsibility. An abuser is never responsible for their actions--it's the fault of the abused for provoking the anger.

In my relationship, actions have consequences and punishment can be one of those consequences. That is our arrangement and it works just fine for us.
Now, if he loses his temper and comes unglued (which is quite rare), it's Not my fault.

An abusive relationship also has the markings of the abused partner not being of equal value (contrary to popular opinion, equal value is not the same as equal footing), they are somehow not up to par and must be changed. Who they are is not acceptable, their input is not welcome, what is acceptable one day may not be the next.
Alpha's Dominance has released and enhanced who I am. It has never sought to change who I inherently am as a person--instead it brings out the parts of me I deny, tempers the parts of me that need work, and encourages my evolution as myself.

Then there is emotion.
Abuse occurs in anger and causes fear of real harm.
Fear is the tool that an abusive partner most often uses to keep the other person with them. It is the binding that holds them together. Not love, not intimacy, not the experience itself.

Alpha occasionally slaps me. Does it bother me? Well, no. Interesting things happen in my mind when he does it. But he has never once touched me in anger. Do I fear that he will harm me? No. Occasionally I may fear the things he could choose to do, or implements he may decide to use, but not him.
And yea, as he says, I'm a bit of a twisted kitty and to some extent, I get off on fear.

Of course, intent plays it's part too...
In a D/s oriented relationship, the best interests of the submissive and the relationship are reflected in a Dominants actions. Of course, what is in our best interests is not always what we want or like, but it is not detrimental.

BDSM can be subtle, children don't witness it, and the undertones of D/s can occur in a manner that slides right over their heads. Abuse occurs regardless of the presence of children and its impacts on their well-being. You will not walk into my house and see busted furniture, broken baubles, and children cowering in the corner crying that daddy hit mommy.

I believe that BDSM is, among many other things, about exploring possibilities, growing as a person, and accepting who you are.
It is intimacy with pleasure and pain, the experience of stripping away superficial trappings, an exchange of power for the mutual growth and benefit of Dominant and submissive.

This is not all to say that the two are mutually exclusive--that there is no such thing as an abusive relationship between people who practice BDSM. I think that when those lines blur, we are actually looking at the worst culmination of both worlds with the most destructive impacts on the abused.
It's not something I intend to ramble about here as I really have no clear personal perspective on it.


  1. Very well written post.


  2. Nicely put lil. As someone with a history of abuse I know there is a clear difference between the two. I haven't ever tried to put into words what the difference is, but I know it very clearly.

    1. Thank you faerie. This post has been evolving in my drafts folder for ages. It can be much harder to put something into words than to know it.
      And I think that my concept of consent not being the difference is only applicable to adults. Children and people who grow up being abused don't have the same choices to consent or not. Not sure I'm making much sense...

  3. Very clear, very concise, and very well constructed.

    My neice was in abusive, drug fueled relationship. Her Bf/abuser was extremely controlling and physically abusive in anger. All the people who loved her were concerned for her well being. She got free finally, but not clean.

    She entered into a new relationship sson after leaving the first, and we were all skeptical.

    This young man is also extremely controlling. The difference this time? She is blossoming under his thumb, and all the people who love her are not at all concerned. They have been togther two years now, and he controlls their life together, and himself.

    I don't know anything about their sexual dynamic, which is as it should be, only what I observe from the outside, but he is a dominant whether he identifies as such or not.

    1. lm, thank you--I spent so much time on it, I would be quite sad if it came out a jumbled mess.
      Thank you for sharing the story about your niece. It's a great illustration of the impacts and differences that relationships based on one person's control can have.

  4. Nicely said and cannot be said often enough.


    1. Thank you mouse. Your story really contributed to some of the thoughts I wrote.
      So thank you for sharing your story and insight--it has helped my understanding and widened my perspective.

  5. This was an amazing post lil, It accurately explains both my past and current relationships to a "t". I could not have said it better.

    1. Thank you dancingbarez. Not having personally been in an abusive adult relationship, I was a bit hesitant to share my perspective from the outside. It's good to know I didn't fall completely flat with it.

  6. Very well written post. You are always so clear and concise.

    1. Thank you sunnygirl. I don't think that my mad rambles always achieve clear and concise, but it's nice to know I can if I try!

  7. Great post and I agree it can not be said enough!

    One of the key things you wrote "Abuse occurs in anger and causes fear of real harm." Is one that Master and I live by. It took years and years for us to be at the point we are at now because my past abuse from a previous relationship. Many of the things I once could not do because it triggered "bad things" are now some of my biggest turn on. Because I know Master would never hurt me out of anger and he has my complete trust with all of me, heart, body and soul. I know in play and in life he is doing what is best for us and me even at first I do not like it. Together we have over come my fear of hands on my neck, being trapped(but I do not think I will ever like using a gag),and some more personal fears.

    In my mind and personal opinion if you truly feel you are being abused then you are being abused. But this can vary so much from person to person and relationship to relationship.

    1. Kindred, thank you. It's interesting from an outside perspective that abused women don't always feel like they are being abused.
      It's such a complex subject that I think it would take miles of pages to do it real justice.

  8. Very true, and I agree completely about personal responsibility.

    1. Wendy, personal responsibility can be such a tricky topic in this kind of context, that it's a it difficult to write about. And probably rather offensive to some.

  9. Very well put, could not add nothing more.

    tori xx

  10. wow! so wonderfully multifaceted and I think this is a post and explanation that hits the very essense and sometimes subtleties of the differences between abuse and BDSM.

    Heads on pavements? I would think under any circumstance would be unacceptable in even the most extreme of BDSM incarnations.

    1. Thank you littleOne. And yea, it was extreme.

  11. Well said... as far as one is concerned there is a difference between living in fear and experiencing it once in a blue moon for kicks.

    1. Master's piece, thank you. And I agree--there is a big difference.

  12. Enjoyed the post.


  13. Beautifully done, lil. Thanks for articulating some of the differences so clearly and succinctly.

    I would disagree with your ideas about why women stay in abusive relationships, but that's ok. I just needed to say it for the record. :-)

    Thanks again for really highlighting so many of the differences.


    1. aisha, thank you.
      The idea of staying in an abusive relationship being based on fear is coming from the idea that an abuser is afraid of being left and the women can be afraid of anything from the physical to being alone. It wasn't really a focus in this post because it's not something (obviously lol), that I have much understanding of.

      I would love to hear your thoughts on why women stay in these kinds of relationships if you had time to come back and share.

  14. I agree with aisha on the disagreement part, you make a lot of sense, but I know that is a bit oversimplified. Having said that, which I didn't mean to say, this is a great post and it touches on an area that has been bugging me lately.

    I worry that an abuser will come and read my words and throw them in the face of the other. She likes it. Women do it. And I know that person is not reading these kinds of posts, but some of the others. Anyway, I have been struggling with this and this post reminds me that it is something worth thinking about.

    Whether you intended that or not.

    BTW, did you know that you were the first person to ever comment on my blog? Thank you for that.

    1. Kitty--The Submissive Wife,
      As I said to aisha, the "why" of staying in abusive relationships is something I am very curious about, so you are more than welcome to come back and share those opinions.

      You are quite welcome for that comment. I'm honored to have made that first comment. There's something cool about being the welcoming voice. Especially if the blog survives more than a couple of months.

    2. Hi lil, I have been ruminating on this. Perhaps a bit too much. I was on the verge of being in an abusive relationship at one point. One that I consented to with my presence. However, my presence can only be described as impaired.

      I had come into that relationship off a crushing personal defeat and with a very low opinion of me. The other person was masterful at providing continued degradation of my mental state, which I welcomed because I was very angry with myself. I thought I deserved the punishment.

      He may have physically lashed out too quickly, or I was a wee bit healthier than I thought, because I quickly shut it down on the first physical interaction.

      However, it took me YEARS to see the mental damage that had preceeded the physical. I wonder, if he had waited a bit longer and if I had slid a few more inches down the slope, there might have been a very different outcome.

      I don't know if this answers your question, but my experience is all I have to share on this matter. It has basically taught me to recognize that we can not truly understand another's dynamic, be it vanilla, be it abusive or be it BDSM.

    3. Kitty,
      Thank you for taking the time to come back and share your thoughts and experience. Sorry if this inspired to much thinking--it can be great, but sometimes it's easy to get sucked into it like a whirlpool.

      I think that a lot of focus is put into the physical aspects of abuse. But the scars we don't see are the ones that last the longest and have the deepest impacts.

      And you have helped me get a bit better of a concept, so again, thank you.

  15. .... what Kitty said. Except for the blog commenting.

    1. Conina, if you start another one, I would be happy to rush on over lol.
      It is a slightly disturbing idea that our lifestyles could be used as an excuse for abuse. I doubt those people will read this, but maybe it will help someone out there clear up confusion about the differences.

  16. Thanks for this - it came serendipitously after someone asked me for advice about this very subject. I can add this to my resources. It's always wonderful to have multiple points of view to present. Helps in those Church-lady arguments, too, lol.

    1. June, I do love it when a post pops up somewhere with that kind of timing! Glad you found it useful.

  17. Thank you for this. June sent me a link to follow and I am so glad she did. This was an issue that came up with a friend of mine and is just tearing me up. I ask Monster (my D) and asked him for help/advice and then asked June for her thoughts. It's been very dizzying and Monster gave me an assignment for this same thing.

    Ever since I have been so stumped on how to write it out. Like Faerie said, I know the difference, but putting the thoughts into words has been difficult. Thank you much for this post!

    1. MonstersNightmare,
      I am glad that you found this post useful. It can be incredibly difficult to turn something we know clearly in our minds into words that make sense to other.
      In all honestly, this draft started in November lol.

  18. wonderfully put and its sad cause the abused person somehow comes to think they deserve to be treated like this when they dont

  19. trazuredpet, thank you. And yes, it is sad but seems quite common. I think that a lot of that has to do with how a person feels about themselves. And after a certain amount of time being torn down, self esteem seems to kind of bite the dust.

  20. I quite agree with you. Most Doms have great self-control, whereas most "Doms"/jerks/abusers have almost none.

    And subs have given prior consent, whereas abused women (or men) have not. Well said.

    1. Sexperts, I think that self control is a bigger issue than many of us give it credit for. Especially when it comes to Dominants.

  21. lil,

    Here are some reasons why abused women stay with their abusers.

    My mother was an abused wife. She stayed in the marriage because of a few reasons 1) she wanted to keep the family together; 2) She was afraid of being alone; 3) Financially she couldn't afford it; 4) I think she loved my dad even with his alcoholic rages.

    I was also an abused wife. (unfortunately, sometimes the chain of domestic violence is carried to the next generation.) I however let the mental abuse happen but the first time he picked up something to throw at me I was out the door!

    I was also an abused child. I was sexually molested by my brother, whom our relationship has been strained ever since. I was abused by my father as well. That was the main reason my mother left my father. When he beat me black and blue from shoulder to knee and children's services came to school and collected me. All because I stubbornly (redhead here) refused to clean my room. My mom told me as an adult that my dad beat me head to toe black and blue when I was two. Ever since that day, my relationship with my father was severely strained and since his death i have let it go and forgiven him.

    My dad came from an abusive household too. I decided as a child that I was not going to have kids because I wanted to break that chain of violence. My brother, has two kids and from what my ex sister-in-law has said there was abuse in their family as well at the hands of my brother.

    I'm not saying that all relationships that are violent beget violence in the next generation always. However, most of the time the chain continues because of learned things in early childhood when children are most impressionable.


    1. wakai`ama,
      Thank you for this comment. It makes a lot of sense.

      I think that there are some pretty big distinctions between abuse of children and abuse in adult relationships because there can be no form of consent from children.

      While I completely disagree with those who claim survivors of child abuse are likely to abuse their own children, I do think that it is hard to get past the things we learn in childhood.
      Something that Alpha and I have both worked very hard at is trying to break the chain of questionable parenting. You don't even really see it until you have a moment with your own kids and go omg. That was me being like my dad.
      To this day I resent my grandfather's treatment of my dad because of how it impacted my life.
      Things we didn't even know we learned can be hard to undo.

  22. Stranger in a Strange LandJuly 30, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Thank you.
    I never knowningly met anyone in this scene so it is a very enlightening article and discussion.
    Seems as though D/s relationships are misrepresented in the majority of media and it really helps to know these things should I decide to write something related to this or enter this type of relationship.

  23. Stranger,
    I am glad you found the post and ensuing discussion insightful.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  24. of course you would write this so beautifully, and with such clarity.

    I had a similar topic on my blog today too, but no where near as eloquent as your presentation.

    If you don't mind, I'd like to link back to this post over on mine.


    1. Fondles, ooh I'm late here aren't I?
      I'm honored! Thank you.

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