Indigo Explores: BDSM in a Therapy Context

So I recently saw another blogger discussing BDSM and how it helps them to process some of their previous trauma. This is something that I knew was possible because I have a similar experience. When I do a scene, I feel whole for a little while after. I feel more prepared for the world and I am excited for what’s next. In fact, I might say that I feel much the same as I do after a good therapy session. Imagine that!
Since engaging in BDSM regularly, and embracing that part of my personality, I have found that I know myself, and my interests that much better. In psychology terms, I have a stronger sense of self. This has spreading ramifications for my life, which is completely expected. A sense of self is usually tied to a sense of fulfillment, purpose and happiness. Sense of self is the static idea of personality and values, as well as self-esteem and a sense of person-hood. It’s basically our own self-image and concept of who we are.
Thanks to BDSM, I know how to negotiate what I want and how to get it. Additionally, because I have done this before, I’m less afraid to ask for what I want. Some things that I thought would never happen have come to be just because I could ask for them. Why did this happen? Well, with a stronger sense of self, I have a better idea of what I need to function. With a better idea of what I want, I know how to articulate it, which gives me the ability. Once I have that skill set, I’m only missing the strength and courage to ask.
However, BDSM also helps me gain strength and courage. Why does that happen? Well, I’ve tested myself through BDSM. Within scenes, I have allowed myself to become vulnerable. I take pain and sadness and I turn it into power and strength. I so regularly amaze myself that my courage has grown, which allows me to voice concerns, and ask for resources or help.
Now, these are all things that may seem to come already installed for some people. They don’t feel guilty every time they ask for their needs to be met and they don’t cry when talking to authority figures. However, I have a history of emotional and verbal abuse from my family, which has taken all those things and made them questionable and weakened. That trauma took away my voice and replaced it with guilt and the deafening shrill of self-abuse and self-hate. BDSM doesn’t completely remove that, and I would never claim that it could. But it does turn down the volume. When I complete a successful scene, I still harbor some self-hate and guilt and fear. But I can work through it and achieve amazing things. It doesn’t cure me, but it heals me in some ways.
Which brings me to something else I wanted to discuss. When Kirsten of Chronic Sex described this feeling around BDSM and mentioned therapy, someone else had Opinions on this. Now, I will not direct any links to this other person. But she is a blogger who talks extensively about men’s rights and being a pro domme in the past. Many of her posts are kink-negative. I have chosen to use that wording for a reason. Her posts usually start with a disclaimer that these are her experiences and she’s not judging anyone. She talks about being shamed for not participating in BDSM like it’s a systemic problem (the opposite is true). She discusses how BDSM is abusive in nature. Additionally, she did come into someone’s mentions saying that it was dangerous to call BDSM therapeutic or healing. After having read some tweets and posts, I am pretty convinced that this human would feel more comfortable if no one participated in kink ever again. So I’m here to present some counter arguments.
So let’s talk about some therapies right now. Because what am I? Oh that’s right! I’m a Psychology student and this is literally my field of study!
So let’s outline Exposure Therapy. This is a therapy that is usually applied to phobias of all types. It involves exposing someone to their phobia. If they experience their phobia and survive, they are likely to reroute the pathways in their brains and be less afraid. This can be done slowly such as asking a patient to think about a dog, and then visualize a dog. Then they may look out a window and see a dog. This would lead up to actually touching and being friends with a dog. In this way, their brain will slowly acclimate to dogs and be less afraid of them. Or it can happen fast, such as seeing a patient and then immediately jumping to the touching a dog stage.
So imagine that you’re a victim of childhood abuse. You experienced being yelled at or hit for much of the time. Now, with BDSM, you negotiate a scene that feels good. It involves impact play and insults. You experience these things at the hand of a caring dominant. You experience your childhood all over again and stop the scene. It immediately ends and the dominant checks on you. It takes a minute to come back into your body and the person who was hitting you is now respecting you and caring for you. All of this under your control and with your consent. The pathways in your brain start to feel safer when someone yells at you because you know you’re more in control. Even in work situations, you realize you’re an adult now and can take action, unlike when you were a child. Exposure therapy has worked directly with your trauma and has helped.
Let’s talk about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is a therapy that usually involved a therapist intervention directly. It is a practice wherein the patient has a negative thought and they must learn first to recognize their negative thoughts. Once the patient recognizes negative thoughts, they begin to replace those with positive or at least neutral true thoughts. It’s common for people who have completed CBT to randomly say positive things. If you ever see me shake my head and mutter “no, I love myself,” then you have seen my CBT at work. I have replaced most of my negative thoughts with this set of actions.
Now, as a dominant, you begin to hit a sub. You feel some guilt because it feels good for you to inflict pain on a sub. But their moans affirm what you know on the surface: they want this as much as you do. So you continue and every time you question yourself, you check in with them. You are now more aware of your surroundings, how you affect them. Every time you question yourself, you check in with your surrounding group and now you find yourself not saying “I’m mean.” Instead you’re saying “I’m fulfilling a need for someone and being aware of the world around me.”
My personal favorite is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This is an extension of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and they often work in tandem. It focuses on the idea that much of our conflict comes from opposing ideas in ourselves. For example: “I want to go out and meet new people” is in direct conflict with “I am afraid of social situations where I don’t know everyone.” However, both of these are true and valid feelings. DBT seeks to insert the word “And” into our conflicts. You can want to meet people and be afraid of them. By acknowledging that, you have an easier time making decisions, and coinciding narratives.
So let’s imagine this. You’re in the middle of a scene. Your dominant has completely misjudged and pushed you too far. You safeword out of the scene and begin the process of reconciling and aftercare. The dominant is scared to have pushed you and is meeting your care needs with extra love now. Suddenly you realize that your dominant is a good human and someone who makes mistakes. You begin to see the different layers in them, and others in the world who have wronged you. You are now one step closer to achieving a resolution to your inner conflicts, because you have learned the power of “And.”
Play therapy is another favorite of mine. This is primarily geared towards kids. It encourages them to explore their feelings and reenact life events. The hope is that they will begin to visualize what they wanted to happen, or possibly reveal what went wrong. From there, they can find closure or explanation and be better prepared for life ahead. It can also be used as a tool to help create an exposure environment.
As a Daddy dom, you take care of a Little. They are small and cute. You purchase them gifts and care for them. You ensure they always have a good time in your presence and they trust you implicitly. As you look on them, you think of the hamster you lost as a kid because you couldn’t take care of it. You were five and didn’t know better. It’s haunted you since then and you doubt your ability to take care of anything ever again. Even your work sometimes suffers. However, since taking on this Little, you have gained some closure. You can’t fix the past but you can take care of another person and meet needs. After awhile, you’re more confident and you take on more responsibility. Thanks to this role-play, you have grown and improved your quality of life.
Here’s the bottom line: if you are doing kink right, you are gaining positive things from it. It might be cathartic, or healing. You gain closure. You challenge yourself sometimes, and win. Here is the shocking part: even if it’s just fun for you, then you are doing it right. If you are performing BDSM of some kind and it hurts you, you’re allowed to stop and that’s okay. No one should shame you for that, and if they do, that is abusive. But if you find BDSM good, fun, therapeutic, or a combination, that is great. Because all we can do in this world is find coping mechanisms and muddle through. Perhaps eventually, we will be “cured,” but what does that mean? In psychology, cured is usually short hand for “chronically coping with something very well.”
Sometimes BDSM is bad, and you have to leave it. Not everyone has the same experiences as you. And that is what is important here: people should be allowed to do kink when it is good for them. Get out of their mentions and find something good for you instead of berating them.