"When a submissive behaves in a resisting or manipulative way, what are some suggestions for discouraging the behavior [or] attitudes that the Dominant dislikes in order to keep His control. All suggestions welcome."
This question was posed in the forum and it's seemingly simple answer spurred me to write this article, because the answer to this question is not simple at all. In fact, it is quite complex. More so than most realize.
The issue of submissive resistance became a dilemma for kim and I as soon as the newness of living a "power exchange" wore off. More to the point - the newness wore off as soon as we realized that what we thought a power exchange was going to be like turned out to be quite different - and much more difficult - than we imagined. Allow me to share with you our experience and what we learned from it.
Kim and I did everything "right" from the beginning. We talked about what D/s meant for each of us; what we expected to gain from it and what we were willing to give. We each filled out the BDSM checklist and discussed our limits and desires. We outlined our needs, both sexual and in regard to control and power. I read and read and read, and researched anything I wasn't clear about. We discussed what I had learned, and I worked patiently to teach kim better communication skills. We negotiated, compromised, and revised as we went along. But, still we ran into difficulty with resistance.
During the early months of our relationship (the greater part of a year) we learned first hand that resistance to control is strong and manifests even when a submissive is already accustomed to giving up some of her power. Resisting control is quite normal and is a sign that a submissive is using learned behaviors (arguing and manipulation) to "protect" herself from being overwhelmed, overshadowed, and taken advantage of. The struggle of self-protection is galvanized when personal boundaries are pushed.
These are some of the manifestations of submissive resistance we faced as a couple:
Kim would resist having to take care in how she worded things she said to me. She would insist that she forgot and/or didn't understand why it was such a big deal (not her phrase, but the basic meaning).
She would cry when her manipulations for attention did not work (crying is often another form of manipulation), and I would simply stand firm, refusing to let her manipulation pay off. This caused more crying and eventually an argument as she fought for attention. (This was not conscious manipulation; Kim was not consciously trying to get her way, she was simply being ruled by her emotions and not aware of what her behavior was communicating.)
We would argue about her defensiveness - she insisting that she wasn't defensive and I insisting that her words and body language indicated otherwise.
She would resist obeying commands she had agreed to obey. They had seemed so much easier to obey when we discussed them than they actually were. When she was actually faced with being told to do something she didn't want to do, she "bucked." Much like a horse who seems gentle and comfortable wearing a saddle until you climb on and actually attempt to control its freedom. She would argue (gently, but argue nonetheless), explaining why THIS time should be an exception to the rule.
She would sometimes resist passively and deny doing it as when she was told to go to bed and would go (knowing she had agreed to give me control in this area), then would get up numerous times to go to the bathroom, or keep herself awake by thinking about wanting me in bed with her.
After these bouts of resistance, we would spend hours working to get back into balance (for us, balance was a 80 - 20 split of power). I found myself spending a lot of time keeping us on topic in a discussion and heading off arguments. I used every shred of patience I had and dug for more when we would face resistant behaviors again and again. I began asking myself, "Where is the power I am supposed to have in this power exchange?" It seemed to me that kim had all of the power. And, in essence, she did.
If she was upset, I was responsible for finding out what was going on inside her. If she had difficulty submitting, I was to help her let go of her control. If she was resisting, then it was up to me help her find the desire to submit. If she was afraid, I had to find the root of her fear and help her heal it.
Even in areas that were easier for her to give her power to me, there was difficulty. She often indicated that she wanted me to be more commanding and strict, but if I wanted to turn up the heat a bit and command her to serve me rather than ask politely (my usual demeanor), I had to check in with her first to make sure she was in the mood and was prepared for the change in my tone. The first time I attempted to "Dom her" without warning her first, we ended with hurt feelings for kim and frustration for me.
She understood when I explained to her that she had not given her power to me if I had to ask before using it. If I was required to check in with her each time I wanted to "Dom" her then she had the power and was simply allowing me to use it when she was in the mood.
This was not my idea of domination. This was not a power exchange; this was more like a loan of power, a game, it seemed to me. I found that I had less power in this PE (power exchange) than I had before we entered into this new lifestyle. It seemed I was constantly having to focus my attention on kim and deal with her issues, her concerns, and her fears. I wasn't having my desires fulfilled first. I was often not having them fulfilled at all.
I understood that teaching her, leading her, and discovering the root of her fears was my responsibility and I was comfortable with these tasks. But, it seemed that now that I was her Dominant, I was expected to do all of her inner work as well. She expected me to find the root of her resistance and "fix it." Often in our discussions after an argument, she would admit to me that she wanted me to just MAKE her obey me. So, although I knew that control could not be taken, I would stand my ground when she bucked and punish her.
This simply made things worse. This punishment or force was not the erotic spanking that is often imagined when many submissives think about being punished. She wasn't commanded to sit with her legs spread, wearing no panties, while I spoke of nasty things I was going to do to her. I wasn't watching her the whole time she was in the corner with sex on my mind. She was ignored for the most part.
This was real. This was being made to comply or suffer the consequences. Punishment is not a game and although I refused to use corporal punishment, my use of "time out" in the bedroom or sitting in the corner, simply created a feeling of humiliation in kim. Punishment only left her feeling unloved and unappreciated, and I knew that not only was it not working to stop her resistance, it was undermining the security she felt in our relationship.
Although kim knew she had inner work to do (I pointed this out to her often and gave her specific tasks that would help her get in touch with what was going on below the surface), somehow she thought that being a "submissive" meant that she wasn't required to take responsibility for anything - even her own happiness. This thinking was not spoken. It wasn't out in the open and kim had only a dim awareness of this belief herself (this is quite common in new submissives). It is only in retrospect that she became aware of and has taken responsibility for this mistaken belief.
I have gone the long way around to answer this question in order to illustrate how a simple answer like, "punish her if she doesn't obey," will not work when dealing with resistance. As I stated in the beginning of this article, resistance is much more complex than one would think.
The point I would like to leave with you is this: there is not a thing a Dominant can do to MAKE his sub behave and not resist his control, but there is much a sub can do to learn where her resistance comes from and combat it. Until the submissive is deeply aware of her responsibility for her own submission, a dominant will be able to do little for or with her.
A skilled, patient, and self-confident dominant can train a submissive to give up her personal power if the submissive is willing to fight against the ingrained teachings of society and find that place within her that truly needs to submit - But - until the submissive accepts that her role is not one of passiveness, but MUST be one of proactive mental work, nothing will be achieved by the dominant but frustration for himself and pain for his submissive.