July 3rd, 2002

don't fear death


this morning i read an article that triggered a reaction i did not expect when i began to read it. by the time i came to the close, i was furious. not furious at all that someone was expressing her opinion, despite the fact that M.D. follows her name. but furious that it goes against the grain of everything i believe a healthy submissive to be and confirms the light many of us are seen in to the wrong people. it implies that we all have emotional baggage that make us submissive. i do agree with some points about a submissive personality, but i think these points, in general, also describe a healthy personality. so, what follows is my opinion on parts of this essay....

The Healthy Submissive

An essay by: Yaldah Tovah, M.D.

In this discussion, I will be talking primarily about the female heterosexual submissive, because I don't know enough about non-heterosexual female submissives and Dominants to know whether this analysis is completely applicable. This focus is not to suggest that lesbian female submissives and their challenges are less worthy of study, merely that I am not equipped at this time to do such a study.

So often, women who are newly aware of their submissive needs endure a period of self doubt around the troubling question: am I sick?

I've seen women read the psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-IV) and then ask, "do I have borderline personality disorder?"

I am writing here not ONLY about the sexual aspects: "am I sick because I get turned on by images of being taken, used, forced, swept away by masculine energy more powerful than my own?" I am also writing about the nonsexual aspects of being submissive: "am I sick because I yearn to depend on, and follow the lead of, a man stronger than myself?"

i don't know that i want a man stronger than myself. i do want one who will compliment my strengths. physical strength matters little in my submission. i don't plan to fight back. but, this is not about me...i am aware i may be an exception to the rule. my primary
concern with this essay is that women who read this and have the type of personality illustrated here are not simply submissive women, but women with issues that need to be dealt with before submission is something they should consider.

I will attempt to address both aspects in this essay.

What precisely fuels this kind of question, "am I sick?" Why would a woman discovering the language of her nature think she has a mental disorder? Or at the very least, have something very wrong with her?

i don't like all these references to "sick". yes, perhaps many submissives go through that phase but i don't think near as many female submissives do as sadistic dominants and male submissives. it was, at one point in history, perfectly normal and socially acceptable for a woman to be submissive to men. i think many women worry more about social acceptance in a world which has become femininity liberated, if you will. i think it causes women to question their own independence and psychological balance only because other women tell us we should no longer be this way. and just maybe we are sick, according to someone else's definition. so what?

the healthy submissive does not care what others think of her, but only cares about what she thinks of herself without outside influence before she surrenders, and then cares first what her Master thinks without losing herself.

A submissive discovers, or more properly, realizes and acknowledges that she functions AT HER BEST in relation to another. And the more intimate, holding, containing that relationship, the better she feels and the better she performs in cardinal areas of adult life: work, friendships, and parenting. Realizing she is at her best in such relation makes her wonder why she can't do it for herself? Why does she need such a relationship to accomplish what she should be able to do for herself?

hmmm....i disagree with this - almost vehemently. i am always telling new submissives that it is very important that you function at your best independently before you can give yourself to another. to be as strong with him as she can be without him. this paragraph i think applies to those submissives who are co-dependent and have low self esteem. functioning at one's best in relation to another is a very frightening thing.

the healthy submissive should function at her best with or without a man in her life. her ability to function at her best should not depend upon another in her life.

In thinking about this, I have come to question the cultural determinants of what is considered the highest good. Here in Western society, we place highest value on independence, on "pull yourself up by the bootstraps", on the lone pioneer, the trailblazer, the less needy and more self sufficient. We value competition over cooperation, tangible acheivement over acheivement in relationship. We pay big bucks to men (and the few women) who run big corporations, and less to the nursery school teachers, the nurses, the secretaries, the social workers, the caregivers rather than the producers.

this is not a cultural thing. it is an economic thing. a difference in fields that are dominated by the private sector and not the public sector. pay is less because the money is less in caregiver fields. i really don't like the parenthetical reference to "(and the few women)". this is not so true anymore.... there are a lot of women in high paying executive fields. there are A LOT of male teachers, social workers and nurses, some of them dominant men. should a secretary be paid the same as a person who is running a big corporation? no. should a teacher be paid as much as the person running a
corporation? yes, the teacher is molding our future. but she is not paid less because she is a teacher. she is paid less because the school doesn't bring in as much money as the corporation. let's remember male teachers are paid less too.

There is something wrong with believing that such independence is the only good. It is especially wrong for the most relatedness-oriented among us, the submissive female.

related-oriented? wrong for the submissive female??? i don't like this at all. i do not need to relate to someone to be comfortable in who i am. i am not sure where she collected the data that says we believe "that" independence is the "only" good, but "that" independence is a very good, healthy thing. combine it with chosen dependence and we are doing very well. i think just the opposite - not having independence is especially wrong for the female submissive.

the healthy submissive is independent. she can be a high powered executive or a caregiver. submissiveness is not dependence. a submissive should be very independent.

Part of the newly aware submissive's task is to separate out the internalized voices of her culture: those voices that tell her she is too needy, too dependent, too focused on the others in her life. Once she can articulate what those voices tell her, she can begin to question not HERSELF, but the validity
of those internalized values, using her own yardstick to measure her life, rather than our culture's standard.

this is true...to a point. she does need to question herself. i am understanding this to say that she needs to question the validity of cultural values in combination with her own feelings. if she is hung up on cultural values, then perhaps this is true. however, she needs to also seriously question herself in relation to why she has this feelings without cultural interference. i have seen too many submissives who have these feelings and act upon them not because they are submissive in the BDSM sense of the word, but because they need to be controlled. if this is the case, they surely need to step back from submission and become strong on their own first,
not become submissive so they can mask their own insecurities by relating to another. this is exactly what many submissives do. and this is partly why this essay angers me so. it seems to make it ok to relate to another, become dependent upon another, before the submissive can self-relate, be strong and independent on her own.

the healthy submissive is not needy, not dependent and is happy with who she is on her own before she even considers submitting to another.

We can see how perspective is critical in understanding a phenomenon. In a study of moral development in children, for example, Dr. Robert Coles, in a study of moral development in children, researched how children decide what is good and right. To do this, he presented several scenarios describing a moral or ethical dilemma, presented the scenario to school age children, and analyzed the results. The description of the study here is to illustrate the nature of cultural bias and it's impact on individuals.

One of Dr. Cole's scenarios was as follows:

A man has a very, very sick wife, so sick she could die if she doesn't get a particular, very expensive medicine. The man doesn't have the money for the medicine, so in desperation he steals it from a harmacy.

The children are asked questions about this scenario. Coles found that boys tended to conclude that the man should be punished, because the law is the law, and nobody should break the law. Coles saw this as a higher order of moral reasoning, reflecting the statement, "a nation of laws, not of men." That is,
that nobody is above the law, and the rule of law is not situationally defined. The boys applied an abstract universal principle to a singular instance. Coles understood this ability to transcend the personal as a &"more evolved" form of moral development.

these are boys. not men who have loved or had a wife. how on earth can they relate to what a man would do for love?

The girls were deeply troubled by the scenario, and most of them sought ways to solve the man's problem within the context of relatedness: they wondered if the man could ask the pharmacist for the medicine, and offer to work for him to pay for it, or pay him back later. They wondered if the man had friends who could help him pay for the medicine, and they believed he shouldn't be punished for his act of desperation. Their sense of right was situational, and defined within the context of relatedness. They did not come to articulate an abstract universal principle, but sought to solve the problem within the context presented.

girls dream of love, of white horses with knights in shining armor. the man stealing for his wife, conforms to the ideals of young girls. females in general, i believe, have an ability to see other solutions more quickly than males.

Coles saw this as a less logical, lower order of moral development because the girls could not emotionally distance themselves from the central human drama in the scenario.

show me that these girls grew up to be submissives and i will stop believing this experiment is totally unrelated to submission.

After Coles' work was published a woman named Carol Gilligan reviewed the studies that Cole had done and reanalyzed them, in a book called, "In a Different Voice." Rather than seeing the boys' responses as evidence of "higher" development and the girls' as "lower" she redefined them as different. And she
pointed out that the girls responses, so firmly rooted in human context and relatedness were devalued by a society in which the typically masculine is of more cultural worth than the typically feminine. She asked, "why is it considered a 'higher' order of moral development to value universal principle
over human context?" and in so doing highlighted the sexism inherent in the analysis.

As we can see, this type of analysis is extremely useful in understanding typical submissive conflicts. We tend to ask the wrong questions: "am I bad, sick, weak?", when we should be asking, "is there something missing from the yardstick I use to measure myself?"

useful? submissive conflicts?

because women are generally more compassionate. we are mothers. this has nothing to do, in my opinion, of wanting to solve the man's problem, but instead with feeling compassion. how about an equal study in which a woman needs medicine for her female friend? remove the man and i bet the results don't change. this study is totally unrelated to female submission.

If one looks at capacity for relatedness as a strength, as a good, then it becomes clear that the submissive has a talent for this, for relatedness. And that seeking a partner who can meet her need for this relatedness is a good thing, a healthy thing.

perhaps this is my problem. i do not see relatedness as a strength. the ability to relate to others, absolutely. but the need to function better in relation to another? absolutely not.

If we begin our analysis without the cultural assumptions about what is of "higher" value, we can begin to understand that it is possible for a woman to be submissive, and to be healthy. And we can try to imagine what a healthy submissive functions like, and how she developed her adult personality. Let's
start backwards, and ask ourselves, what might a healthy adult submissive woman "looks" like, psychologically speaking:

1. The healthy submissive is capable of, and thrives on, intense, intimate, emotionally open relationships. This is often evident in the number of nourishing, sustaining, and life affirming friendships she makes over the years.

this applies to anyone in a healthy relationship, man or women, submissive or dominant.

2. The healthy submissive is a giver. She often needs help to ration herself because her impulses nearly always lead her to want to do good for others.

this applies to anyone and is not related to submission. i am submissive. i am a giver. maybe it is not coincidence and i will accept that most submissives are givers. it is not entirely healthy either. we often overextend ourselves. and, yes, we often do need help to ration
ourselves. however, isn't this something we should one day learn to do on our own? a fault that needs some self correction?

3. The healthy submissive is capable of intense joy, especially in the context of a sustaining relationship.

the healthy person is this way....

4. The healthy submissive finds significant relaxation when properly related. She is at ease in that place.

she also finds relaxation when relating only to herself.

5. The healthy submissive has finely tuned interpersonal sensitivity. She is reactive to subtle shifts in the emotional tone of others.

the healthy person is this way....

6. The healthy submissive has a fluidity of self, a flexibility that enables her to adapt to changing circumstances.

the healthy person is this way....

7. The healthy submissive is playful.

the healthy person is this way....

8. The healthy submissive has no more than the usual cultural conflicts about her body, and its goodness and beauty.

the healthy woman is this way....

9. The healthy submissive takes pride in her accomplishments.

the healthy person is this way....

10. The healthy submissive accepts herself as she is, knowing that while her culture values independence and self sufficiency, she has strong dependency needs and that there is no inherent "wrongness" about those needs.

the healthy submissive also values independence and self sufficiency. she does not have strong dependency needs. she may want dependency, but she surely does not need it.

11. The healthy submissive seeks nourishing relationships.

heavens, shouldn't we all?

12. The healthy submissive, in accepting herself "as is" is tolerant of others. But neither will she allow anyone to tell her what her truth should be.

if a submissive is accepting herself "as is" based on reasons for her submission in this article, she will surely have problems down the road with self-confidence, self-reliance and self-worth.

13. The healthy submissive has a reasonable self concept, aware of her difficulties as well as her strengths.

the healthy person is this way....

14. The healthy submissive hunger is to be the object of an intense and penetrating understanding. When her nature is understood and she is held in a loving and firm frame, her devotion is almost limitless. The healthy submissive has an enormous capacity for devotion, from which springs her service.

we all have a human need to be understood. i do believe that a submissive's devotion is almost limitless, but that devotion should be expressed because she chooses to be devoted, not because she knows no other way.

What makes a woman a submissive?

As with all conjectures about human development, the answer is likely two-fold: a combination of nature and nurture, biology and environment.

There is a whole body of literature that makes observations about temperment. This literature talks about the variations in behavior in infancy as a manifestation of temperment: the expression of regularity, responsiveness, and reactivity. In the area of regularity, some infants are regular and predictable from the get-go: they sleep regularly, wake at predictable intervals to nurse, and have predictable periods of alertness in which they begin the earliest socialization. Some infants are irregular: they will one day sleep for an 8 hour stretch, then be awake all night, the next day they will sleep for one hour intervals through a 24 hour period. In the area of responsiveness, some infants
will find novelty and intense stimulation aversive, and will withdraw or become irritable when resented with those some infants are stimulated to engage and explore novelty and intense stimulation. Some infants have high thresholds for sensation, requiring a relatively intense stimulus to become aversive, some have low thresholds, and respond to mild stimulation. Some infants will for example, be intensely distressed by a wet diaper some will not register discomfort until diaper rash sets in.

is all this implying we could be born submissive?

The sum total of these innate, biologically founded responses make up temperment. It is easy to see what people mean by an "easy" baby: one who sleeps, eats, and eliminates regularly and predictably one who has a moderate response to stimulation, neither withdrawing nor reacting intensely one who is drawn easily into social exchanges, and provides pleasurable reinforcement of socialization with their caregivers, one who is easily "read" and easily comforted, one who accepts change without undue distress.

I think one of the traits in this biologically grounded array that makes up temperment is common to all submissives. And that is social responsiveness. I would suggest that the baby who is tempermentally "set" to register and respond selectively and sensitively to social cues has the seeds of submissiveness in her nature. This is the baby that will search the environment for a human face
who will be attuned to, and very responsive to the human voice who will preferentially and selectively attend to, and process, human interaction.

This baby, as she grows into childhood, will be easy to control, to shape, especially if she is tempermentally on the "easy" side. This little girl will be exquisitely sensitive to criticism and correction, to disapproval, to praise. Rather than requiring a raised voice to correct, a raised eyebrow will often do.

tell my mother this.....

Even further, this little girl will be exquisitely sensitive to nuance: she will know when others are angry, hurt, sad, bewildered even when they are not spoken about. She has a "sixth sense" about people.

i buy this, but i buy it because it is a quality needed in a submissive, not as these are the type of people who become submissives. better would be a study that shows all female babies with these traits, or even a large percentage of them, become submissive women. because i believe this shows a sensitive, aware and caring woman, not necessarily a submissive one.

As children do, she requires the adults in her life to validate her perceptions when appropriate. Let's say her parents are troubled by a financial stress, and like good, responsible parents seek to shield her from their stress. The child will pick up on the unspoken tension, sensitive as she is to subtleties of body language, voice pitch, facial expression. She might inquire of her parents what
is wrong, and be told "nothing is wrong, honey... go and play." This leaves the child confused: she knows in that way that she knows, that something is wrong. But her perceptions are not validated. She is told nothing is wrong. But her parents, who are not at their best, may be a little short with her, and picking THAT up too, she goes off to play concluding that she must have done something wrong, to be sent away. Part of this is the megalomania of childhood, part of this is a reasonable and logical synthesis of resolving the child's felt sense of things with what she is told.

ah, but let's also consider that children who grow up thinking they have done something wrong when things go wrong also become recluses, people with no self-confidence, battered women in perfectly vanilla relationships, and guilt laden adults. psychology also shows us that the submissive child often becomes a controlling, bullying adult.

This kind of interaction, repeated over the years, in the BEST and most loving of families, leads to an adult personality in which there is some anxiety associated with relatedness. The submissive female learns to scan the social environment for signs of trouble, seeks to "fix" the trouble, and all too often, believes herself to be the cause of the trouble. If someone important is tired, the submissive has exhausted them. If someone important is angry, the submissive must have angered them. If someone important is disappointed, the submissive must have failed them.

this reads like serious insecurity to me, not submission as should be related to healthy submissive women.

This trait, this interpersonal sensitivity in its highest expression is when the submissive accurately registers interpersonal nuance, and responds to it with a minimun of self-referral, recognizing that other's emotional states may have nothing to do with the submissive herself. This is how it works for the healthy submissive, who as an adult, often finds great fulfillment working in fields such as social work, nursing, medicine, counselling, teaching.

wua....these are very unhealthy submissives. submissives who are submissives precisely because of their personality NOT because they want to be! submission should be innate, but it should be a choice, not, again, because the woman knows no other way.

There are certain vulnerabilities a child constituted with a submissive nature faces.

Because of her intense awareness of interpersonal nuance, she is highly sensitive to both criticism and praise. When criticized, she is likely to feel intense shame when praised, intense pleasure. Since the shame feels so bad, and the praise so pleasurable, she becomes a people-pleaser. This tends to lead to
the development of what psychologists call "an external locus of control." Meaning that child bases her self assessment (am I good or bad?) on factors outside herself. The female submissive defines herself based on what others tell her she is.

i have to admit, this angers me. these are the women for whom my heart bleeds....women who need to learn their own self worth NOT in relation to others and what others think of them. a woman cannot be a healthy submissive without a healthy dose of self-respect and self-worth.

further, a good and healthy submissive does not react to criticism with shame. instead she recognizes that she made a mistake and works to correct it. ask any healthy dominant and i think that is how he will wish her to react, not with guilt and shame. this is not a behavior that should be accepted. i know i exhibit some of this behavior. guilt, not shame. but i think it is normal to feel guilty when you hurt another person. and normal to feel guilty when you have disappointed one for whom you care.

a woman - no anyone - who defines his/herself based on what others say is so unhealthy that it should never be used in the context of what a female submissive is!

Parents have enormous responsibility with such an influenceable child. Nascent talents can either be nurtured or aborted with just a word. This child will likely live up, or down to, whatever is expected of her. Expect more than she can constitutionally do (like academic, athletic, or social success) and she will develop an intense sense of inferiority. Praise her out of proportion to her talents (this is the BEST drawing any child EVER did) and she will develop an inflated sense of self. Accurately and sensitively validate her real abilities and talents, and she will seek goals appropriate to her ability, and take pleasure in acheiving them.

When the environment is reality based, sensitive, and balanced, the child grows up embracing her special ability to be "related" to others, to be sensitive, and has a sense of self in reasonable tune with her true abilities and vulnerabilities, neither excessively self effacing or self aggrandizing.
healthy person, male or female, submissive or dominant.

But if development should go awry, as it too often does for this child, the personality traits she has develop in a distorted manner, and cause her difficulties.

maybe cause her to be submissive because she only functions well if she can relate to and be controlled by another, stronger than herself?

In dysfunctional families, this child suffers more than others with tougher hides, less reactive temperments. She is often the one singled out for physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Her very nature makes her available for use: for the parent's angers, frustrations, sexual impulses, or narcissistic gratification.

there are so many women in this lifestyle who have been abused as children. but we do know now that it is a myth that childhood abuse is a dominating factor in submissives.

When a submissive child is misused in this fashion, she is unable to utilize her interpersonal talents in a constructive way. She must either develop rigid defenses that constrain her ability to be flexible as an adult, or be blown about by the winds of other's emotions all her life, or become stuck in what are popularly called, "co-dependent relationships."

Women who emerge from childhood with these traits will be more or less consciously submissive in that they are STILL moldable, controllable by others.

more or less consciously in need of psychotherapy i think. help to deal with their childhood and their insecurities which they cannot get in a relationship with a dominant.

Those who don't consciously seek a Dominant partner will naturally gravitate to a man who influences, controls her in a benevolent manner. Who accepts her, loves her, nurtures her, and values her sensitivity.

again i disagree. these woman gravitate toward abusive relationships with a man who loves her, perhaps...but does not nurture her and is incapable of seeing her sensitivity unless it is to use it against her. these women often do not have the self-confidence and self-worth to knowingly submit within a healthy D/s relationship. you very often see submissive women with heavy emotional
baggage....sexual abuse, incest, physical abuse... many of them are not in a D/s relationship because it their desire, but because they follow a pattern - the only pattern in which they feel comfort because it all they have known.

only when these women learn to be independent and function best alone, can they enter a healthy D/s relationship.

Those who consciously seek a Dominant partner are those who are perhaps, so sensitive that they require not only benevolence, but someone who understands PRECISELY how moldable and influenceable they are, and is capable of using the power to mold her and influence her deliberately and consciously, for her good and the good of the relationship.

grrrrrrrr. how about those who seek a dominant do so because they are sensitive to their own needs??? i can only speak for me, but it surely is not because i need someone to understand or accept me! it is because i do understand and accept me and i want someone who can meet my own needs.

In that kind of relationship, the submissive is freed to be all of herself. She is safe enough to feel her exquisitely sensitive reactions to others, to play like a child, to give care and to take care, to be angry, to lose shame.

yes, this IS a healthy D/s relationship. i do like that she says "play like a child". i need to nourish my inner child. :)

There is a strength beyond measure in self knowledge and acceptance. There is freedom in jettisoning shame, in letting go of "shoulds."
and there are some women who don't give a damn about shoulds. some women who were difficult children, confident children. children who did not have a need to "fix" everything around them, but rather to lead people into learning how to fix their own problems....

To know oneself as a submissive woman, to accept that it is neither the terrible thing that society tells us it is, nor the only right and true way to be for OTHERS, is to be free. What is, is.

There are two kinds of strengths: the strength to lead, and the strength to follow the strength to control, and the strength to yield. There are two kinds of power: the power to strip another's soul bare, and the power to stand naked.

and a submissive woman can have ALL these strengths. this article implies that a woman cannot be a high powered executive AND a submissive that submissiveness is the entire fiber of her being. that she cannot be strong and independent WITHOUT a dominant man in her life.....

Do not mistake following for weakness, for it is not. Do not mistake yielding for weakness, for in yielding there is resilience. Do not mistake the submissive's need for relatedness for inability to be alone.

do not mistake relatedness for unhealthy co-dependency either!

Submissive women are not weaklings. They are sensitive people who have a great deal of resilience in the face of their particular challenges.

submissive women must have a great deal of resilience and they mustn't be weak at all. it takes a very strong person to surrender. the problem is many women do it before they are strong.

Submissiveness is a strength seeking a proper context.

"a strength seeking" assumes that the strength is not there until it finds. that the strength NEEDS something. submissiveness is a choice.

this article applies fully to the types of submissives that are submissive for the wrong reasons. i have to tell you it really infuriates me to read this. it implies it is ok to be co-dependent, incomplete without a man, and so many more psychological problems.

i have a real problem with outlooks that point to childhood. these are issues that need to be addressed not brushed off with "your childhood made you this way." you are an adult now, face it, deal with it and then get over it. cold approach perhaps, but just my view.

the vanilla world often looks on submissives as co-dependent women - needy, clingy, dependent, exactly what this essay confirms! i think what bothers me most about this essay and, in my protective mode of new submissives, prompted my opinion is that many submissives will read this and simply take comfort in it as they relate to it. although my opinion is not professional, as is the writer's, i feel that if submissives relate to this there are deeper problems that need to be addressed. i would not be surprised at all if submissives who relate to this have, or will, find themselves in abusive, physically or mentally, relationships. it is NOT ok to function at your best in relation to another, it
is NOT ok to be dependent on others without self-dependence and it is NOT ok to be needy.

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