Defence mechanisms are mental processes or mental gymnastics which occur in your brain to protect you in some way. Often these are tied to your identity and activate to protect it specifically.
For example, if you suddenly found yourself in a room full of Nobel prize laureates, the value you perceive yourself to have in relation to the usual people around you would suddenly plummet. In response, your mind might start looking for flaws in these laureates, or would focus on their more mundane aspects, such as the type of family sedan they drive, or the brand of toothpaste they use, rather than on their achievements. This process then allows your mind to see these people as more comparable to you and thus less of a threat to your own identity and self-value.
Defence mechanisms therefore are not responses to physical threats. They are psychological or mental strategies and behaviours which serve to protect us from mental pain and suffering.
Defence mechanisms are relevant in BDSM because:
- They have an important part to play in understanding the motivations many people have for being involved in BDSM in the first place, and
- The exact defence mechanisms an individual uses determines what will be effective in psychological activities such as humiliation.
We can split defence mechanisms into two types:
- Behaviours and strategies we use to avoid difficult, painful, or unpleasant experiences, and
- Internal mental machinations to deal with difficult, painful, or unpleasant experiences which happen to us anyway.
When we know that there's a risk of us getting into a situation which would be painful or uncomfortable, we can choose to avoid it. We could avoid going into that room filled with pesky Nobel laureates if we know they're there; or we could try:
- Walking on the other side of the street instead of passing a house where a very aggressive dog lives,
- If you're introverted or shy, choosing a career that doesn't involve meeting people, or
- Dressing sloppily or unattractively, or wearing dark glasses or avoiding eye contact, when you don't want people talking to you.
See surrender and anchors below for a more BDSM-specific discussion of avoidance with examples.
Internal defence mechanisms
- Denial - refusing to accept something ("That didn't happen!" or "There's no such thing!" or "That's not right!")
- Projection - attributing the reason why another person does something to a motive of one's own ("They did X because, like me, they think Y.")
- Identification - attributing the reason why you do something to someone else's motive ("I did X because, like them, I think Y.")
These are all ways the mind of a person manipulates what they think or perceive. They serve to protect the identity of an individual.
They are notable because denial creates nothing out of something, and projection and identification create something out of nothing.
Often, projection and identification work so that the person feels less isolated and more validated.
Surrender and anchors
|Derived from [Masters2008], Chapter 12, Surrender and anchors|
Avoidance, as mentioned above, includes behaviours which someone can use to manipulate what experiences they have. These manipulations can be conscious, but are also frequently unconscious---in other words, the person is often not aware they are doing them.
Let me explain:
One of the frequent components of a BDSM experience is surrender. This is the complete giving in to the experience without fight or resistance. It's an important part of satisfying primal needs, for example, as well as allowing the True Self to be exposed (see Motivations).
However, surrender is not without its risks, particularly when you're engaged in a BDSM scene with someone you don't know really well. You could get into a physical or mental situation where they---intentionally or not---could cause you harm and you're not in a position to stop it.
This is where anchors come in. Anchors are something that you put into place to prevent too much surrender or too much exposure. Just like use with a ship or boat, it stops you drifting too far from a safe location.
Here are a few examples:
- Consciously or unconsciously selecting a "dominant" partner who is clearly not as intelligent or experienced as yourself so that you can manipulate them into avoiding areas you don't want to go
- Selecting a partner who physically isn't able to exceed certain limits, such as someone who is small and not very strong, or someone who is very overweight, or (if you're female) another female play partner to avoid unwanted sexual attention or pregnancy
- Choosing to engage in particular activities only at play parties where other people are around, or where what you and your play partner do is very exposed and subject to scrutiny