Why trying to fix a submissive is a bad idea

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One of the troubling denizens of the BDSM world, but one who I have come to recognise, is the submissive who doesn't obey. I'm not talking about someone you meet somewhere and who simply shares your evil fascination with, say, rope, ice picks and anvils. Someone who is only your play partner in physical or sexual scenes is not someone I'd necessarily expect to be service oriented although they might be. After a particularly intense evening with the anvils and ice picks, when you're both exhausted, when there are pools of sweat everywhere and the air is filled with the smell of machine oil, then I'd think it's entirely reasonable for a purely physical partner to answer in response to an order to get you a glass of something cold from the fridge, "Piss off! Go and get it yourself, you lazy dominant!"

If you've got this arrangement to have a physical or sexual relationship in the dungeon, and you both are keen, willing and available, and if your dungeon times are intense, satisfying and leave your pink bits feeling like they need a holiday in the Bermudas, then the deal is satisfied. Both of you are getting what you want and agreed to.

On the other hand, the people I'm talking about here are the submissives or slaves who earnestly assure you that they'll be at your beck and call, who insists that they'll do whatever you want, and who claim loudly and repeatedly that they're only there to serve you. Then they don't and they aren't.

Actually, submissives who say they'll obey and who don't are part of a larger category of submissives who behave, for want of a better term, "poorly" on a persistent or repeating basis. Other behaviours in this category include:

  • Being rude or disrespectful,
  • Striking out verbally or physically,
  • Being a smart-ass,
  • Displaying a lack of concentration or lack of attention to detail,
  • Losing interest rapidly in something they claim to be interested in or passionate about,
  • Being a "good girl" or "good boy" when you're there and paying attention to them but not when you're absent,
  • Displaying frequent attention-seeking behaviour, or
  • Only doing well the things they want to do.

For the rest of this article though, and for simplicity, I'm just going to be referring to obedience, but any of the above can also apply.

So, getting back to obedience, what I'm saying is if someone signs up to be your submissive and part of the agreed deal is that they'll do certain tasks or be available in certain ways, then you can reasonably expect that they'll do these things. After all, they're an adult, right? They should know themselves and what they're capable of, right?

If they don't do what they say they'll do then:

  1. They weren't serious in the first place and didn't mean what they said,
  2. They don't know themselves and you can't trust what they say they'll do, or
  3. While they may look like an adult, they're not.

Oddly though, many dominants and masters don't feel pissed off when it turns out their submissive won't or can't follow orders even though following orders was part of the deal.

I think there are a couple of reasons why dominants might behave this way. If this is all happening in an existing relationship which is moving into a BDSM phase then it might be that the dominant has made enough of an emotional commitment already that they are reluctant to risk messing it all up.

Another reason is that either consciously or unconsciously the dominant has acquired the idea that they, like Bob The Builder™, can fix it. If there's an issue with obedience, just as with any other issue in the submissive's life, why not simply give the appropriate orders and make the issue go away?

This doesn't work and can, in fact, be a trap.

I'd like to point out that the obedience problems I'm talking about are not one-off infractions like forgetting to buy the milk or slipping up on an item of protocol. What I'm talking about here are the chronic and repeated demonstrations of not following simple instructions such as always being late, always "forgetting" to do a particular task, and so on.

When the dominant steps forward and claims some sort of authority or responsibility for the lack of obedience by trying to solve it themselves, they can enable their submissive to continue the poor behaviour. What the dominant is actually doing is taking responsibility for solving the problem away from their submissive. The submissive then has less reason to try and fix their poor behaviour because it's not their responsibility any more. What we then have is a boundary problem as well as the original obedience problem.

We can see this sort of thing where a submissive is intentionally or accidentally disrespectful or rude to someone else and when they're challenged they say something like, "You have to take this up with my dominant. He's the one responsible for my behaviour."

There are some things which an individual - be they slave, submissive, dominant, master or vanilla - need to be able to do for themselves. These include being punctual, doing what they say they'll do, taking care of personal hygiene, feeding themselves, being respectful of others, etc. If someone told you that they couldn't feed themselves, even though they are physically and medically able to do so, because of "issues", then would you take over the responsibility and feed them? No, of course not. You'd encourage them to get professional help. If they claimed they were unable to wipe their own butt after a visit to the toilet due to "issues", would you reassure them and then take over the posterior-cleaning duties? No, also of course not.

While we might support someone, including our submissive, when they have problems - even if that problem is that they are a rude asshole - we can't and shouldn't take responsibility away from them. But some dominants try to do just that. When an issue appears - and everyone has at least some issues - then it can be oh-so-tempting for a dominant to step up and say, "Let me wield my mighty dominance and solve whatever problem you may have! I will say the magic words, issue a magic order and, 'Poof!', problem solved!"

If your submissive is chronically unable to do something, such as wipe their own butt (either physically or metaphorically) or follow orders, then they should get dismissed as your submissive. I mean, how awkward and embarrassing is it to be at a play party or some BDSM social event and introduce your slave to someone:

"Hi. My name is Master SuperDude and this is my slave, scum-of-the-earth."
"Greetings and salutations, SuperDude. My name is Roger The Dislodger. Tell me, what does your slave do for you?"
"Well, she doesn't actually do anything. You see, she has problems with obedience..., but we're working on them."
"How long has she had these problems with obeying?"
"Ten years now, but we're nearly there."

And more than that, the original problem clearly isn't being solved.

That's not to say or suggest that these submissives are evil people who should be confined to BDSMer's hell where scenes stop just before they orgasm, where dungeon music is Barry Manilow singing "Copacabana" on repeat, where ropes are never quite long enough, where the tails of every flogger are irretrievably tangled, where the really good toys are either just out of reach or are in use by someone else, and where it's too cold. They may actually be a fine companion in some BDSM explorations and activities, but there are some important things to remember:

  1. You're not their therapist. Don't try to be. You're their dominant. That's it.
  2. If you try to fix them then you risk crossing the boundary between what's their responsibility and what's yours. You may play into their (unconscious) hands and reinforce inappropriate behaviour rather than correct it. You may become their enabler.
  3. Provide opportunities to self-improve, but don't try to make your submissive take these opportunities - think horse, water, drink.
  4. People don't behave poorly or inappropriately for no reason, and if it's well-entrenched behaviour then there are probably well-entrenched reasons for it to still be there. They may possibly be so well-entrenched that they've dropped below conscious awareness. Often poor behaviour requires the participation of a second person. Right now, this is probably you. You may become frustrated (and very confused) because your submissive might earnestly assert that they want to "get better" but nothing changes, no matter what you do. This may be because they're consciously, or more likely unconsciously playing a game with you - a game you didn't sign up for and don't understand.

The best thing you can do is have your own firm standards and boundaries. Discuss and support your partner (after all, your submissive is your partner here), but most importantly respect yourself, your standards and your boundaries.