The Healthy Female Submissive

I found this article a while back and just reread it! Fabulous information. Enjoy! ~Elle

The Healthy Female Submissive

By Submissive Women
Published:October 30, 2002
By Yaldah Tovah, M.D.

“Discipline gives total freedom;
it allows you to go beyond your limitations,
to break through boundaries and reach the highest goal.
The path to discipline will not only save a person’s life,
it will also give it meaning. How?
By introducing him to deeper joys and deeper longings,
by creating a silence in which the whisper of the heart can be heard.
Truly, discipline is the road to liberation.”

–Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

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 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?

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?

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 achievement over achievement 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.

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.

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.

We can see how perspective is critical in understanding a phenomenon. In a study of moral development in children, for example, Dr. Robert Coles 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 pharmacy.

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.

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. 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.

After Coles’ work was published a woman named Carol Gilligan reviewed the studies that Coles 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?”

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.

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 “look” 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.
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.
3. The healthy submissive is capable of intense joy, especially in the context of a sustaining relationship.
4. The healthy submissive finds significant relaxation when properly related. She is at ease in that place.
5. The healthy submissive has finely tuned interpersonal sensitivity. She is reactive to subtle shifts in the emotional tone of others.
6. The healthy submissive has a fluidity of self, a flexibility that enables her to adapt to changing circumstances.
7. The healthy submissive is playful.
8. The healthy submissive has no more than the usual cultural conflicts about her body, and its goodness and beauty.
9. The healthy submissive takes pride in her accomplishments.
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.
11. The healthy submissive seeks nourishing relationships.
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.
13. The healthy submissive has a reasonable self concept, aware of her difficulties as well as her strengths.
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.

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 presented 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 trait, this interpersonal sensitivity in its highest expression is when the submissive accurately registers interpersonal nuance, and responds to it with a minimum 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, counseling, teaching.

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.

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 achieving 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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 influence able 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.

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.

There is a strength beyond measure in self knowledge and acceptance. There is freedom in jettisoning shame, in letting go of “should’s.”

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.

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.

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

Submissiveness is a strength seeking a proper context.

Taking Myself To Task!

This started out as another Lessons in Submission post about not making excuses, but as I started searching online for supplemental material I came across a post called 6 Ways to Ruin Your Submissive over at Dominance by Design. It’s a practical guide for the Dominant on how to work the D/s dynamic and can really help a submissive understand and respect a Dominant’s position.

This perspective really took me to task and helped me examine my ways. I’m not saying I’m a bratty sub, but I’m a work in progress. My Sir and I are in this together, and if I claim to own my submission (which I have), then my responsibility is to not allow myself to get ruined! Why make his job harder? What good would that do me? There are so many yummy things we could be doing than to have to deal with inappropriate behavior from me!

Let me know what you think and remember to go give a pat on the back to The Artful Dominate for his wonderful post.

6 Ways to Ruin Your Submissive

A submissive doesn’t come with an instruction manual and there’s no such thing as a perfect dominant. You can read every lifestyle book you can get your hands on, talk to other Doms, and attend lifestyle workshops.  Yet you can still be left with a nagging feeling that you don’t always get it exactly right.

Perhaps you know lots of the DOs when it comes to the training and care of a submissive but have you ever wished you had a list of the DON’Ts? Even if you think you’re doing your best, sometimes it might not be enough. Take a look at this list of six sure-fire ways to spoil your submissive.

Six dominant mistakes that will spoil your submissive and can ruin your relationship.

1.  Give in – No matter what your submissive wants, she gets it.  Whether it’s that shiny new sex toy she found online or letting her off the hook for that chore she just really hates or making it a habit to give her all the things she wants done to her, giving her everything she asks for is the breeding ground for a spoiled, indulged, and coddled brat who will soon learn that she can always get her way by manipulating you with her emotions.  Especially in D/s relationships, it isn’t uncommon for a Dom to fall in love with his submissive.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  Personally I wouldn’t wish to own a girl who didn’t give me reasons to fall in love with her.  But the danger you have to guard against is subordinating the power exchange dynamic by treating your relationship more as a romantic arrangement between equals .  Doing so creates a lukewarm, superficial dominant/submissive relationship that in the end won’t likely satisfy either of you.  There is nothing wrong with granting her requests occasionally, rewarding her for good service, and doing those little things she enjoys that make her feel happy from time to time.  However, a submissive also needs regular reminders of who and what her position and role in the relationship is.

What to do instead:  When you agree to let her have that new sex toy she is coveting or to indulge her desire for that special activity in the bedroom she really likes, link it to something she has done recently to please you.  In other words make it a reward for good service and let her feel she has earned it.  Doing that will prevent her from developing a sense of entitlement and will instead cultivate in her a firm understanding that she doesn’t own you, you own her.  This will help her grow in her submission.

2.  Don’t Discipline – If your submissive acts out, breaks the rules, fails to complete a chore or assignment according to your expectations, or says or does something disrespectful, you can’t overlook it and do nothing.  Lack of discipline in a dominance/submissive relationship often stems again from seeing your partner more as your wife or girlfriend than as your submissive.  It is quite natural to find it hard and even to loathe having to discipline someone you love, so many dominants are disinclined to administer corrective discipline even when it is clearly warranted.  They rationalize it by convincing themselves that discipline either is a negative thing that doesn’t really work or else that their submissive doesn’t need it.  This fosters in a submissive the belief that there are never any consequences for bad behavior.That kind of situation can lead to serious problems in your relationship.  Just as children thrive with boundaries and rules of behavior, so does a submissive.  The need to have firmly established boundaries is something most submissive women need to feel safe, secure, and protected.  Many times they will intentionally act out not because they just feel like misbehaving but to test the boundaries to make certain they are still firmly in place.  In the absence of consequences for bad behavior, the line between good and bad can become blurred or seem non-existent and a submissive can start to feel insecure and unprotected.

What to do instead: Set clear and consistent rules and consequences for your submissive.  Make certain that she clearly understands your expectations as to what she is to do and how she is to behave.  If she acts out you need to Dom up and mete out appropriate corrective discipline.  It doesn’t always have to be corporal punishment.  That can be effective and timely but some submissive women enjoy things like OTK spanking and so in such cases using that for discipline wouldn’t be very effective.  Taking away a privilege she enjoys can be in such cases much more effective.  Do remember to talk with her and to make certain she understands why she is being disciplined and don’t go overboard.  Make certain the punishment fits the crime.
3.  Always Make Excuses for Them – When a submissive makes a mistake or breaks a rule perhaps not intentionally but out of negligence, it is always a temptation for a Dom to feel partly responsible.  I think is quite normal for a Dom like anyone in a leadership position of any kind to feel that he has failed too whenever a subordinate fails.  Perhaps I didn’t communicate the rule or expectation clearly enough or  I didn’t do an adequate job of training her.  We want to believe in our submissive and feel like she always gives one hundred-percent effort and does her best.  This can lead us to rationalize, to make excuses for her, perhaps to even blame ourselves and take upon ourselves the responsibility for her mistake or error.  While we all want to have confidence in our submissive girls, turning a blind eye to their transgressions or living in denial is not the answer.  You must make your submissive understand she is not above the rules and that even unintentional mistakes when due to negligence have repercussions.
What to do instead: If your submissive makes a mistake due to carelessness, negligence, or purposely disregards a rule or to meet an expectation, take the appropriate corrective action, impose discipline if it is warranted.  Do explain what she did wrong and make certain she understands why she is being disciplined so she doesn’t end up feeling you are being unfair or unreasonable.  If however, she makes an honest mistake, a situation where she was neither clearly carelessness or negligent, then perhaps instead of discipline just sitting her down and talking it out may adequately take care of the situation.  The goal is always to keep her from repeating the same mistakes over and over regardless of what the causative factors were. Oftentimes, just knowing she has disappointed you might reduce her to tears and it can seem that she has punished herself enough for a misdeed.  But as mentioned earlier in the discussion about corrective discipline, don’t hesitate to use it when a situation clearly calls for it.
4.  Don’t Push Her Limits – If I had to pick out the most critical responsibility that every Dom has toward a submissive, it would be to ensure that he creates an environment where she can grow in her submission.  Growth in the lifestyle is best affected by helping her to push her limits and expand her boundaries.  Especially with novice submissive women, quite often they come into the lifestyle with a veritable laundry list of limits both soft and hard, things she is either reluctant or simply unwilling to try.  Many of those limits are due to lack of understanding, lack of confidence, lack of experience, or feeling intimidated by the very thought of trying some activities.  Since D/s is always consensual, limits must always be respected.  A submissive should never be coerced or forced to participate in an activity that she has disclosed as a limit, but especially when it comes to soft limits, they do need to be pushed.  When a submissive says some activity is a soft limit, she isn’t saying she absolutely won’t ever do the activity under any circumstances.  She is saying not yet or that she needs for you to discuss it with her before she is asked to do it.  Thus, soft limits are especially fertile ground for expanding her boundaries and helping her to grow.  If her Dom never encourages her to push her limits, she won’t grow, at least efficiently and perhaps it may prevent her from every realizing her real potential.  She can become too comfortable with the status quo and even become resistant to attempting what is necessary to grow.
What to do instead:  It is important and proper to want you submissive to tell you what interests her and so you need to ask her that very early on but never be satisfied with her just giving you a lengthy list of all the things she wants done to her.  If she is reluctant to even discuss trying things that she finds a little intimidating or scary that you need from a relationship then perhaps this lifestyle isn’t really for her.  She needs to have a desire to grow and a willingness to do what is needed to experience it.  But perhaps even more importantly you need to have the will to encourage her to try new things so she can grow.
5.  Set a Bad Example – Some days a submissive may not feel all that submissive and likewise some days a Dom doesn’t feel like exercising dominance.  That is just human nature but as the leader, the guiding force in the relationship, a Dom just can’t ignore his responsibility to provide guidance, supervision, and training just because it has been a hectic week at the office or he has a lot of other things on his plate and feels tired.  Just as you have expectations of your submissive like following rules and meeting needs you have, she has needs to be met and expectations of you as well.  You should always strive to lead by example.  Not living up to your responsibilities to her and the relationship sets a bad example.  If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities on a consistent basis, if you don’t keep your word, if you make excuses, if you talk the dominant talk but don’t walk the walk, your actions will speak louder than words.  You’re wrong if you think your submissive isn’t paying attention.  If she senses you don’t take your responsibilities seriously she is likely to mimic your behavior if exposed to it frequently.
What to do instead: Resolve to be a model example in front of your submissive.  Don’t let competing interests prevent you from addressing the needs of your submissive and from giving the relationship the consistent attention it deserves.
6.  Not Being Engaged – Choosing to make a habit of working late when you don’t have to over getting home regularly in time for dinner, being irritable or short with her when she has done nothing wrong, or just plain ignoring your submissive are all examples of not being fully engaged.  A submissive woman needs to feel valued.  She needs reassurance that she is pleasing and useful.  She needs a consistent conduit through which she can express her submissive nature by obediently serving and pleasing her Dom.  Her gift of submission earns her the right to feel you consider her worthy of your attention, respect, and affection.  A submissive can’t feel centered, safe, and protected if neglected.  She is likely to become dissatisfied, unhappy, and even depressed.
What to do instead: Even if you’ve got a packed work schedule or other matters that require your attention, don’t neglect your submissive or the relationship.  Aim to schedule regular blocks of time dedicated to her.  Watch a movie together and allow her to revel in occupying her humble place at your feet.  Allow her to pleasure you sexually.  She needs your engagement.  She needs you to teach her what she must do, how she must behave, and most importantly she needs you to remind her who and what she really is, your valued possession.
Image courtesy of kenfotos /