BDSM - Abuse vs. BDSM: Signs, Examples and Discussion

BDSM - Abuse vs. BDSM: Signs, Examples and Discussion

This is a very important topic that is very close to my heart. I have been in and out of abusive relationships most of my life and because of such actions and their effects on me I have always found a way to rationalize the abuse into being part of my BDSM lifestyle. This is more common that anyone involved in the BDSM lifestyle wants to recognize. From an outside point of view BDSM is full of abuse and violence. However, those of us that live our lifestyle have stated that the difference between abuse and BDSM is intent and consent. While this is true, as someone who has survived abusive relationships over and over, those lines can become very blurred and almost identical because the victim of abuse cannot have an unbiased perspective and often accepts abusive behaviour as "normal". This is where education, awareness and the community can help stop abuse within the lifestyle.

While there are many wiritings on this topic, I want to make this one a bit different than the typical standard lists by actually talking about how they differ between BDSM and abuse. The lines between the too can often become unclear from an outsider and even more blurred from the inside. This abuse happens on both sides of the whip (from Dom to sub and from sub to Dom). Most often these lists are aimed towards the submissive of the dynamic, but submissives can be just as abusive if not more in a dynamic. Remember people, it's not sexy to fuck someone up.

What is abuse?

Simply defined, abuse is the following:

• To use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.
• To treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.
• To speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.
• To commit sexual assault upon.
• To deceive or mislead.

Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person. While this may sound simple and easily recognized, it truly is much deeper and much more hidden than that as there are 5 main types of abuse: mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual and physical. So let's discuss them.

Mental Abuse

Mental abuse is hard to define as it is often paired with emotional abuse, but is very different. Mental abuse in the simplest form is defined as using your partner's thoughts, mindset and way of thinking to bring harm to them. While this seems to be a broad definition and not clearly understood it brings an idea to the results of this type of abuse. So let's get a little deeper.

Mental abuse often takes the form of using one's mental state against them, mental being of the mind, not emotions. This means that if you know someone has a difficult time processing math, it would be abusive to give them tasks involving math that you are aware would bring frustration, enforcing the idea that they are dumb or stupid (bringing harm). This is just one example to help define mental abuse. It is all about the cognition or thinking process and reinforcing or disrupting that process. 

This could include the following:

• Interrupting conversations knowing that the other will lose their train of thought 
• Denying any wrong doing in hurtful situations
• Blamed for the abusers behavior towards him and the abused person often loses confidence in his own perceptions
• Causing the abused to often being to doubt the soundness of his own mind
• Minimizing arguments is a form of denial ("You're making a big deal out of nothing")
use of intimidation (displaying weapons to cause fear, threatning violence to kids/pets, threatning punishment, etc.)
• Isolation (limited or no outside contact)
extreme jealousy (demanding to know everyone you hangout with, where you are going, stop seeing people, etc.)
• Twist the events around to blame the victim, making it seem like the partner caused the betrayal 
threatening to harm her or himself if she leaves or talks to anyone about the relationship
controlling the majority of the decisions in the relationship without asking for any input from the other person
• Intentionally confusing the person
• Use sarcasm as a way to degrade or put down - when the partner complains being told that “it was just a joke” and that the partner is too sensitive
• Telling the partner that their opinion or feelings are “wrong?”
• Regularly ridicule, dismiss, disregard their partner's opinions, thoughts, suggestions, and feelings
being constantly corrected or chastised because their partner's behavior is “inappropriate"
making it seem like they are always right
• Belittling your accomplishments, your aspirations, your plans or even who you are
constantly give disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments, and behavior
• Being accused of something contrived in their own minds when you know it isn’t true
• Disregarding or ignoring safewords and limits
• Controlling money & resources, forcing your partner to live above their means, stealing, identity theft
• Threats of outing your partner’s: sexual orientation, gender identity, BDSM life style, polyamory, HIV status, or any other personal information
• Using partner’s race, class, age, immigration status, religion, size, physical ability, language, and/or ethnicity, against them.
• Tracking your partner's whereabouts, showing up at their job or school unexpectedly, constantly calling their job, leaving unwanted "gifts" or notes, using electronic devides to track your partner.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse as stated above is often paired with mental abuse, but they are very different. Whereas in mental abuse, the abuser uses the thought process to mindfuck their partner in a negative way, emotional abuse is the use of emotions to cause harm and negativity. While they may seem very similar and often cause very similar results, emotional abuse if often much more subtle than any other type of abuse which means it often goes unchecked resulting in allowing the abuser to pave the way for more noticeable abuse tactics and actions. Of all types of abuse I strongly feel that emotional abuse is the most dangerous of all since it is the gateway for the others and often unrecognized by the victim as well as anyone around them because the signs are subtle and awareness isn't well taught. So let's dive in and discuss emotional abuse.

Emotional abusers are masters of manipulation, lying, intimidation and guilt. They can quickly explain away or make excuses for their abusive behavior because they know exactly what they are doing. People within in emotionally abusive relationships suffer feelings of conflict, grief, insecurity, feeling overwhelmingly stifled and that nothing they do or say is right or good enough. Whether they disagree with their abuser or tell the abuser exactly what he wants to hear, the abuse doesn't readily ease up. It comes in various forms, such as threatening, blaming, accusing, yelling, teasing and even laughing, and is applied 24/7 in extreme cases often leaving the victim feeling confused, afraid and ashamed.

Here are some examples of emotionally abusive behaviour:

• Always blaming you for problems in your relationship
• Conflicts never really ever getting resolved
• Being confused or insecure about where the relationship is going
• Running hot and cold, flying into rages out of the blue and blame their partner for them
• Being put on a guilt trip for expressing your opinion
• Feeling like the victim is always walking on eggshells for fear saying the wrong thing
• Being scrutinized or judged in everything you do
• Feeling that you are being treated like a child
• Being made to feel inferior
• Being constantly reminded of your own shortcomings
• Use withholding attention or affection
• Wrongful use of the individual's money
• Removing or selling the individual's property without permission
• Coercing or deceiving a person into signing legal documents or contracts

Sexual Abuse

Being in the LS for a while has given me the opportunity to see both good and bad when it comes to scenes and dynamics. Sexual abuse in the LS is often overlooked due to the behavioiurs in power exchange, consensual non-consent and other such things as role playing such scenes and rape, age play and more. So what makes the difference between BDSM sexual play and sexual abuse? Someone who is sexually abusive uses sex as a tool to control or bring harm to their partner.
Sexual abuse can happen from strangers, people we love, those we are in relationships with and even our husbands and wives. It is not bound by any dynamic title, relationship title, gender, age, location, fashion type, etc. It can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime.
It is a common belief that if someone doesn't fight or resist then they are giving consent. This is untrue. Often times if someone does not resist it it out of fear or inability and this doesn't replace consent. Many times this myth makes it more difficult for the abused to speak out because they feel they will be blamed and dismissed due to not fighting back or saying no. Under no circumstances does anyone, regardless of role, protocol, etc. have the right to sexually assault, play or approach anyone else regardless of their role, dress, protocol, etc. without prior permission from the individual. Even slaves who are sex slaves have rights in regards to either agreeing to be used or not previous to their agreement to power exchange.

Sexually abusive behaviour often includes, but is not limited to the following:

• Initiating unwanted sexual contact
• Bruising/bleeding in rectal, thigh, and/or genital areas
• Unwanted kissing or touching
• Rape or attempted rape
• Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control
• Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
• Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
• Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.
• Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex or perform sexual acts. 
• Repeatedly using sexual insults toward someone.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the most easily recognized outside of the the community and lifestyle. You're co-worker shows up to work with a black eye or handprints on their arm from being grabbed and suddenly it clicks; abuse. However in the LS those bruises may be common, especially in a SM dynamic. So how do you tell the difference from play and abuse? Abuse is to cause physical harm without concern for the other's wellbeing, often done out of anger or the lack of care. Aside from the obvious broken bones, bruises and other such things, physical abuse is often paired with the other types of abuse such as mental and emotional abuse. It's a form of negative control over the other person and can often go unnoticed for years or even worse, ignored especially in the BDSM lifestyle and communities.

Here are some examples of physical abuse:

• Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
• Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.
• Pulling your hair.
• Pushing or pulling you.
• Grabbing your clothing.
• Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.
• Smacking your bottom.
• Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
• Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.
• While many of the above are also actions we use in play there is a fine line that is based on intent. If they are done out of anger, used to intimidate or control you negatively it is abuse.

Spiritual Abuse

This is one that is often overlooked and more often not recognized. Spiritual abuse is the result of a spiritual leader or system that tries to control, manipulate, or dominate a person. This control is often in the form of fear. This is considered a major factor in mind control/coercive persuasion or thought reform. There are those who feel the latter comes into play in cases such as these, while others feel the thinking is in error. Regardless of where one stands on this, it does not lessen the affects of spiritual abuse.
This type of abuse is often equated with cults, but can be found in homes and relationships across the world in every religion or spiritual path. 

Here are some examples of spiritual abuse:

• Questioning is often discouraged, forbidden, or branded as a sign of rebellion or lack of spirituality
those who do not follow the rules may be labeled, shunned, shamed, removed from church positions or even cast out of the fellowship.
• Not being allowed to confront or question those in leadership as they are "God's anointed" or their deity's anointed.
• Members are taught that only their deity is to intervene in situations where leadership may have done wrong.
• Demand you consult with them (or your discipler) before making major decisions or any decisions at all
being forbidden to spend time with someone (particularly one who has left the path, group or church)
use of guilt, fear, and intimidation by the leadership to manipulate members and keep them in line
led to think that there is no other church/path quite like theirs, and that their deity has singled them out for a special purpose
• Other churches/paths are put down as being less "holy", wrong or sinful
• Public or group testimonials (sometimes coached), are encouraged and emphasized
many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny, and the church standards established are usually based upon the life-style adopted by the leader.
• Minimize the commitments of their members to their family, especially parents, often being told that this is their "new" family, etc.
• Loyalty is seen as paramount, and family commitments are discouraged or viewed as impediments to spiritual advancement.
• Rigidity in such paths increase feelings of guilt and contributes to spiritual bondage
• Intolerance of any belief system different from their own promoting or adopting an “us-versus-them” mentality.
• Illustrate a “split-level religion”; one level for public presentation and another for the inner circle of membership
• Thrive on tactics that promote dependency.

What To Do

Okay so you've read all of this so now what?

There are many things you can do, but the first thing you have to do is is realize that abuse can happen to anyone in any dynamic, in any relationship, in any place regardless of gender, role and/or personality. Next if you think you may be in an abusive situation there are are steps you can take to help.

• Realize this behavior is wrong.
• Do not accept or make excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior. Your abuser knows what he is doing. Perpetrators of emotional abuse do what they do by choice. They do not want to change. If you try to leave them or report them, do not listen to their pleading, promises or excuses. They are merely pulling out all the stops to keep you from taking the action you want to take. They will be desperate to get you back under their control and will do whatever it takes.
• Remember that physical abuse is never your fault.
• Create a safety plan.
• Contact Someone You Trust
• Build a support system
• Report it to the police or abuse advocate in your area: If you do decide to report what happened, you will have a stronger case if you do not alter or destroy any evidence. This means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair or change your clothes, even if that is hard to do. If you are nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a friend with you.
• Go to an Emergency Room or Health Clinic; it is very important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted.

To Help Someone Else

If you know someone that may be in an abusive situation there are somethings that you can do to help. Always remember however that it is a very sensitive situation and while you may have the best interests at heart, you may in the end make things worse if you just react without thinking. 

Here are some ideas that may help:

• Listen and be supportive. Even when you don’t understand or agree with their decision -- don't judge. It can make them feel worse. 
• Connect them to resources and information in their area.
• Don’t post information about your loved one on social networking sites. Never use sites like Facebook or Foursquare to reveal their current location or where they hang out. It's possible their partner will use your post to find them.
• Allow the person you're trying to help to make up their own mind. Leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship may be difficult and even dangerous. Avoid blaming or belittling comments. Abusive partners usually put down their victims regularly, so their self-esteem may already be low.
• Don't give up even though helping is frustrating.
• you can stop the abuse just by butting in. Start by addressing it directly. Let both individuals know that what’s happening isn’t right. Reassure the mistreated partner that they don't deserve these actions and inform the violent partner that this behavior is unacceptable and dangerous.
• Stand away, but let the couple see that you're watching them. Get out your cell and call for help. You can still give support without physically intervening.
• Try to imagine how you'd want to be helped. Stepping in not only temporarily breaks up the abuse but also offers support to the victim they may not have received anywhere else.
• Ask yourself how you would feel if no one helped your friend and something horrible happened when you weren’t present.
• Alert an authority figure or call the police immediately. If you do intervene and the abuse continues, step away and get help.
• Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you think needs help. Tell them you're concerned for their safety and want to help.
• Help your friend recognize that the abuse is not “normal” and is NOT their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy, non-violent relationship.
• Focus on your friend or family member, not the abusive partner. Even if your loved one stays with their partner, it's important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
• If they break up with the abusive partner, continue to be supportive after the relationship is over.
• Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online. It'll only worsen the situation for your friend.

Safety Plan

A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that can help you avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react when you’re in danger. It isa set of actions that can help lower your risk of being hurt by your partner. It includes information specific to you and your life that will increase your safety at school, home, and other places that you go on a daily basis. Whether you decide to end the relationship or stay, it’s a good idea to empower yourself with the knowledge of how to act in different scenarios.
For help creating your safety plan LoveIsRespect.orghas created an interactive tool to walk you through the process. It can be found here: http://www.loveisrespect.org/get-help/safety-planning

Signs that Your Partner May Be an Abuser

As we all know abuse can be spotted only after it begins, however there are traits that seem to be common amoungst abusers that can help define the possibility of someone being abusive before it starts. 

You will find some of those listed below:

• Extremely sensitive when it comes to others making fun of them or making any kind of comment that seems to show a lack of respect
• Inability to laugh at themselves
• Have trouble apologizing
• Make excuses for their behavior or tend to blame others or circumstances for their mistakes
• Name calling and labeling
• Blaming others for their problems or unhappiness
• Continually have “boundary violations” and disrespect other's valid requests
• Use pouting or withdrawal to get attention
• Not want to meet the basic needs or use neglect or abandonment as punishment
• Play the victim to deflect blame onto others instead of taking responsibility for their actions and attitudes
• They do not notice or care how you feel
• They do not show empathy or ask questions to gather information
• Run hot and cold, fly into rages out of the blue and blame you for them
• Checking your cell phone or email without permission

My Friend May Be Abusive

We've all seen our friends freak out, melt down, hit the ceiling, fly off the handle, etc. from time to time. However, after reading this and/or other information on abuse and abusers you think your friend may be abusive. Now what?

Here are some things that you can do that may be able to help:

• Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help your friend or family member recognize their unhealthy or abusive behaviors.
• Your friend may try to blame the victim for the abuse. Don’t support these feelings or help justify the abuse.
• Help your abusive friend focus on the victim’s feelings and the serious harm they're experiencing. Don’t support your friend’s efforts to minimize the severity of their behavior.
• Don’t ignore abuse you see or hear about. Your silence helps the abusive person deny that their behavior is wrong.
• Convince your friend that getting professional help is important. Encourage him or her to find a program that can help and have a list of resources ready. Chat with a peer advocate for help.
• Stay in touch with your friend or family member about the abuse. Be there to support the abuser over the long-term.
• Remind them that change will create a better, healthier relationship for both partners.
• Set an example by having healthy relationships in your own life.

written by Michelle Thomas, October 23, 2014


Posted By on 8th April 2015

Updated : 24th July 2019 | Words : 3540 | Views : 9005 | Comments : 1

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1 Comment

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Consent is the cornerstone of all BDSM activity, and it’s one of the major factors that differentiates it from sexual abuse. Put simply, BDSM is consensual. Abuse is not.


Posted By EverettOxype on Thursday 14th March 2019 @ 21:43:31

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