August 18th, 2011
A friend on FetLife asked: in the context of BDSM and/or TPE relationships, what do you think is the difference between the concepts of “power” and “control”? I find this a very interesting question, and I’m going to try and wrap my brain, and my typing fingers around it today.
Let’s start with the basics of the question: power and control. Dictionary.com has this to say about power: “1. ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something. 3. great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force. 4. the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy: power over men’s minds.” (Numbers 2 and 5 were political in nature.) And this to say about control: “6. the act or power of controlling; regulation; domination or command: Who’s in control here? 7. the situation of being under the regulation, domination, or command of another: The car is out of control. 8. check or restraint: Her anger is under control.“ To start, it lists power as the ability(normal or great) to do something. Then goes on to suggest you must have power to have control. Control, by direct definition here, seems to be more about an act than an ability, something you do, rather than something you have. The dictionary listed noun first for power, and verb first for control, though I have copied in the noun definitions for both.
How does this compare to BDSM, and in particular, my experiences with these concepts?
My first instinct is to say that power and control are the same thing. If you give someone power over you, you are giving them control over you. If you are in a power exchange, then you are giving up/receiving control. But I think this is using narrow, singular definitions of these terms.
Another way to look at control, is self-control, inner control. I would not give power to someone who is not in control. In this case, control is required to have a power exchange. I require a person to have control before they have power over me.
If we look at the first two definitions of power, we find another interesting discussion. The ability to do or accomplish something. Having the power or ability to do something would be necessary if I’m going to ask it of that person. So, from this side of things, the person would have to have the power in order for me to offer them control.
But are both things necessary and always in the same amounts? Does an offering of power always mean an offering of control or visa versa?
There are always degrees. I don’t give the same amounts or types of power and control to everyone I play with. In fact, they all get different amounts of both. The other generally got physical control, but only on rare occasions did he achieve mental control. He, on the other hand, has mental control, and physical control simply follows. Power is trickier, and I go back to my original posit that they are the same in this context, but it just doesn’t fit quite as nicely as all that. My partners have different powers, different abilities. And different powers over me, sometimes intermixed with control, and sometimes a quality of our relationship or history.
So, I agree with the dictionary. Power is something you have, whereas control is something you do. Power is your ability, learned or intrinsic, and your strength of mind and body. Control, however, for me, is actively given and received, and actively exercised.
August 9th, 2011
Post three of The Ethical Slut, Part Two, is about Emotions and Validation. The previous post, on Fear and Jealousy, touched on some of these things, but this post goes for all emotions, positive and negative, and on into love and validation.
“Nobody makes anybody feel anything.” (119) “See if you can write about or talk to your friend about your feelings without blaming anybody.” (145) This is one of the hardest things for some people to accept. In a culture of lawsuits over spilled coffee, personal responsibility is all too uncommon. A person is responsible for their own actions (and reactions). For example, if someone spills grape juice on your favorite shirt, that is all they did. How you feel, and react, is your choice, your responsibility, not theirs. Which is also the same in reverse…
“What you are not responsible for is your lover’s emotions. You can choose to be supportive… but it is not your job to fix anything.” (119) The same as your lover is not making you feel anything, you are not making them feel anything either. You cannot change someone’s feelings, or fix how they feel. You can choose to support them, and be there for them, while they do so for themselves. But they have to do the work (as you have to do your own).
“Asking someone to listen to your feelings is different from dropping them in his lap and leaving them there.” (121) However, you do have to be careful that when you are sharing and working through your feelings, with someone else’s support, that you don’t take advantage of that person. You should not try to make it their responsibility to fix how you feel, or take care of your emotions. Nor let someone do that to you. Don’t dump your problems and emotions on someone else and expect them to fix it.
“We need to make the ethical commitment to own our stuff, and to let you own yours.” (178) This quote sums all the above up nice and neat. Own your own stuff, and let your partners’ own theirs. Support each other, love each other, but remember to be responsible for your own emotions, actions and reactions. And always, ask for help when you need it, for support, for understanding, just don’t expect someone else to fix you.
“You need to get clear that you deserve love and nurturance and warmth and sex.” (126) “You get to have all the comfort and reassurance you want.” (183) Self-esteem is a problem, there are so many attacks against our self-esteem in the world, that sometimes we feel unworthy, or undeserving. Of love, attention, comfort and reassurance. Sometimes we feel that we shouldn’t need reassurance, because that means we’re doubting, and how dare we have doubt, what kind of person are we to have doubt? Surely we don’t deserve love if we’re doubting. Ah, such a trap we lay for ourselves. Vicious little circles. We are human, we are imperfect, but we all deserve love, nurturance, warmth, intimacy, comfort and reassurance. Having a bad day, feeling down, feeling insecure does not negate these things, in any way.
“We are all human, we are all vulnerable, and we all need validation.” (151) “Make a list of everything you value about your relationship.” (150) I put these two together because validation can come from different sources. It doesn’t have to come directly from your partner. It can come from a picture on the shelf, it can come from happy memories, it can come from a list of wonderful things about your relationship. And yes, sometimes we need it to come from our partner. We all are vulnerable and scared sometimes, and need to hear ‘I love you’ or ‘I want you’ or ‘I need you.’ Sometimes, all it takes is a hug, but we all need validation sometimes.
“The real test of love is when a person – including you – can know your weaknesses, your stupidities and your smallness, and still love you.” (141) “Intimacy is based on shared vulnerability.” (173) We are all human. We have our faults, our strengths, our weaknesses and our foibles. We are all vulnerable, and in that vulnerability, we find each other. We find love and closeness. We find a link to each other. Love sees and accepts all that we are. It isn’t about overlooking the negative, but acknowledging it. Blindness helps no one, acceptance and understanding keeps love strong.
“He’s here because he wants to be, wherever “here” is. We are with each other, every day, because we really want to be.” (124) I left this quote for last, even though it’s quite early in the chapter, because this is one of the most important things for me to remember. Relationships are an active choice. We have chosen to be together, we have chosen to stay together. Every day, we choose to continue the relationship. There are bumps and blips and roadblocks, but every day the relationship continues, it is an active choice by the people in that relationship. If that’s not validation, I don’t know what is.
June 25th, 2011
It’s been a long week, and I’m not ready to post about it, may never. Not the specifics anyway. But I want to write today, about some of the solutions. I hesitated about that word, solutions. We haven’t fully solved anything, but he asked what I wanted to do, to make sure we did not end up here again, and two of those things are what I want to talk about. They aren’t really solutions, but they are processes that will help us.
They are processes he has been teaching me since I met him. I have learned more about verbal communication in the last three years, than in the previous twenty-five. (I’ll grant that learning to talk was pretty huge in those first three years of life.)
I lived my young life in the shadows, being fairly passive, letting circumstances, events and people pull me along. I could take a stand and step forward in a pinch, but it wasn’t until college that I really started learning to stand up for myself. After, when I moved out west, I dropped back into the shadows. When we got back home, I started to step out again. I was out in front meeting people and being social and making choices again. We became poly and joined the kink community and I started finding my voice and my spine. He’s been helping me develop and grow both since I met him, as well.
But there is so much more to successful poly than that. I harp on communication all the time. And yet again, I fell down. I haven’t done my write up on Part Two of The Ethical Slut, yet, but it’s all about agreements, and communication and jealousy. Not necessarily in that order. It’s about specificity, and being completely clear and getting what you need.
The two things I want to talk about today are active communication and active thinking. Two concepts that are not unfamiliar to me, but that I need to take a deeper look at.
Active communication is not just about listening and responding. It is about making sure you understand what is being said. It includes telling the other person what you are hearing them say, in your own words, to make sure you are getting the message they are trying to deliver. We use different language sometimes and it can make clear communication difficult. Sometimes it may take rephrasing several times to make sure you are both on the same page, or even in the same book. Try to be patient.
It is also about making sure you know what the conversation is about. By this I mean, we sometimes come at things sideways, or with humor to diffuse a possibly difficult subject, but it’s important to know what the conversation is really about. To not get sidetracked on a tangent and miss the point completely. If you have a question, make sure it gets answered, and everyone knows the question and the answer. If you are the one sidetracking the conversation, check yourself, ask yourself, and your partner if necessary, if you actually answered the question or concern, and if you really understood the question in the first place.
Active thinking. This has several layers for me. On the surface, it is constantly considering your actions and their consequences. In poly, it means including the consequences with your partners (and maybe even their partners) in your considerations. It also means being self-aware of any uncertainty or confusion in these considerations. Which then turns back around to active communication to get those uncertainties or confusions cleared up.
If I do not know, with fairly absolute certainty, how something is going to affect my partners, if we haven’t discussed it, or it is a new situation, then I should step back and really consider what I’m up to. If it could have any negative consequences whatsoever for my partners and loved ones that they have not agreed to, I need to step away. Then, I need to talk to them, discuss the action and come to an agreement about it. There are often negative consequences that people will agree to, – feeling uncomfortable, being jealous – but the whole point is to make everyone as comfortable and safe and happy as possible. I have to be actively thinking about all of this, all the time, so I recognize when an agreement hasn’t been made, or is needed.
Learning to be active by doing doesn’t always mean going out and doing what you want. Often it means being active in your conversations and being active in your thinking. Being aware of yourself and your needs and finding out about your partners and their needs. Communicating and making agreements and then being active and conscious about keeping them.