Archive for March 18th, 2018

You’re a Top Who Just Made a Mistake. Now What?

March 18, 2018

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Everybody makes mistakes. That’s a pretty good general statement, but it’s a little more important to recognize in BDSM because the mistakes you make are more likely to cause harm. Sometimes that will be physical harm, sometimes it will be emotional. Sometimes it will be temporary, sometimes it will be permanent. But it will happen, even if you’re trying your absolute hardest to be the perfect top and keep your submissive’s needs first and foremost in your mind, because you’re a human being and so are they and we’re all going to make mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person. But how you handle it might, so let’s talk about that.

The most important thing to do is set aside your ego. There’s a very natural psychological tendency to try to defend yourself when someone tells you that you did something wrong. We all want to believe we’re good people, and when we’re confronted with evidence that we did something bad, the brain naturally tries to reconcile these two incompatible things by coming up with ways that it wasn’t really bad or we didn’t really do it. FIGHT THIS TENDENCY. Nine times out of ten, it is not the initial screw-up that causes problems in BDSM; it’s the way that the top tries to minimize it or deflect it. If you need this advice, you caused harm to someone. You can only compound that harm by trying to deny its existence.

So don’t tell them that it’s their fault for not communicating the problem better, don’t tell them that what you did was fine with everyone else so it should be fine with them, don’t tell them that it’s really hard being a Dominant and you deserve sympathy for being such a screw-up (that last one is known as the Passive-Aggressive Half-Gainer With a Double Guilt-Trip Twist, and is one of the hardest conversational gambits to pull off in the Asshole Olympics). You need to look at yourself in the mental mirror and say, “Do not bullshit me here, me. This is a person I care about and they deserve better.”

Then you are going to actively listen to what they say. Not what you want to hear because you really really want to be absolved of guilt, but what they’re actually saying. Whether that’s “this imagery triggered an abreaction because of this childhood issue of mine”, or “that hit with the flogger was badly placed and you hit me again even though I was saying ‘red'” or “I needed more aftercare and you scheduled an event without enough recovery time for me”. You’re going to suck it up and listen to what they have to say. You’re going to make sure that they understand that you are listening and understanding their concerns. You are not going to change the subject at all, and you are especially not going to contradict their feelings.

And then you’re going to apologize. You’re going to give them an unreserved, unqualified apology. There are lots of places to go to get good resources to give real apologies, but the basic elements are: 1) You understand what you did and why it was harmful, 2) you feel genuine remorse, and 3) you will not let it happen again because of these specific steps you are taking to avoid the problem that led to it. (There are other elements depending on who you talk to–explaining why it happened, thanking the person for bringing this to your attention–but those three are the most important ones.

There’s also one that is conspicuous by its absence and should stay that way. No. Excuses. If the apology is about you and all the ways that this really isn’t your fault because of “X, Y, and Z”, it’s not a real apology because it’s more about making you feel better and absolving your guilt than it is about making amends to the person you hurt, and this moment isn’t about you.

So to use one of the examples above, you can say, “You’re right, I didn’t give you the time you deserved for aftercare, and that wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry that I didn’t treat your needs as a priority. In future, I will make sure to schedule scenes with you only when we have the time to do everything and do it right, because you deserve that.” And then you stop. You don’t explain what you had to go and do instead of doing aftercare, you don’t sulk about how much aftercare is ‘enough’, you don’t keep going into self-justification or self-defense territory. You let the apology be, and you let it be sincere.

And then you stick the landing. If your apology was, “I won’t initiate anything sexual when you’re tied up,” you don’t initiate anything sexual when they’re tied up. If your apology was, “I won’t use that imagery in trance play with you,” you don’t use that imagery in trance play with them. If that apology was, “I will never bring a copy of any of the ‘Scary Movie’ movies into your household ever again unless it is for the express purposes of smashing them into dust with a sledgehammer,” you…well, you get the idea.

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t get to have needs of your own. You can say to your sub, “I didn’t realize how much of a need X was for me, and now that I do, I think that we may not be good play partners because it’s very important to me and it’s a hard limit for you.” It’s okay to recognize that what hurts some people doesn’t hurt others, and it’s better not to play with someone, if playing with them means you could repeat a mistake that hurt them. (Let’s repeat that in bold: It’s better not to play with someone than it is to repeat a mistake that hurt them.)

In the end, it is never our mistakes that define us as people. It is how we respond to those mistakes that define us. You can fix a mistake, I promise. But you have to accept it, first.

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