BDSM: A Bridge to Soothing Trauma

There are times in my life that I am overcome by a compulsive need to do something ‘bad’…to make bad choices and to harm myself in ways that range from the physical to the emotional. On one end, the calmer side, the compulsion seems born of spite for myself and luckily the damage is minimal. Perhaps I won’t drink enough water or I’ll eat until I’m sick…or I’ll look up an ex and glance at what they are doing in their lives. This type of harm and compulsive need is relatively easy for me to fight…and I’ll begrudgingly drink the water, put the fork down, and go for a walk.

But on the other end, the extremely damaging end, the compulsion feels like an addiction. It overcomes me, clouding my mind and physically impacting my body. I’ll shake. I won’t be able to focus on anything but the urge to do something bad. The drive to harm myself isn’t suicidal…it is a psychological need where I can’t logic my way back to safety. Perhaps I’ll ride the motorcycle way too fast, or I’ll get chased down the streets of Prague at 2 am, or I’ll be dragged out of a bar in Mexico late at night when I’m surrounded by a bunch of men. Death might be a side effect, but it isn’t the drive.

I have lost that end of the spectrum’s fight with myself many times…I honestly don’t know how I haven’t been murdered. Perhaps the goodness of most people protects me from the brokenness in me. I haven’t always escaped completely unscathed… I have been raped. I’ve ended up in the hospital bloodied.

I need to understand this need to put myself in harm’s way. Is it because I grew up in a house where I wasn’t safe so that level of fear is what is comfortable to me? Is it because of Afghanistan and the constant closeness of death? Or perhaps it’s something more exposing of my shadow self? A victim gets attention; perhaps I want attention….as some sort of outcry of my inner child who just wants someone to care. What a twisted manifestation of a cry for attention, no? Just as some people’s identities seem wrapped around their illnesses, perhaps constantly becoming victimized has become an identity I haven’t learned to outrun. “I am hurting…please care for me.”

But that doesn’t explain the psychology behind why I become so physically overwhelmed with these bad desires. Some people have said, “Just don’t do it. You know it’s bad. How hard is it to just choose a different way?” Luckily my therapist did NOT say that…I just told him how overwhelmed I would get in these moments; moments I couldn’t predict and I couldn’t stop.

One of the most harming things I can do to myself is reach out to certain individuals I am drawn to, who manipulate and control me in ways that don’t make sense. If I know someone will abuse me, play psychological games, and cause complete mental (and sometimes physical) destruction, why would I run to them?

And this is where I come into a harder topic to discuss: how past trauma could possibly draw me to a BDSM lifestyle.

The vehemence with which people in the lifestyle deny it stems from child abuse and trauma makes me at odds with a majority of the kink lifestyle followers. This isn’t to say that all people who like getting choked were emotionally neglected by their parents, but I cannot separate my traumas from my drive towards being sexually submissive. And I think that BDSM has helped me navigate these horrific drives to harm myself psychologically. If I am dominated by someone who respects and cares for me, then I won’t end up roofied in the hospital (again).

The people I’ve discussed this with who are in the lifestyle too have been mortified that I would suggest trauma plants the seed of deviant sexual expression. Perhaps they aren’t willing to look inside themselves to see why they could possibly like a certain way of expressing themselves, because that kind of self-reflection can unravel your life (and your relationship with sex).

My therapist looked incredulous when I told him how I had been ridiculed by BDSM lifestylers for seeing the link within myself. Of course my experience is strictly anecdotal but Dave agreed, “Well, yeah, of course they are linked.” He was shocked that others would explicitly deny it for themselves. No one likes to admit they are troubled or broken, especially if that realization might shatter their enjoyment of an activity that gives them relief from their trauma.

BDSM is safe, it is respectful(ly disrespectful), and it is one of the most relieving outlets during times of my need to harm myself…if it is done by someone respectful and worthy and who truly cares about me. I see a pattern of running to BDSM to prevent actual damage. As I have been healing from my trauma, making better choices and putting time between my compulsions and my actions, my relationship with sex has changed. There aren’t as many times when I am compelled to do harm to myself in truly dangerous situations. My choices are better…but sometimes that compulsion for real harm is there. But every time I pause and make a better choice, it gets a little easier to break old paradigms, and I get 1% better.