You Want Reactions? (Part 2)

Batman toy holding up Joker-in-a-box
Image by JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)

Part 1 of this post reported on the second-most common complaint from tops, “Give me real reactions, dammit!”

On behalf of all of us down here, I protested that we are good boys and girls and we are (mostly) not doing it on purpose. According to a kinky friend who wrangles minds for a living, what I was describing sounds more like dissociation.

So I nodded sagely back at her and asked, “What can we do about it?”

  1. Mindfulness Is All
  2. Make Me Feel Safe
  3. Try Something Else

Edited to add: These half-measures are not going to work for someone who is experiencing extreme dissociation, e.g. panic attack or catatonia. They just need the scene to TERMINATE, whether or not they are capable of safewording. Thank you to Ginger Nic of Switch Studies for pointing this out in her comment below.

1. Mindfulness Is All

Faced with my cry from the heart, my friendly neighbourhood mind-wrangler responded by assuming an air of gnomic beatitude and intoning, “Mindfulness.” Then she dissolved into giggles because she knew I would react to that.

Groan. Groan groan GROAN. I swear this is the exact same answer I get from her every bloody time I ask for advice. First it was for chronic pain. Then it was ADD. And now kink? Next time I’ll ask about interior decoration and take bets.

But in the case of dissociation, it does make sense. Mindfulness is about improving awareness of your own body and mind via meditative techniques. (And more.) If you want to be present for some of the most stressful moments of your life, it does make sense to practise first.

And strangely enough, getting into a scene really is sort of like meditating. Like so. (Thanks, Little Guide to Getting Tied Up!)

  • Focus on your partner. Gaze adoringly into their eyes, or the next best body part. Even if they’re not gazing back.
  • Or focus on your own body. If you’re getting pain/sensation from the top, try to be open to it. Let it take over your world.
  • Check in with yourself. Is this how you want to be feeling? (This one applies before, during and after the scene.)

Don’t try them all at the same time! Now that’s a good way of getting distracted.

If you’re lucky, the top will remind you to do these things. Or make you aware of your own reactions: “Did you know you’re trembling?” Or “I like that high-pitched sound you make. That one.” But it’s nice to know how to do it yourself.

I think it also helps to remember that it’s not our job to enjoy what is happening. Our mission is simply to experience it. But really experience it.

And if something is getting in the way of that, we can do something about it. If you realise you’re scared or distracted: “Sir, I keep worrying about marks, but I don’t want to stop.” (Thanks, Little Guide to Getting Tied Up!) Or if you’re bored or angry: “Ma’am, I’m losing the headspace. Could you help me?” (Thanks, PlaySpace!)

Because I do think the top can help a lot. See below.

2. Make Me Feel Safe

Personally, when I dissociate from the pain or exposure, my most immediate desire is for the top to say, “Put your clothes back on. We’re stopping for now.”

I fully concede that this is not the most intuitive way to get whimpers and tears. If I were a top, I’d probably try to crack that stoicism by hitting harder. And here I am suggesting that you put the strap down?

But it makes complete sense from down here. Dissociation is a defence mechanism against stress and danger. The direct solution is security and relaxation.

I do realise it’s hard to figure out whether to whack harder or let up. In my case, “not enough” and “TOO MUCH!” both look like bland indifference. How can you tell them apart?

You can’t tell. But you can ask. It doesn’t have to sound un-domly if you both know that you get to decide what to do with the information.

And there’s more than one way to help the bottom feel safe enough to react. Privacy helps me, but someone else might only be able to relax with witnesses around. Or sometimes it’s enough to simply reassure us that it’s okay to let go and make noises. (Thanks, PlaySpace!)

Yes, occasionally you’ll have to shut down all the way and reboot, but it’s actually pretty rare. Dialling it back, cuddling or breaks will usually be enough – even without the addition of clothes.

3. Try Something Else

My gnomic and mirthful mind-wrangler approved of my suggestion above. But then she asked, “What did Mr Gasp Shake Thank You do when you stopped reacting?”

Blink. “Well, first he kept whacking me. Then he tried hitting not so hard in the same place. Then he hit me somewhere else. And actually, that was enough.” I thought harder. “Come to think of it, he got out the cane when I stopped reacting to the interrogation, too. I was so sure it wouldn’t work, but it did.”

I still don’t know why it works. Maybe all the fear is concentrated on one thing and you can trick the mind if you switch to something that previously felt safe?

My kinky mind-wrangler approved of this strategy, too. She said exactly the same thing as the doms at PlaySpace: “That’s a good rule of thumb. If it’s not working, try something different.”

I would never have come up with this one myself, nor would I have believed that it would work. But given the proof upon my own body, it is my absolute favourite.

Let me be honest. It’s not because it is time-efficient. It’s because the sub doesn’t even have to know it’s happening.

And then maybe you can trick us again by coming back to the scary activity later?


So there you have it. Everything I know about the Road to Interesting Noises. Or should I say Being Present and Attentive for Your Own Torment and Subjugation?

  1. Mind-wrangler says: Mindfulness Is All
  2. Sub says: Make Me Feel Safe
  3. Doms say: Try Something Else

I think our roles are showing, don’t you?

Major caveats: My experience is woefully limited. And I have a long, long way to go in terms of putting all of this into practice.

So I would really love to hear what you think. What works for you?

8 thoughts on “You Want Reactions? (Part 2)”

  1. A post so good it hasn’t had any comments yet, which surprises me. But there’s not much to say except, “good suggestions, and I agree.”

    So: those are good suggestions, and I agree. Though “making the sub feel safe” isn’t just a thought from submissives. Doms tend to think that’s a good idea too.

  2. Feel kind of safe. A bit safe. Theoretically :)
    The analogy I go with is a roller coaster ride.

    You have an idea of the likely safety of the ride. You don’t go on the Dodgy Brothers’ Rusty Circus Clippon Centrifugal Circles of Death, awesome though that sounds. You pick something that looks promising but also reliable, and merely scary rather than rationally terrifying.

    Buying the ticket is consenting to be on the ride. Once it’s going you might wish it didn’t go so high, and take that corner so fast, and OMG am I really going to be loop the looped? But while you’re scared, you can remind yourself, when you need, of the things can keep you safe.

    (Ok, bdsm is safer than roller coasters, because roller coasters mostly don’t stop when you safe-word. It’s just an analogy.)

    Then you get out, shaken but feeling good.

    The roller coaster people want you to be scared, because that’s fun/hot, and they also want you to be able to access the knowledge that you’re safe when you need that.

    Otherwise they’d only sell one ticket per customer per lifetime, and that’s no good. They want and need people to want to come back.

    1. Yes! This takes me back to the day I mentioned to my brother that I’m an emotional masochist. He looked so worried, and in my effort to reassure him I hit on the exact same analogy. I reminded him that my father and I hate roller-coasters and that’s why we look so calm when we’re riding them, because we don’t trust them and we don’t give in to the experience. Whereas everyone else in the family is screaming joyfully. His worried look cleared up like magic.

      I’ve always thought I should write a blog post about that, but maybe you can do it for me? :)

  3. I’d avoided commenting because my gut reaction to the word dissociation is so strong. Dissociative states happen during panic attacks sometimes. I’m not present to the experience, won’t have any memory of it afterwards. It is pure, helpless terror to come back from that and know I’ll never be completely sure of what happened.

    So if I were to dissociate in a scene, it would mean the scene had gone catastrophically, irredeemably wrong. Not “try something different,” not “I need to practice mindfulness,” but “red, stop, no more.” Except I wouldn’t necessarily be able to say that (if a top can’t interpret a panic attack as a stop sign, they’ve got serious issues).

    For me as a bottom, a good scene brings me more into myself and into connection with the top. There’s laughing and screaming and banter and NOISE. We’re both/(all) constantly moving. When I top, I look for the same. The feedback, the sense that I’m not using an object but playing a part with another active, engaged person. I’ve heard several reasons for lack of reactions (you’re the first to mention dissociation): “Showing pain is weakness.” “I want/deserve to be used/objectified; participation reduces that fantasy.” “I’m afraid you will be offended by reactions.” “I’m afraid of being mocked for reactions.” These seem to show a bottom who’s looking for something completely different in a scene than I am, and whom I can’t understand during play. Means they’re someone I shouldn’t be playing with; we’re both going to walk away dissatisfied.

    But again, that’s personal. Just something to be mindful of, that being on the same page as your partner will enhance all the things.

    1. Argh. I definitely should have mentioned that what I’m talking about is a VERY mild form of dissociation. Of course you are right, people who experience full-blown panic attacks or catatonia don’t need these suggestions, they need to STOP. I’m going to add a note to that effect now – thank you for pointing it out.

      “I want/deserve to be used/objectified; participation reduces that fantasy.”

      This is intriguing. I suppose reaction is a form of participation which objects are not capable of, but I would never have thought of it that way. Thank you.

What do you think?