For some years, I studied how to live more in contact with nature. It was a childhood dream to see how the deep Swedish woods shed its skin through the changing seasons. During wilderness training weekend courses, I learnt to survive off beaver fat, tiny fishes, and leafy greens. Held by the wild nature, we would come together as a tribe around the smoky fire. Our teacher often described our tribe as being like one large organism, with each person acting like different parts of this one, large ‘body’. One person could hike tirelessly through the wild, so they were like the long legs. Another had a warm, embracing presence that felt so comforting when gathering firewood in the cold rain, so they were like the generous, beating heart. I was the happy belly as I made delicious food out of almost nothing. This man of the wild taught us how to be communal. One night, while sharing stories, songs and jokes around the fire, he sat down close next to me and asked in a serious voice:
Isn’t Sadomasochism Just a Club for Selfish Narcissists and Self-Sacrificing Codependents?
First, let’s unpack the question – being codependent is overstepping one’s boundaries to serve another, for example, a self-obsessed narcissist. To an outsider, it may look like the dominant is the narcissist enforcing their will onto an obedient submissive. But the concept is equally applicable the other way around when a narcissistic submissive attracts a codependent dominant that craves to give their undivided attention to the experience of another; the submissive craves to the point of suffering for the recognition of their dominant. Narcissism and codependency create a powerful polarity that can generate a lot of arousal, excitement and stress. Physiologically these states are very similar.
But is this healthy? The boring answer could be a simple yes; if there are two consenting adults, anything is okay. Consent is, after all, the difference between sadomasochism and abuse, but I want to dig deeper. A line of thinking that is functional for me is to see these sadomasochistic plays as a roleplay. Inside, one can learn about their narcissistic and codependent tendencies because I believe we all have them to some degree. But there is a danger that behaviours in the play ‘bleed’ out into other aspects of life. For example, if the dominant demands that a submissive serve them and submit their will outside the play. Or if a submissive keeps demanding the undivided attention of the dominant after they return to being equal again. The bleed is often unconscious, and a way to avoid it is to clearly define the frame for your sadomasochistic play. The benefit of exploring one’s narcissistic and codependent tendencies is that one can hopefully avoid them in other aspects of our lives – this is when sadomasochistic and esoteric eroticism become profoundly transformative.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”
Polarity Dissolving Overtime, Slowly Melting Away
In my experience, a polarity, like narcissism and codependency, often loses its power over time. Using Jung’s language, once you have seen and understood a part of your darkness, it transforms into light. It can happen in-between two people, but also in-between a person and a particular fantasy altogether. It’s possible to get stuck and almost addicted to a specific part of one’s shadow – this can be a way to consciously or unconsciously keep the polarity as a catalysator for arousal and excitement. It is also possible that one didn’t yet encounter the subject’s core and is not ready to let it go.
I remember a play partner and our investigation into physical suffering on what we called Sadistic Tuesdays. To this day, our explorations together have been among the most brutal I’ve ever experienced. For example, she would orgasm over and over while hanging upside-down in one leg and getting marked with a harsh single-tail whip. She was never a helpless victim but oh so empowered. Outside our play, she had a high-stress/reward job, literally being responsible for the lives of others, and a passion for endurance sports. Sadomasochism was her escape that brought her balance. But the stress from her job escalated, so she burnt out, got put on sick leave, and our play slowed down. We often talked about continuing our exploration once she recovered. We both missed the intensity. Eventually, she returned to her work and our play. Half a year passed, and she burnt out again, so we slowed down again. But she never returned to her job; instead, she started studying art. Her life shifted, and the longing for another Sadistic Tuesday never returned. She is still queer, deviant and adventurous, but it’s as if this polarity was discharged.
A Parody of Reality
But there is also an entirely different perspective – that our conscious darkness isn’t reality but rather a parody of the greater darkness in our world. So roleplaying the narcissist and the codependent becomes a rebellion against a capitalistic society. Similar to Theatre of the Absurd that emerged from post-World War II Europe to investigate the evils of humanity. Or all the gruesome horror movies in the wake of the Vietnam War. And making this parody becomes a way to understand and reclaim ownership of one’s darkness.
In a meeting with a new play partner, I find it interesting to see if my role will be more narcissistic or codependent. When I’m codependent, I find myself deeply fascinated by my partner’s journey. When I’m narcissistic, I tend to focus more on my physical pleasure, which requires much more trust as a dominant to allow myself to be that selfish. During my time in the dark winter woods, I never felt much interest in narcissism, codependency, or sadomasochism. I think it is because I didn’t focus on myself but on my tribe and our simple life. This confirms my old belief that an attraction to sadomasochism can be understood as a rational reaction in an attempt to counterbalance an ego-centred society as it offers the wisdom of some possibly ancient esoteric rituals.