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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Stockholm syndrome and the non-existent subject

When a powerful event or series of events is enacted on a person by another it creates a bond between them, this occurs whether the actions are extremely pleasant or unpleasant. A sympathetic connection is assumed in the case of the former but can also result from the latter. Stockholm syndrome refers directly to abductees who develop a positive emotional connection to their abducters, however it has also been used to describe symptoms of abuse victims. I am extremely wary of considering BDSM in this light because in roleplay although the activity does not feel consensual both parties know that it is. In fact, I would argue that although the idea of Stockholm syndrome is an interesting and fun one to play with the effects can only ever be simulated.

Let's assume that two people agree to participate in a torture scenario.
They know each other well but are not close and have discussed up-front what is acceptable. In all aspects, the game is sane, safe and consensual. The subject is genuinely hurt during the scene, although not beyond the bounds of what was agreed, and the perpetrator is the source and creator of this pain. The violence is as real as the consent. Afterwards, their relationship is altered as a direct result of this shared experience and it is not unreasonable (assuming everything went well) that they both develop an emotional connection of some sort to each other, even if it's just a secret smile when thinking about the other person in that scene.

Stockholm syndrome is sometimes explained as a defensive method for the traumatised self. The weaker personality will strive to be closer to and identify with the stronger one in order to create bonds of intimacy for protection. In the case of the submissive I would argue that whilst the closeness and intimacy does exist, it does not stem from a desire to identify with the Dominant. Rather, the submissive attempts to be complementary to the Dominant through their difference: they do not seek to be like them, but to respond to them in an attractive and desirable fashion. The tighter the bonds, the stronger you are being held.

Given that at all times, no matter how real it feels, the torture is always known to be consensual it can be argued that both parties are complicit in the violence. Certainly outside of the scene, at the point of negotiation, they are both perpetrators and the subject is entirely conceptual and does not exist. Once the scene is over, they both return to being of equal status. The subject is only present, physically and mentally, within the scene, and whilst in that moment they are still as much perpetrator as subject because
at all times they could safeword and stop the scene. Because the subject is always absent at any point when the violence is not taking place, and only ever present when it is they are tied intricately to the act of violence and when it stops, so do they. The subject, as a singular and pure thing in and of itself, does not exist. There will always be an element of perpetrator.

In this way, the submissive is never able to form an Stockholm-like identification with the Dominant. Outside of the scene, they are not in the position of the subject, and even when within it, they still have control. In many respects the identification process cannot occur because it already exists: the negotiation and mutual agreement of the content of the scene has forged this beforehand.

emotional bond that was noted in the example, is perhaps more a result of the impact of the physical activity on both parties, rather than any type of pychological identification born of that physicality. The rush of adrenaline, pain and pleasure are reasons enough to create an attachment. The bond will form on both sides with no real mental damage occuring. Whilst BDSM may ape Stockholm syndrome it thankfully does not truly recreate it.