Submission and Codependency – A Discussion

So, I did this post last night…and I worked on it for a couple hours. I hit publish…and it disappeared. It left me with a ‘fuck you internet’ feeling, I won’t lie. Today, upon reflection, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to have to rewrite – I looked at another aspect of this, though I’m not entirely sure that it “cleared” anything up for me.

I would like to say first off, I am not a professional. I am not diagnosing or treating anyone. Nor am I advising anyone to go out and get diagnosed or treated. The only thing I know on this issue is what I’ve observed, what I’ve found on the internet and what’s been imparted to me in conversation. I’m not even sure that I’m going to convey what I want in any sort of coherent way.

This started with a conversation on Second Life. Long and short of it – a Dominant mentioned that he collared his girl because she was “unable to function” without a collar. I don’t know how extreme this “unable to function” is…but, it set off little alarms for me. Those alarms grew louder when he immediately got defensive about my statement of that being codependent and not healthy – telling me that I was being rather presumptuous. Perhaps I had been – to be honest, I don’t know either party online, much less offline. The more I thought about it, about how I’d possibly stepped out of line, the more it struck me that he didn’t even seem to question the  validity of the “judgement”. He didn’t (at least to my knowledge) even take a look at whether his girl *could* be codependent. Again, I wasn’t making a medical diagnosis – I’m not qualified to do that, by any stretch. Nor was I trying to imply that either party involved were bad people or unhealthy people on the whole; or that I didn’t think they deserved respect. But, those thoughts are not really relevant here – it also got me to thinking about codependency in a D/s relationship. I’m aware that codependency happens in all types of relationships – but, my interest is more specific.  Sir’s opinion of this (I read him the conversation, of course) is that it’s a simple case of an online Dom trying to present himself as “real” and knowing, and the submissive falling for it….again. It’s his assessment that online D/s relationships breed this kind of behavior and codependency. While I agree that it seems more prominent online, I’ve seen it occur offline as well; though I think it’s more difficult to see, mostly because people aren’t always as open offline.

Yesterday, I looked up some sites…hoping to get some clarity on the difference between submission and codependency. It seems the two are very close in nature. What I found, surprisingly, had more of a religious slant. Despite the talk of submission being to Jesus, I could see the similarities to submitting to a dominant partner.  To me, it reads as if these sites assume that if you give yourself so completely as to “live for” the relationship, you’re codependent. It’s a matter of how extreme your actions are.

Though this site is a bit to “biblical” for me, it presented the information in an easy way to understand. It also had what I was looking for, in a way. Yet, it still didn’t allow me to clearly see that line between submission and codependency. Where does one ‘end’ and the other ‘begin’? Or at what point does that become unhealthy? I thought to get the answers to that, maybe I had to have a better understanding of what codependency *is* as a whole and not in relation to D/s or online.

Those sites were helpful for me in defining codependency from a medical standpoint. That does, in fact, make it a little easier to see that line. Even so, it seems to me that a lot of submissive behaviors mimic codependent behaviors. It would be easy for a codependent person to “disguise” themselves as a submissive or even for them to believe that they are and that the relationship is healthy because they’re only doing what a submissive would do. I don’t believe submission and codependency are the same, though. I don’t think I’m codependent (though looking at some of these sites, I’ve begun to question my own motivations and behaviors), but I’m submissive. When I started writing this yesterday, I was talking about it with some online folks – two of which allowed me to quote them. I’ll call them Ms. D and Ms. C, because I promised I wouldn’t include their names on the blog. They were both very insightful and gave me more to chew on.

When I first brought it up, in answer to someone’s question on what I was looking at writing, Ms. C jumped in with:

: *puts on my counselor hat * co dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed through generations co dependency cripples a relationship and causes it to be toxic and prevents it from being mutually satisfying to both people involved in co dependency there is likely not ever a conscious choice to be co dependent
to me submission is something a person is born with traits of it ingrained into their psyche it is a submissive makes the choice to yield to a Domiant. The submissive and the Dominant both yield benefits of the relationship in most cases. There is a sense of self worth and pride in being a good submissive for the dominants you choose to serve… many co depenent people play the martyr they use their surrender as a reason to garner pity and attention they are truly as sick as the people they are co dependent to

I will admit, at first, I thought she didn’t quite get what I was trying to say. Also, I had just read the first part of what she’d said on a website and I thought “great! She’s read the same sites!” …but when I looked a little closer, I realized that she was saying something more. While I believe that codependency is a learned behavior, I also think that submission and Dominance are learned as well.  Maybe we’re born with a proclivity toward one over the other – but without learning the other side to some degree, I’m not sure we’d make it through daily life. At various points, for various reasons, many of us take control or relinquish it in the basest forms of dominance and submission. But, that’s another train of thought. What she says about a codependent person playing the martyr makes sense. I could even begin to see how a submissive could be codependent – given that one of the “traits” of a codependent person is appearing to be the one in control or having the control (isn’t that the Doms job?). Topping from the bottom could be a sign of this. Emotionally manipulating the dominant party so that decisions go your way is also another way of doing this. Not to mention simply ignoring your own needs or not speaking of them to your dominant can be ways to garner sympathy or attention of some sort.

Ms D added this to Ms C:

don’t be narrow minded…codependency can exist in a bdsm relationship just as it does in any other relationship, just because you are in the lifestyle does not null and void you from having everyday problems…it’s not a supernatural bubble…there are codependent submissives out there, ones who rely on the relationship itself to define them and give them meaning…because they are submissive they give up all their rights and feel their only purpose is to care for their dominant what he or she wants matters more than any opinion or idea that the submissive may have…they find themselves unhappy in their relationship and hide it because a submissive should have no feelings…it’s ongoing…but just because you aren’t a codependent submissive or because you don’t know one…doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

She hit the nail on the head for me. I don’t think anyone was trying to be narrow minded, though. I just wasn’t sure that what I was trying to say was coming through clearly – and Ms. D summed it up nicely for me in a way that I wasn’t. Again, I go back to codependency and submission having many of the same actions or appearances. It’s difficult to tell one from the other…or how far they blend together. It might be easier to identify online. People are anonymous online, and they express themselves more freely – so you’re more likely to hear things like “she’s not able to function without a collar” or other things as extreme as that. But, what does that truly mean? Does it mean she calls him for every decision she has to make? Is it literal? Or is it just that there are certain aspects of her life that she doesn’t want to deal with without having someone there to back her up? The collar is supposed to signify that, right? In my particular case, I have no idea…again, I don’t know either person, really. Perhaps I should have asked more defining questions. But, it seems to me that if she were able to function at one time without a collar and she can’t now, that it’s a warning sign of being codependent. If that’s the case, are you really helping her by tossing a collar on her? Is that what she needs? I’m not sure a dominant can or should make that call. I think, at that point, if there’s question…a possibility….professional help should be sought. At worst, you’ll learn she is codependent and what can be done to begin making her healthy again. At best, you’ll find out you “over reacted”….but at least now you’ll know. Or maybe at best you’ll learn about codependency and at worst you’ll learn you were wrong…either way.

Ms. C was quick to respond:

was not being codependent {narrow minded} I see co depencency as a medically diagnosed condition that is given to some toxic realtionships (from a professional point of view) not a submission where the submissive takes on more slave like tendacies and completely yields to a Dominant / Master I see that is different than co dependence I assumed since she said the research was for a paper that it was co dependency as related to the toxic stuff not complete submission where the submissive has that total slave like devotion

I made the correction in brackets – Ms. C did correct herself..but to make it clear, I felt it needed to be done. Ms. C sees a clear division between submission and codependency. Though I’m not so sure it’s that clear, I do not think that it’s the same. And I don’t think a D/s relationship is inherently toxic or codependent. A person who is that devoted though…is that submission or is it codependency? What’s the difference? I mean, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…isn’t it a duck? If someone is so devoted that they’re putting all their own needs aside for the other – isn’t that codependency? They might be happy doing it…but, is that the defining factor? Is that the difference then?

It’s not always unhealthy to be in a codependent BDSM relationship, sometimes it’s exactly what each person needs and it can work quite well if the Dominant of the relationship is aware that they have a codependent submissive on their hands and they are a responsible dominant they will know how to handle it to see that their submissives needs are met without them having to express it, because this type of submissive has a hard time expressing their wants and needs…a codependent submissive exists with or without a relationship, it’s healthier for them to be in a relationship because then they feel like they are in their rightful place, to be left hanging and needing that sense of self worth can be horrible  (Ms. D)

I’m not entirely sure I agree with this….just because it works well doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  I have a hard time expressing my needs or wants – but, I don’t think that qualifies me as codependent. It seems, from what I’ve been seeing and reading, that it’s a complete inability or unwillingness to express those needs and wants. An unwillingness stemming from a desire to control or be the martyr. Although, I do agree that a codependent submissive exists with or without a relationship, I’m not sure a relationship – a D/s relationship, in particular – is helpful or healthy for them. If they have that relationship already, where is the desire or ability to become healthy again? Perhaps if they’re already on that road a relationship can be good for them or good for the dominant. But, I do agree that being left hanging and needing that sense of worth can be horrible – but as with any healing, it only begins (generally) when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel so to speak.

Being a counselor I cant get past seeing co dependency as a bad thing…. submission even that deep submission where the people involved are so intensively into it that the submissive is deeply involved in her Dominant to the point that like demon her happiness is dependent on pleasing him no matter her own thoughts or opinions is no where near bad like co dependency because in the end even the slave where they give their all to the one who owns them gets something beneficial out of said relationship and they make a conscious to give themselves so completely to that dominant it was not a subcounscious behavior that is detrimental to their health if that makes sense but then again that is just my opinion based on my profession (Ms. C)

Submission is a form of a relationship…………. codependency exists in a relationship albeit an unhealthy one so yes it can and does exist but I do not see all submissive relationships as codependent is what I was trying to say earlier hon (Ms. C)

Like Ms. C, I’m having a difficult time getting around the idea that codependency is a bad thing. I’m not sure any good can come from having a codependent relationship. I understand finding self-worth in being a submissive and how you please your dominant partner. However, to the point that your own thoughts and opinions don’t matter? That doesn’t sound like giving yourself value ..or that you are held with value, if that makes sense. Not that a submissive’s word should be the final decision – but shouldn’t there be some value to what they say and think? How do you find self worth if your thoughts or opinions hold no value, even to yourself? Or am I reading that wrong? Even in a codependent relationship, both parties get something out of it…it’s just an unhealthy way of getting that something. I agree that submitting to someone is a conscious choice.

Again, I don’t think that D/s relationships are inherently more codependent than any other relationship. I don’t think submissives are inherently codependent. I think, though, that the line is blurred – sometimes too much. I think that the appeal to a codependent person is strong…. there’s this storybook quality about the lifestyle sometimes. It isn’t a storybook, I know – but until you get in there and really see what it is, it’s like this big magical fairy tale fantasy (including whips and chains). For someone who isn’t able to function without “giving themselves” that completely, I can see the draw. And I can see where that unhealthy aspect would be missed or “overlooked” – sometimes it almost seems that it’s an expectation for a submissive not to be able to function properly on their own, that there’s an all encompassing need for a dominant to take control. I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy.

Where is that line? What separates a submissive from a codependent person? I don’t have the answers. But, it seems that it’s a combination of things – submitting to someone to control them and garner sympathy from others (the “rescue me” syndrome), doing so at a cost to your own needs, an inability or unwillingness to express those needs, an inability to find self-worth without a dominant partner or a relationship…all of these things combined seem to be a conduit to codependency.

What are your thoughts or experiences?



2 thoughts on “Submission and Codependency – A Discussion

  1. My Dom and i were just talking about this on the way home from the store this morning. We messed around last night, and something had happened that i did not like. It was something very painful. He said i was being punished for forgetting to ask for my release. It happened twice during the our “time” together. Ok, so the first time, yes i honestly forgot to ask His permission. I mean no excuses –we have older kids together and we can’t talk about or preform sexual situations often. Plus, I’ve been pregnant back to back for the last 2 years, and i prefer a very vanilla relationship while i am with child– but yes, the protocols were not yet discussed “this time around”. The second time i did not ask for my release, was out of my control… it just happened (there was no suspense or build up… no hint or clue an orgasm was about to happen). So after my second release (immediately after) He made sure my “bottom” was in pain.

    Back to this a.m., we were talking about each other’s expectations on the ride home, and i told Him that extreme pain is not my cup of tea. I said i am not completely opposed to it, but it’s almost like i need practice, tolerance, and a resistance built up in order for pain to be enjoyable for me. However, the act of being unable to control the situation and the humiliation it brings, does in fact turn me on. i explained to Him that i truly and deeply desire making Him happy, and if i could be his muse, His doorway to that sadistic fetish He has than so be it, i am at his disposal.

    Well i believe that this extreme devotion i was describing made me appear completely co-dependant, so i said to Him, “i undestand i am a little co-dependant, but i just want to make you happy”. To which He replaied “A little co-depandant?! you are so far up my ass i can’t even go to the bathroom in peace.” Well, *surprisingly this made me feel like complete shit. (*sarcasm)

    i am here today scouring the net, to try and figure out if i am co-dependent, and see if i am taking our relationship to an unhealthy level. i am doubting myself and it feels like i am shaming myself for having these strong desires to help my partner be happy and satisfied. i just want to know am i normal? or do i need help? i can function without my Dom no questions asked… but i have no desire to do so. i might be a little bit obsessed, but that’s because He is a safe, strong, respectful, and responsible man who deserves nothing less than my complete and entire submission every minute of the day.

    When He is at work, i can run this household and the 5 children living inside it. i enforce rules and handle discipline, i give chores, and do my own chores as well (thank you Sir). i’ve had to work two jobs in the past when he got into his vehicle accident. Does that make me NOT co-dependent? i feel more motivated to accomplish a task if he directs me to do it, rather than doing it for myself. i.e. clean the house, laundry, cook, etc. Does that make me co-dependent? Is it wrong to want to follow Him around like a lost little pet? To be there every minute to make sure His needs are met? i am hearing him say i am too obsessive and too radical… can anyone please share T/their opinion?

    1. I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t by any means give you the clinical definition of co-dependency or diagnose whether it’s healthy for your relationship or not. But, if he feels you are too obsessed or co dependent and it’s not making him happy, wouldn’t back off be a good idea? I mean, I don’t know. I, too, feel better when I’m directed to do something – even when I know it needs to be done. I prefer it when my Master says “I want X, Y, Z done.” Sometimes even when he gives me a time limit (something like “by the time I get home from work”). I think, ultimately, it’s all about finding a balance that works for you and your relationship.

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