17 May, 2007

It's all in the context

My mother always used to say that parents who said "This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you" were doing it all wrong. She believed that the child was the one who should be "hurt" by a punishment. Mostly, it was a joke. But there was an element of truth to that in her approach.

But I've seen a different way of doing things since W. and I have been using "discipline" in our relationship. It's not that W. should be in greater physical pain after a punishment (although there has been the occasional mishap), but that part of the power of the punishment comes through the knowledge that she really does not enjoy doing it, and is only doing it in order to help me. I can see the emotional pain she experiences, and that, nearly as much as the discomfort of a spanking, helps to reinforce the lesson.

I posted at Jigsaw Analogy about a memory of a particular punishment from when I was a child. W. was disturbed by it, because the implement my mother used was one that W. and I sometimes use as well (although, come to think of it, not during punishments). But, for me, the context is far more important. W.'s goal is not to cause pain without consideration for my emotional state. She is careful not to hurt me (aside from the "hurt" caused by the specific punishment). She pays attention to me, and throughout a spanking, whether punishment or play, it is entirely clear to me that she loves me, cares for me, and will protect me as well as she is able to protect me. Even if I don't enjoy a punishment from her, I feel entirely safe. I am not afraid she will lose control and hurt me more than I am able to handle.

I think that, in a lot of ways, discipline in our relationship is helping to re-write my childhood experiences. It is allowing me some space to not have to imagine millions of rules, and follow each and every one of them, in order to stay safe. It is allowing me (and, even more to the point, my younger parts) to understand that adults can set and enforce consistent limits, and that it can feel safe and grounding to have these limits set out explicitly.

Discipline, on W.'s part, is very much an act of love. She does not hit me in anger, or because she feels like I am out of her control. She doesn't hit me to make me afraid, to make me feel guilty, to make me be obedient. She spanks me, or provides other discipline, so that I can feel more secure and so that I can know someone else is helping me to maintain limits. She also spanks me, on occasion, so that I can find a way to let go of what one of my little part calls the "mad bad angry feelings." Whether or not it would be a reccommended therapeutic technique, a spanking can clear the air; it will help me to release the tangled feelings inside, in a way that nothing else can manage so satisfactorily. Perhaps it's the release of endorphins, perhaps it's the sense of being cared for as I release the feelings. Whatever the reason, a spanking can help immensely when I am unable to relax my control over my emotions in a different way.

Mija posted at The Punishment Book about finding your "someone." I've been thinking about that process, and remembering how fortunate I am to have W. Neither of us is perfect, and we didn't come into the relationship with perfectly matched desires. But I've found that the love we have is enough to keep us working through our differences, and finding ways to meet each others' needs.

W. is my "someone," and I wish I knew how we managed to find each other. I'd hesitate to say it was fate, although there was an element of that. I wouldn't say it was out of being willing to settle, because in so many ways, we had each adjusted to being single, and were willing to accept that we would continue being single for the foreseeable future. Neither of us, I think, was especially desperate for a partner. But when we met, we were ready for each other. We were able to talk about what we wanted in a relationship from the beginning, and we were able to trust each other enough to be vulnerable. It helped. Sometimes, it felt like diving off a cliff and hoping there would be water in the lake below, but it has been worth it.

Finding your "someone," I think, takes a lot of time. There is no perfect match, already made, waiting out there in the world for you. Instead, there are a lot of people who are compatible in some ways, but not in others, with whom you can build a relationship. Years down the road, you may find that, hey!, this person really is quite perfect, and I have exactly what I hoped for. But it takes trust.

If I were giving someone advice on a new partnership, I'd say, "Share yourself; let them know what you want, trust them with your secrets." Perhaps not all your secrets at once, but give them enough of yourself so they will be able to see where the other parts are coming from when you are able to share those as well.