This is a guest post by Mistress Steel. It was part of her Steel's Chamber Scrolls which is now defunct. Shared with Permission.
Sometimes it seems that people want and need the security they feel by putting rules in writing. Contracts, restrictions, regulations. Each of these is a way of limiting the free expression of ourselves and others. This is how we control societies. We have lots of reasons why such rules are healthy, necessary and even promote the good of all. The truth is that these 'rules' do not truly exist. They are simply an agreement between two or more people to abide within certain constraints for a given length of time. What we believe to be healthy, necessary and good are individual perceptions based on our culture of origin, our environment, our life experiences and our personal desires.
In situations of extreme events these well crafted limitations disappear. Especially if your fundamental belief in their worth is not sincere. It is quite easy to 'mouth' the words of acceptable, common social behavior while internally you carry belief's that are at odds with them. In addition we generally learn to trot out what we believe another person desires to hear IF we wish to manipulate that person into a situation that is of benefit or desirous to ourselves. The capacity to lie, cheat, steal, injure, damage and destroy are all part of our human nature. In a sense we will or may take the actions we believe will attain our desired goal.
The only true limitations are those fundamental values that you carry at your core. The inviolate lines that you will not cross for to do so you believe would compromise who you believe yourself to be. That final line in the sand.
Some people enter the BDSM world and immediately collect a nice assortment of rules. They exchange the rules of the vanilla world eagerly for these new rules and become 'rule enforcement' persons, strongly vocal about why such rules are needed by everyone. If you do not conform to these rules then you should be shunned and ostracized. Rules make us comfortable. Rules make us feel safer. Rules suggest structure, reasons, rational justifications. Rules are false. Rules are fabrications designed to control uncontrollable things.
If you are truly exploring the potentials of yourself then one of the first things that you have discovered is the simple fact that you probably know little or nothing about yourself. In many ways you are untested. You have never engaged in a battle to see if you would fold or fall, when or where. The cautious part of you fears such a testing, the adventuresome side relishes the concept, the challenge.
The collection of rules and limits is your cautious side setting up the 'rules' of the game. It is a way to pre-control the boundaries in which this exploratory game will be played. If you trust too much in the value or worth of these limits then you set yourself up for potential problems. There is the person inside who we 'want to be' and the person inside 'who we are'. They are seldom the same. In many ways we tend to avoid looking at who we are in favor of who we wish to present to the world. In this way we can buy into a grouping of limits that are not truly ours. It makes us acceptable to others to offer acceptable limits to maintain the illusion of our 'normalcy' among our new peers. The problem is that this is a veil. Behind that veil we hide.
The unexplored limit has as much real substance as cobwebs in the corner of the room. It is essentially an 'idea' of a boundary. Limits identify unsafe areas. Things that make us uncomfortable, embarrassed, terrified, disgusted, repulsed and excited. Within everything a contradiction exists. Things that horrify us the most often enthrall us the most as well. An example might be the fascination we feel on observing a horrendous accident, especially when someone dies in a gruesome way. There is something exciting in the testing of our horror, to be suddenly exposed to violence or terror. In that excruciating moment we are truly alive. We feel our blood. Taste our superstitious fears. Our primal nature wakens. We hunt longing to tear at those we fear, longing to tear at fear itself.
You might say that identified 'limits' area's reveal area's of the strongest emotional responses. Within those responses lay our own self hatred and repulsion. To participate in some of the practices would leave us morally bankrupt or without any respect for ourselves as human's, this we fundamentally know, we also know that a part of us carries some subtle hunger to cross that line. In some ways we may seek to punish these unacceptable desires through discipline practices to rid us of this self-knowledge of our own failure to measure up to the standards and rules of the society we live in a failure to live up to our own personal ideals. Accepting our whole truth and then creating boundaries on how far we may actively seek to explore those area's is something we should or must do to retain our sanity.
When talking about limits I try to express to people that they should actively avoid anything which may damage their ego, morality or fundamental image of themselves. For me that line is the non-consensual violation or usage of any living being or creature. For me all animal's and children fall into this category. In addition I have a personal revulsion for those who violate the sanctity of the dead. This is my personal line in the sand.
Over the course of my life I have found that I have the capacity to explore far beyond what I considered a limit in virtually all area's. When I adapted mentally or conceptually to the 'idea' within something my mind in some way found the way to 'solve' the handling of that 'idea'. I do not believe that I am in any way unique in this. I do believe that in the beginning I knew little and understood less. To learn I had to touch, taste, feel and experience. Otherwise, I was only making assumptions about what I thought I felt or knew. In addition I have found myself to be in constant evolution. Things I enjoyed 20 years ago, I may have no interest in today. Limits, desires, wishes have all shifted, altered and changed.
Within a D/s relationship only one person's limits actually count. That is the person in power. This is the Dominant. A submissive should realize that s/he lives within the barrier or inviolate limits of the Dominant they choose to be with. Many Dominant's try to adapt to the brandished 'listing of limits' that a submissive will carry around with them. They attempt to sincerely promise not to cross those lines. However, in an intense scene a Dominant can experience the 'removal' of this promise. If their personal limits do not align with the submissive they can easily move past the 'promise' and may do things with and to the submissive that are well beyond the pre-scene consent. There is a line where the mind can cross to see only their true rules.
A new Dominant is especially vulnerable to this 'failure of control'. S/he suffers from the same issue as the submissive - unknown limits. A more experienced Dominant can often identify the sensations of euphoria as being extremely dangerous and when noted can and will exit that aspect of the scene often reducing the overall intensity considerably until they are able to re-center or regain control. In general terms most Dominant's, after going through several years of experience's, become quite graphic or blunt about the nature of their interests. It becomes incumbent upon any submissive interacting with them to listen very carefully and hear what that Dominant is telling them. If a Dominant has found their true limits or edges to be very extreme, they will often tell the submissive that. It is imperative for the submissive to truly hear what that extreme edge can or may mean.
The alignment of core limits is the only true safety that can adequately protect the Dominant and the submissive. A Dominant does not desire to violate another person's limits or rights. Nor does a Dominant wish to restrain their true capacity in an effort to be with someone. As much as a submissive want's to be free to express themselves completely, so does a Dominant. Be careful who you select, take the time to get to know the person. Go slow in scening. Leave before you injure. Do not place your trust in untested limits!
BEYOND LIMITS (Response)
>> Although it may be true that the *power* at that point lies with the Dominant... the very *reason* such power is *given* to the Dominant is that trust has been established and the submissive knows that she/he will be protected by the Dominant rather than preyed upon... and that limits *will* be respected. If one finds him/herself with a partner who ignores limits... he/she is with a criminal not a Dominant.
I wish this were true - however quite often a submissive gives over initial consent to an 'unknown' Dominant. They have a faith or belief that the dominant they have chosen will respect their identified limits but at the same moment that submissive also has an expectation that the same Dominant will press those limits. Trust is established over time and consistent long term actions. Many new or non-experienced Dominant's feel a 'pressure to perform' to the expectation's of a submissive. Many submissives in-scene 'in subspace' vocally encourage or beg their Dominant to do more or go further. A new Dominant may believe this to be open consent and proceed. After scene the submissive may then turn on the Dominant and tell them emphatically that they non-consensually violated their limits. In addition many things can trigger a state of euphoria or extreme excitement which can allow even a great Dominant to do things they wouldn't normally do. An example of this is public sceneing where actions of the 'audience' propel a person into 'performing' for others rather than sole-scening their submissive. I have witnessed on several occasions where a crowd has actively yelled for more when a sub was screaming their safeword and the Dominant did more.
If you are a new Dominant you cannot truly know how you will react or respond to differing situations or stimuli. Being able to identify moments of competence diminishment is sometimes only gained through the painful experience of doing things wrong. In addition, insecurity in what you do, how and where is quite prevalent. If you are new to scening then you may not wish to look inept and you may erroneously attempt to 'measure up' to the actions of those you see around you. This insecurity is strongest in the presence of your submissive. Creation of role and delivery of expectation coupled to your own untested limits can and do create nightmare situations. A Dominant does not wish to appear 'weak', 'soft', or 'unfamiliar with what to do' especially before their new submissive. Some elect to 'go at it' feeling they will learn as they do it. The process of truly identifying limits takes real time on both sides. Finding an individual who shares similar core reactions and responses, similar ethical codes is very important. My core limits have never altered in 20 years. Virtually every other limit that I thought I had has altered. Identifying a core limit is something that has remained constant throughout your thought processes in your whole/vanilla life. You have the clues to what those are already. For me they are children, animals and dead people. I will and have acted against anyone I see violating them, I have felt this way my entire life so within BDSM made no difference. Non-inviolate limits are things we may fear or areas we may wish to explore very very slowly. For a new Dom/sub these can be generally identified to be Blood Sports (knives, needles, guns), Water Sports, (urine and feces), Air Sports, (strangulation, choking, removal of air), Humiliation and Shame Sports. Each of these areas contain serious potentials for real life injury or death, mental or physical damage.
A Dominant who decides to scene with a submissive with very different limits in either direction from their own is asking for trouble. If a submissive has a very low tolerance and the Dom a very high one then a situation of frustration can easily occur and the Dominant may find themselves pressing harder when they really know they shouldn't. A submissive with a very high tolerance scening with a Dom with fairly low tolerance will often pressure the Dom into doing more - this kind of reverse manipulation can lead to a Dom out of control who becomes unable to rationally identify when to stop. If a Dom crosses the threshold and loses primary directing control they can sometimes go so far as to kill in trying to meet the presented needs of the sub in that moment. We are all human, subject to errors in judgment and the simple reality that we are constantly learning and evolving. any expectation that a limit will be 'tested' means that the 'limit' is not solid. It becomes an area of in-scene trial and out of scene negotiation. This alone makes reliance on it unsafe. Take the time to select a person of character with the same moral and ethical codes that you hold. Query that person deeply in the areas you believe within you are uncrossable. Pay attention to what is said and how it is said. At any suggestion of fluid thought consider that the person you are talking to may have a hidden desire to explore there. Move on. Time is your friend, rushing creates errors on all sides.
Written by F.R.R. Mallory - also known as Mistress Steel. This article may be excerpted from Extreme Space, The Domination and Submission Handbook, Safe, Sane and Consensual, Dangerous Choices or other books by F.R.R. Mallory and shared here with her permission. Please click on the book title for information on how you can order a copy of these books and others by F.R.R. Mallory.