Inspiring Submission

A little excerpt from my shiny new book, The Heart of Dominance.

The first lesson to learn on the path to competent dominance is that we cannot make anyone do anything. I don’t mean that just in the context of consensual dominance either. I mean that no one can ever truly make anyone do anything. This is wisdom that applies all over our lives, and you’ll find it taught in places from Buddhism through Nonviolent Communication. We may be able to limit the options that someone has to choose from, or impose consequences on their choices, but the ultimate choice of what to do (or think, or feel) always remains firmly locked within that person’s head.

If someone points a gun at my head and tells me to stand on one leg, the choice of whether to pick up my foot or not is still mine. If someone offers me a billion dollars to stand on one leg, the choice of whether to pick up my foot or not is still mine. If my partner has made a solemn vow to obey me in all things and has signed a contract in blood and has undergone decades of training and I order them to stand on one leg, they still have to make the decision to pick up their foot—every single time.

Many of us, and many of our partners, have fantasies that run directly counter to this basic truth. They dream of being taken by a force that somehow overrides their own will, of being relieved, permanently or temporarily, of the burden of choice. We dream of being able to “break” someone, or train someone, or find some secret dominant mojo that will let us say “kneel” and make our partner kneel. Not all of us have fantasies along these lines, but it’s a very common theme.

There are many tactics that some of us use to try to bring those fantasies to life. We use conditioning to create certain habits of obedience in our partners, to the point where they will obey without thinking. We use hypnosis. We have our partner sign contracts stipulating that all of their decisions are ours to make. All of these tactics can work—with a partner who wants them to work. That’s the trick: our partner has to decide to give up their decisions, and if they ever stop wanting to give them up, that decision making ability will quickly and automatically (though perhaps not painlessly) revert to them. So really, ultimately, they’re still the ones making the continual decision to submit and keep submitting.

Tactics for usurping someone’s personal decision making that do not depend on their active collaboration—things like military training, behavioral conditioning or cult indoctrination—all require more effort and more control than 99.99% of us will ever have the resources for, or even want. They also have a tendency to fail in ugly ways if and when a person subjected to them decides that they really want their self-determination back.

So if it’s impossible to truly make anyone do anything, then what the heck is it we do when we dominate? That’s the key question for understanding dominance, and the answer is that the work of dominance is to enable or inspire submission. We don’t make our partners submit; we create the opportunity for them to submit. Maybe that sounds like I’m just saying the same thing in a different way, but understanding the difference between making someone submit and enabling them to submit is crucially important to dominating well.