When I read about dominatrixes getting into life coaching and personal development, my immediate reaction was that this was a perfect example of the craziness of the world, and a very US west coast thing.
Then I remembered Henry Murray and Sigmund Freud.
Murray’s list of human drives included submission, or deference as he called it, and even abasement, which is a more extreme kind of submission. And dominatrixes specialise in power (theirs) and submission (their clients’).
When you look around you begin to see submission everywhere. You cannot have hierarchical organisations without submission. You cannot have wars that lead huge numbers of people to their deaths without submission to a leader. You probably couldn’t get through a day without bloodied fists unless people were prepared to defer to each other in various circumstances – even as mundane as queueing.
A lot of human decency revolves around the willingness to defer to the needs of others and so does a lot of human tragedy.
Need to dominate
Needless to say, the other side of the coin is the need to dominate.
Like lots of other animals each of us tends to have the two needs.
Insisting on getting a piece of work done in a particular way is, among other things, an expression of one’s power. The power, of course, depends on the willingness of somebody else to defer to your wishes under these circumstances.
According to Sigmund Freud we have a very unreasonable domineering driver in our personality called the superego. This superego roundly condemns us if we do not do what it wants us to do. It berates us for our failures and fears and even for the alleged inadequacy of our successes.
Part of the process of being kind to yourself is to learn to take that domineering superego a lot less seriously.
We often hear of powerful men paying dominatrixes to humiliate them.
I guess these men get to express the dominant side of their personalities every day – going to a dominatrix gives the submissive side an opportunity to get out and run around for a while.
What's more interesting is what's going on when people pay a dominatrix to help them deal with life issues. In a recent article in the Guardian, Sofia Barrett-Ibarria wrote about finding her counsellor too accommodating – so she went to a dominatrix called Mistress Justine Cross who offers lifestyle coaching alongside more robust services.
I believe that being listened to respectfully by a counsellor is a healing process for a great many people. It’s a lot easier to find people to tell you what to do than to find someone to listen.
But Ms Barrett-Ibarria needed someone not only to listen to her but to tell her what to do, and that’s what she got from her dominatrix.
Mistress Cross would give her lists of tasks, simple things such as putting activities on which she had been procrastinating into a diary and then carrying them out. If she didn’t do them she would be punished, not by being thrown into a dungeon but by being banned from watching television. She found that quite effective.
The dominatrix, it seems to me, became a sort of alternative superego who listened to her and then told her what to do.
One ex-dominatrix in New York, Kasia Urbaniak, specialises in teaching women to assert themselves with men. In her workshops, these women learn to find their own power.
The key point here is that every person, even if they regard themselves as submissive, also has drive to power – but experiences can teach you to deny your power.
Power isn’t always right and submission isn’t always wrong but if you have the awareness to see them both at work in your life you can create a better balance.
So maybe dominatrixes as life coaches are not an example of the craziness of the world. From the viewpoint of motivational psychology, they don’t deal in some far-out weird aspect of human nature but in drives that exist in you and me.
– Padraig O'Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)