I received a question on Twitter a couple of days ago from locknkey24:

@BDSMlifestyle Alright, well.. my Mistress and I are really new at this. One question, how do you know when a punishment is too severe..?

It made me think and I had to think for a little while before I gave my answer.

I’ve written before about how things are actually the other way around when you are dealing with BDSM, giving a spanking is a way of showing affection, calling someone a slut is a term of endearment and I believe this to be the same with the concept of punishment, to some extent.

A punishment is sometimes wanted by the submissive for the enjoyment of it; The problem is then, on a principal level, that the punishment in fact isn’t a punishment.

This is the reason why I will limit my answer to “a true punishment” in BDSM terms, something that is handed out when the submissive has diverted from a set of rules or any other kind of, by the Dominant, established path.

The purpose of the punishment in this case is to “set things straight” and to make the submissive realise the mistake and revert back to the prior established path with the notion of not repeating the mistake again. The same concept of punishment is used for training purposes when training dogs and is more commonly known as negative reinforcement. Mistakes are punished so the the dog doesn’t repeat the same mistake all over again.

There is one big drawback with negative reinforcement, it can if it is harsh and done on a regular basis make the dog end up in “deadlock” which means that the dog simply freezes up in a loop where it is afraid of doing mistakes because the outcome will be discomfort. So in order to avoid this feeling the dog simply does nothing.

This reaction is based on how sensitive the dog is and how negative reinforcement itself is applied – In other words, it is highly individual and dependant of contextual factors.

So in order to judge when a punishment is too severe, I’ll transfer the concept of dog training to individuals in a BDSM setting.

I have a couple of rules that I always try to apply and one of them is that the punishment should always fit the crime. Small mistakes should call for small punishments, so the severity and the importance of the mistake is what sets the punishment in my world.

An other rule that I try to live by when it comes to punishments, is that no punishment should be handed out without a specific reason and explination of the specific reason. In other words, I don’t punish my submissive without making her aware of the specific mistake she has made and why I am punishing her.

Now it will be quite simple, with the concept of negative reinforcement and the rules I use, to answer the complex question “When is a punishment too severe?”

A punishment should be used as a developmental tool and for personal growth in a BDSM relationship, if it makes the submissives afraid of developing new things to please the Dominant, then it might be too severe – Depending on the type of relationship you have set the boundaries for. A TPE based relationship might not allow for any developmental initiatives on the behalf of the submissive.

If a punishment is not understood by the submissive, then it will not help the personal growth as the submissive cannot reflect on why the mistake was made and how to avoid it and by doing so please the Dominant. Every punishment should reflect a learning experience and offer a clear cut path how to avoid doing the same mistake over again.

Both the Dominant and the submissive should in the end earn something from the punishment itself.

When a punishment hinder personal growth and development, doesn’t offer learning experience and a way out and in the end just makes the submissive creativity freeze up – Then the punishment is probably too severe and will not take the relationship in any direction at all.

Punishments should offer an equal amount of discomfort as well as guidance, if there isn’t any guidance then the punishment is probably too severe.

But most importantly – If the punishment goes beyond the established trust between the Dominant and the submissive, then it’s always too severe.


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