I have to believe that emotional masochism is one of the most difficult things in BDSM to cope with, understand, and communicate about. Trying to describe it often feels shameful. This can be a challenge for those who don’t understand it because it is a struggle to communicate. Hell, a lot of emotional masochists suck at figuring out what is going on, let alone being able to explain it to someone else and I know this from first hand experience.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, an emotional masochist is someone who gets arousal or sexual gratification from experiencing emotional suffering. This suffering can happen in a number of ways. Humiliation, anxiety, degradation, embarrassment, hurt feelings, and heartbreak are some examples of the types of suffering that an emotional masochist may to. Basically, things that do not feel good.
For many emotional masochists, this suffering is often a submissive mental space trigger that “puts them in their place” and creates that mixture of submissive feelings, arousal, and often increased love for their dominant. This is a hard feeling to describe as it involves a mix of several feelings/emotions physical responses all at once. The most common way you will find someone voice this is the desire to be “put in their place.” What they really mean is that they want a series of events that lead to a diminished sense of self and immersion in their submissive mental space.
It is hard for many to be more specific than this because it embarrasses them to do so. This is a factor is because when someone is not in subspace, they experience things differently and the timing is not always conducive to being there. An easy example is this: I do not like being humiliated at work. It is different when I am humiliated while kneeling naked before the one I love. Another factor is that saying, “I want to be humiliated” isn’t really true. A better way of putting it is, “I want the feelings and arousal that result from humiliation caused by the one I love and in a safe environment.” The environment addendum is important because if you can’t feel safe, the emotional suffering has the potential to cause a bad sort of pain rather than the one that leads to subspace.
One important aspect of emotional masochism is the type of suffering that can act as a trigger. For most people, there must be a safety net involved. Actual rejection by a trusted lover is devastating, even for an emotional masochist. Think of it this way, if a Domme says, “You aren’t a real man,” that can be a form of degradation that can trigger subspace. However, if she says, “You aren’t a real man and I am leaving you for one,” you can expect his heart to ache as his insecurities are dragged to the surface. If she is only saying it to cause an emotional response, it may work as a subspace trigger. If she then begins packing suitcases or kicks him out and actually leaves him, I’m pretty sure the sub would feel terrible and without subspace or arousal. By contrast, being outed to one of the Domme’s friends who ridicules and rejects the sub is okay since the Domme is not leaving him. So, the safety net involves ensuring that the sub will still be accepted by the one that they submit to no matter what. Cuckolding is an example of this.
Another note is that adding suffering that acts as a trigger to a submissive already in subspace will usually result in pushing the sub to a deeper space. Similarly, a sub that is an emotional masochist can be “trapped” in subspace by a constant application of their triggers happening with enough frequency that they are unable to escape the space (embarrassing dressing style is an easy example here).
Hopefully I was able to describe this in a simple way. Understanding parts of it definitely help, but it’s still a messy thing to try and talk about with a sub. It also may be easy for them to admit to the basic parameters, but often very difficult for them to voice the specifics. People don’t like feeling like they are fucked up… unless the time and place are right and they can let those fucked up feelings bring them to their magical happy place of submissive mental space.