571. Emotional Masochism/Sadism: Humiliation vs. Degradation

Originally composed for Fetlife.

I received a question about this in reference to a writing I posted a few days ago and it came up again in a couple of in-person conversations.

I know that quite a few people use degradation and humiliation as synonyms when it comes to emotional masochism and sadism. Oddly enough, I find that this happens just as frequently with people who have zero interest with EM play as with those who love EM play. I try to avoid getting into subtle semantics debates over how people define each of them independently of one another and have my own working definitions that separates them based upon the intent with which they are used.

Degradation is the act of using words, actions, rules, etc. to push a sub outside of themselves.

Humiliation is the act of using words, actions, rules, etc. to pull a sub into themselves.

I will elaborate on this, but I believe this is an important distinction since each EM-oriented sub will have its own unique trigger set that should be used in order for them to reach their optimal submissive mental space.

For example, if a sub is a service-oriented type that wants to feel like they are invisible and does not want recognition or praise for the service that they provide, they will most likely respond better to degradation. A means of degrading them might include being treated like their status is below that of “normal people,” that their feelings and preferences don’t matter at all, and that their worth is determined by the benefits they provide to the one they serve.

If their shift into submissive mental space is triggered by this sort of degradation, they can “leave their self” and become their desired role where they feel like their only purpose is to please the one that they serve and successfully pleasing the dominant is its own reward.

Rationally speaking, we like to believe that people have equal worth. We like to think that everyone’s feelings and preferences matter. We want to treat all people like they have inherent worth.

The type of degradation play used in this example eschew those norms in favor of creating a sustainable dynamic that is fulfilling for both parties. The sub reaches their desired submissive mental space where they can be “lesser” and the dominant is able to receive services from them.

Does this sub need to hit their submissive mental space in order to provide service? No, but they probably should if this situation is going to be both sustainable and fulfilling. If any of you have had a job where you were over-worked, under-appreciated, and regularly disrespected, could you have done that forever and been happy about it? Probably not. This scenario becomes sustainable because pushing the sub into their submissive mental space through degradation allows them to believe that they don’t deserve respect or appreciation and their sole purpose is to be over-worked for someone else’s benefit. “It exists only to serve” is their happy place.

By contrast, humiliation works in the completely opposite way. While degradation allows the sub to disconnect from self-consciousness, humiliation forces the sub into self-consciousness.

When a sub’s shift into submissive mental space is triggered by humiliation, it forces them to confront their fears, shame, and embarrassment about themselves and they are tormented by how other people respond to them. What brings about the fear/shame/embarrassment tends to be very unique to and can be highly situational for individual subs.

It is very possible for a sub to respond to both degradation and humiliation, but subs that respond strongly to both forms will often have a separate submissive mental spaces that surface from each type. It is also very possible for the similar types of activities and dynamics to be either degrading or humiliating depending upon how they are used and the details of the situation. Making slight variations that bounce a sub back and forth between different mental spaces can be an exhilarating ride for an emotional masochist.

Here is an example using service as the baseline:

Degradation:
“What is its purpose?”
“It exists to serve, Ma’am/Sir.”
“Why do we call it, an ‘it’?”
“Because it is beneath those who have their own identity, Ma’am/Sir.”

Humiliation:
“What is its purpose?”
“It exists to serve, Ma’am/Sir.”
“Why do we call it, an ‘it’?”
“Because it is beneath those who have their own identity, Ma’am/Sir.”
“I wonder what its friends would think if they could see it reduced to such a pathetic state?”

Other spins on humiliation might include these events taking place in front of someone else, or having someone other than their dominant ask them the questions. It could be taken into mind-fuck humiliation territory by recording a video of them making this exchange and talking about all of the potential uses that the video could have.

I hope the explanation of this was clear. I find it’s easiest when I separate them based upon the dominant’s intent and the way it affects the sub since the actions surrounding them are often similar.

If you want the TL/DR version, I would probably summarize it as this:

Degradation = makes the sub feel like they simply exist as _________.
Humiliation = makes the sub feel fucked up about themselves because they are ________.

Please let me know if there are any questions/comments/etc.

2 thoughts on “571. Emotional Masochism/Sadism: Humiliation vs. Degradation

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