Originally posted on Fetlife.
I haven’t written much on submissive mental spaces here on Fetlife, but since they are one of the foundational concepts from which I think about these topics, I figure it is probably important for me to write about them.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not talking about the endorphin/adrenaline high that masochists experience from impact play that people currently call subspace.
What I am referring to is what was people called subspace 20 years ago. Since the term has been changed, it has been forced to be referred to as “submissive mental space.”
Submissive mental space is a psychological shift that some subs experience when their standard personality is replaced by their submissive one. When someone enters that space, they become an entirely different person. So many aspects of themselves undergo a change: their thought process, the way they perceive the world, their values, their priority structure, how they see themselves, and so on.
It can be a struggle for subs to understand or articulate what they are feeling in this space. On its basic level, they can tell that they “feel submissive.” In many cases it is accompanied by (sometimes confusing) arousal. If you or someone you know has ever been in a position where they were unable to “get into it” or unable to have submissive feelings, it means that they were unable to reach their submissive mental space.
The ways that people use to shift into their submissive mental space are what I refer to as space triggers. Some people are more aware of their own space triggers than others. If people are or closely resemble fetishists, a particular act or object may work as their space trigger. It is most common for people first understanding their space triggers to associate them with very specific actions or situations. As time goes on, many subs will learn that their triggers are less specific and more symbolic. When people find a number of specifics that reside under a particular umbrella are triggers, I call that umbrella a “meta.”
To give an example, someone might find that these things act as space triggers:
-Kneeling in front of their dominant.
-Addressing their dominant with a title.
-Not being able to speak without permission.
All of these fall under the meta of status inequality and it is very likely that other displays of status will also behave as space triggers.
The easiest way I have found to describe how submissive mental space works is to compare it to a swimming pool. There is a shallow end and a deep end and a gradual slope between the two. A person can dip their toe in. They can slowly wade in. They can dive in. They can be pushed in.
How the sub enters the pool depends heavily upon how intense the space triggers are. Being slowly guided in through a set of rituals is gentle and gradual. Abruptly applying an ultra-intense trigger is like shoving them directly into the deep end, whether they were prepared for it or not.
Space triggers still come into play while in the pool. The more that triggers are applied, the deeper the sub will go.
Something that makes this more complicated is that some subs have more than one type of submissive mental space. A very over-simplified version of this is to break it into two primary types of space:
- Service space. This is the space where subs actively do things. They give, they serve, they provide. Subs that are drawn to domestic service, body worship, sexual service, and the like have a strongly defined service space.
- Bottom space. This is the space where subs have things done to them. They receive pain. They are made to suffer. They are tormented. Subs that are drawn to pain, types of torture, being used and the like usually have a strongly defined bottom space.
Some subs only have one of these spaces. Other subs will have both of these spaces. When they have both, they are rarely of equal strength, so you may find people who have a stronger preference for one over the other.
If a sub abruptly leaves their mental space, I call this a space crash. When space crashes occur in an unplanned or unexpected way, this transition can feel jarring and unpleasant. It’s common for a sub who abruptly crash out of space to feel a bit distressed or disoriented as they wait for their brains to normalize back into their regular self. If this happens as a temporary interruption to a scene, it can be extremely difficult for the sub to get back into space at the depth they were at before they crashed out.
Now to bring this back to emotional masochism…
When a sub with a strong service space is an emotional masochist, their EM triggers are very commonly rooted in degradation. Their place is to serve. They are beneath the one they serve. Their feelings and desires are unimportant compared to the feelings and desires of the one they submit to.
When a sub with a strong bottom space is an emotional masochist, their EM triggers are more commonly rooted in humiliation. They “want” their fears and insecurities brought to the surface and ripped to shreds. They “want” their most embarrassing thoughts and feelings to be pulled out and put on display. They “want” to be forced to face the ways that they feel disgusting, perverse, or inadequate.
While a sub may have both types of spaces, each of those spaces have their unique state of existence and a sub can only be in one of them at a time. A dominant can force a sub to shift between their spaces that will prevent a full crash from happening, but it will feel jarring and uncomfortable to the sub.
A dominant that is an emotional sadist can wield this as a tool for their amusement. For example, if a sub is completely immersed in their service space, the dominant can verbally humiliate them and yank them into their bottom space. This sudden space shift will throw the sub off-balance and the sudden self-awareness will make them lose focus on the service they were performing. As the quality of service declines, the dominant can then point this out and push the sub into a state of frantic discomfort and strong awareness of how they are failing. At this point the dominant can degrade and/or punish the sub and drive them back into their service space. Rinse, repeat.
I hope this makes sense to people. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like clarification on anything. I’m also always open to discuss these topics. Feel free to share disagreements you might have with this as finding perspectives that do not fit with my theories helps me improve and evolve them over time.