One of the great tragedies of physical or sexual abuse or other traumatic events in childhood is that they may cause the person to become permanently more physiologically and psychologically reactive and sensitive. With a bit of bad luck and perhaps unfortunate genes and physiological vulnerability, traumatic events can lead to deleterious changes in the brain and responses to stress. Such individuals' limbic systems (roughly-speaking, think: emotion) seem to be going crazy, shooting “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!” “messages” to their frontal cortex (think: human thinking, reason), and reacting wildly when any “messages” from the frontal cortex even hint that there might be a problem. Such individuals can sometimes seem really infuriating to others, because in wrestling with their physiological reactivity they tend to be an exhausting cauldron of emotions and often seem over-dramatic, over-sensitive, and too intense.
In severe cases (often diagnosed clinically as “borderline personality disorder”) such individuals grow up to have an inability to maintain stable relationships and an extreme fear of abandonment; they sometimes go to shocking lengths to try to prevent someone they love from leaving them (think: Fatal Attraction ). Individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder tend to feel suicidal sometimes, may try to commit suicide, and they tend to engage in self-harm such as burning or cutting themselves in a desperate attempt to distract themselves from the pain and anguish plaguing them.
What has this to do with Taken In Hand? Some psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers fear that women with borderline personality disorder may be drawn to Taken In Hand, and that the last thing they need is a Taken In Hand relationship. Their view is that Taken In Hand is yet more abuse, or that it is the relationship analogue of self-harm, like wrist-slashing. I want to address this directly.
First, I do think that women who have a history of sexual or physical abuse, or who have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, have to be extra careful, when choosing a spouse, to avoid ending up with an abuser, and they may well need some outside help as they create their Taken In Hand relationship. (Perhaps I will write more about that another time.) However, I thoroughly reject the idea that an established Taken In Hand relationship is yet more abuse (if it is, then it is not a Taken In Hand relationship but an abusive one!) or that previously-abused women must avoid relationships having any whiff of power/spanking dynamics.
Most readers of this site, as far as I can tell, have not been abused and are not remotely unstable. One of the things women often say when they email me is that they really like the fact that this site is for “normal”, down-to-earth people. But since mental health professionals seem to be taking an interest in Taken In Hand, in this article (which I have adapted from a comment I originally posted on this thread) I want to make a point not about the general readership of this site but about a small proportion of readers—about women who, perhaps because of physiological vulnerability and exposure to abuse in childhood, are very reactive and may even have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
My view is that for these very unfortunate women, Taken In Hand can be a positively therapeutic thing. Even much of the standard literature on borderline personality disorder (see, for example, Marsha Linehan's work, e.g. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder) admits that individuals with borderline personality disorder tend to do well if they are in a stable relationship, and badly if they are not.
It is true that women with borderline personality disorder may in some cases feel drawn to intensity in relationships, and perhaps also to violence, power and control dynamics, and thus to Taken In Hand relationships. It is also true, as I said above, that the process of finding someone and creating a Taken In Hand relationship is fraught with danger for such women. However, trying to uncross such women's allegedly crossed wires is like trying to turn a gay man straight. So in my view, the question should become: How can such women get this safely and healthily, in a mutually-satisfying relationship that facilitates the healthy growth and development of both persons? A Taken In Hand relationship is potentially such a way.
As was explained in one of the early articles on this site, a Taken In Hand relationship involving spanking provides a way for potential fights to be channelled into connection and emotional engagement through spanking, passionate sex, etc. For the women I am discussing in this post, engagement with their man is a huge need.
Moreover, their emotional and physiological reactivity tends to mean that they often panic, react badly to things, and feel as though the end of the world is nigh on a regular basis. I think that whether because of their childhood abuse or for some other reason, their limbic system is going crazy and communicating to their frontal cortex that a disaster is happening; they then interpret this physiological fight-or-flight hyper-reacting cognitively, confabulating reasons for the crisis, perhaps blaming whoever happens to be there, and bad things happen, not least of which is that they inadvertently destroy the relationships they most value.
Damping down the physiological reactivity can often be done pharmacologically, but there are other ways of dealing with this limbic system panic. Instead of—or in addition to—taking the pharmacological route (and I am referring to sensible use of drugs prescribed by a competent psychiatrist, not any other pharmacological “help”), it is worth considering how such a person might deal with what is now quite challenging physiological and emotional reactivity, and a legacy of childhood abuse, quite possibly self-hate, an unstable self-image, an inability to address issues with others moderately, fear of abandonment, excessive jealousy, emotional lability (mood swings), and many other problems.
One thing I like to recommend to such women is that they take up jujitsu. This has the intensity and perhaps the violence that such women are often drawn to, and it is in the context of a highly disciplined art. It is empowering, liberating, and can get to the heart of the problem, actually helping to change the way the brain reacts, utilising limbic reactivity when appropriate during physical combat and soothing and damping down limbic system hyperactivity otherwise, and thus bringing a general sense of calm and peace and personal power to the woman.
In a relationship, some such women find that Taken In Hand dynamics—and in particular a Taken In Hand relationship with discipline/punishment or some kind of physical conquest—serve a similarly soothing and paradoxically empowering function. Many such women need intensity, and find their husband's control and discipline or other physical engagement very soothing. The discipline and control are forms of engagement. A Taken In Hand relationship can be a way to remain connected, or reconnect, when the woman's physiological and emotional reactivity might otherwise make that very difficult or impossible. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that being taken in hand soothes many women, whether they could be diagnosed as suffering from borderline personality disorder or not.
The state of peace and calm that a person skilled in the art of jujitsu feels is in many respects the same state as the state of subspace that many Taken In Hand women experience. Taken In Hand discipline/punishment/control/physical conquest can channel limbic hyperactivity into sexual excitement, energy and control, just like jujitsu can channel it into disciplined, precise combat. Both promote self-confidence and better relationships with others. Compare this behaviour with what many people afflicted with borderline personality disorder often do. They distract themselves from the emotional pain they are experiencing by engaging in self-destructive acts such as cutting themselves (slashing their wrists, for example) and other forms of self-harm.
Some argue that engaging in a Taken In Hand relationship is like engaging in cutting, but that is not true. A Taken In Hand relationship is loving, caring, creative, deeply intimate and harmonious, evolving, promotes the individual growth of both individuals and empowers both individuals, as well as being sexually exciting in the long term in a way that an equal relationship would not be for those drawn to Taken In Hand relationships. A Taken In Hand relationship is fundamentally constructive, not destructive. Cutting distracts in the short term but leads to more self-hate and misery (if not death) in the long term. There is nothing constructive about it. A Taken In Hand relationship is more like jujitsu than cutting, as my guess is that controlled firing of limbic system emotional centres occurs in both cases. Moreover, it seems to me that Taken In Hand, being a deep, abiding relationship, has the potential to be even more therapeutic than jujitsu.
Taken In Hand uses the power of a stable loving relationship and positive emotions like love and feelings of warmth, closeness and security to soothe the person and bring her peace. More specifically, Taken In Hand also uses the power of passionate sex in the context of the deep sexual and emotional connection between the two individuals, to overcome horrible limbic system hyperactivity. (And for those drawn to intense physical interactions, being physically taken in hand can produce the same endorphin rush and feeling of peacefulness as passionate sex can.)
In summary, even in cases where there are in fact serious problems of childhood abuse and crossed wires and even psychiatric diagnoses such as borderline personality disorder, it does not follow that a Taken In Hand relationship is a bad idea. It might actually be positively helpful, assuming that the woman takes great care to ensure that she is with the right man, not just another abuser, and so on.