Dominance vs. domineering; an important distinction

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It amazes me still that many people, some that absolutely should know better, are still managing to confuse being a dominant individual with being a self centered, self referential, and self important, high-volume attention hound.

As a very wise person once said to me “One must avoid at all cost being domineering in the course of one’s dominance”. This person, a stellar presence in the San Francisco bay area leather scene for decades and a dominant of great skill and subtlety by any measure, could not have nailed it any more solidly or phrased it any better in my opinion. It is a phrase that has stuck with me ever since and served me well as a constant reminder to do just that.

Since some people might not be familiar with the difference between these two states of being, I will attempt to clarify a bit.

By domineering I mean a person who behaves in a selfish manner, and tends to serve only their own interests, usually in a loud, self promoting or demanding manner. It’s sad to think that being overbearing, loud and demanding might be confused with being dominant, but many seem to confuse the two regularly.

If someone tends to demand that you respect them or their position/title/etc., then it becomes quickly and painfully obvious into which bucket they fall. The same can be said for those that endless hold forth on their skills, highly placed social connections, or sexual prowess rather than allowing them to show naturally and let people make their own call as to the amount of respect they warrant. Being willing to take the time needed to earn trust and respect is a vital trait of any truly dominant person and one not shared by the domineering among us. This is the easiest and most observable litmus test available to help you in making that determination.

Of course, this is the real world and in the real world there are going to be exceptions to nearly any rules which we might define. When discussing dominant people a number of them will definitely be out-going with big personalities and we must be careful not to tar them with the same brush. Similarly this is a competitive world and, in most communities, dominant people do have to indulge in some level of self promotion to be noticed in the tidal rush of new people coming and going. This is especially true as older dominant individuals find themselves competing for the limited attentions of the submissive population with the young. Youth is an advantage in these situations and the best way to counter that is through experience, which those of us that have been in the community longer generally have in greater abundance. Thus a bit of self promotion is natural and healthy to the overall community as it highlights the assets that are available. This is pretty easy to differentiate from the sort of domineering behavior that we discussed previously.

The ability to self-label is an interesting feature of our internet driven age. When someone labels themselves as a dominate of some ilk or the other, be it Master, Dom, Top or some other creative combination, they are placing themselves in a position to be judged by others as to the accuracy of their label. Some skip this judgement and accept the label as truth without due consideration; this is a dangerous step to exclude. Look critically at those that share your community and allow them to earn your respect or your disdain; this is your duty as a good citizen of your local community and the first step in the self-policing that we need to be vigilant to maintain. As we all know, if we do not police ourselves there are others that are chomping at the bit to do so.

But I have strayed from my central point, so back to our original discussion.

Dominant people, as a rule, have the self confidence to face up to their errors and mistakes. They own them, admit them, apologize for them when necessary and, if possible, fix them. Someone who is merely domineering often do not or can not allow themselves to admit mistakes as this would crack the carefully crafted image that they made for themselves. This gets to the essence of the difference between these two behaviors which is the ‘ability to be’ versus ‘the desire to seem’. The dominant person is simply what they are, dominant. The domineering individual is hoping to seem dominant. They exist with the mistaken belief that real dominance is, to borrow a phrase, ‘never having to say you’re sorry’ and this could not be less true.

As a dominant person, we need to avoid these behaviors of demanding what will be given freely to the worthy. As someone that is submissive, be watchful and notice the characteristics of the dominant people around you in the community while you consider potential play partners. Look for these domineering traits and try to see past the self-gifted titles and roles that people play. Be critical but fair, and try to understand the whole of the circumstance and factor that into your judgement. Also understand that people learn and change over time, so behaviors can change as well. Even the worst offender is not unredeemable, they just have a lot more to learn.

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