My kinds of Positive Power Dynamics

When it comes to positive power dynamics, there are two kinds that I tend to like.

Type 1: Need

In this dynamic, the constrict has a need, either psychological or functioning-practically-in-the-world related – for authority, or for boundaries, or for guidance, etc – and the principal is providing it for them.

In loco parentis type dynamics of various kinds tend to fit here. A prominent example is most CP fanfics based on police procedural shows.

Type 2: “I am at your disposal”

This is the one I figured out at the end of the previous post. This is the kind of dynamic where the attitude of the constrict toward the principal is “I will do anything for you”. It’s absolute dedication and loyalty. Myself, I tend to write a lot of supernatural loyalty bonds, but non-supernatural ones work too.

Loyal armsmen (and women), very dedicated servants and subordinates, oath-sworn honorable people of various kinds, etc, tend to fit here.

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Nonconsensual Consent

There is a very particular set of dynamics that is among my favorites. It’s an entirely negative-dynamic set, and it is defined by three main things. First, the constrict is suffering. Second, the principal is being horrible and what they’re doing is absolutely wrong. Third, there is a context in which the constrict’s answer to the question ‘is this what you want?’ is ‘yes’, because they are gaining a benefit from the situation that, for them, is enough for this.

This set can be subdivided into three categories, each of which has its own defining factors:

1) The principal creates the choice

The set up for this is a situation in which the constrict has a choice between alternatives, and they pick an alternative that involves their suffering because the other alternatives are, to them, worse. (So, the benefit of their suffering is, ‘these other things do not happen’). It has two necessary parts. First, the principal has to know about this situation, and to either have set it up, or to be perpetuating it on purpose. Second, as defined by the overall dynamic-set, on the contrict’s side, “the other alternative is worse” is not enough. It has to be “I want this.”

Maybe the constrict is the captain of a ship that has encountered the principal’s more powerful ship, and the principal demands that the captain surrender themselves, or else they’ll open fire. Maybe the constrict is the principal’s ‘favorite prisoner’, and as long as the principal has them, they leave everyone else alone. And to the constrict it is “yes, if it preserves everyone else’s lives, I want to go to them”, “yes, if it means they’re not hurting anyone else, I want them to hurt me”.

2) The situation creates the choice

In this, the constrict also has a choice, and they also choose something that means they suffer. However, the situation was not caused or set up by the principal.

Maybe the constrict is a government agent posing as a slave to find out vital information about what the principal is doing. Maybe the constrict has a loyalty bond to the principal, so giving the principal what they want is their greatest desire, even if what the principal wants is their suffering. Maybe the constrict loves the principal in a way that makes any interaction with them better than no interaction at all.

The situation gives the constrict something they want – information to help bring down the principal, the principal’s happiness, the principal’s attention – and to the constrict, the suffering they endure for this is worth it.

3) The constrict creates the choice

In this, the benefit that the constrict is getting out of the situation is their suffering itself.

Maybe they feel very guilty about something, and feel that suffering is what they deserve or the only way they can atone. Maybe they’re suffering as a martyr for a cause, faith, or movement, and believe that the more martyrs suffer, the more honor/glory/blessing there is in it.

So, their own suffering is exactly what they want.

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A note about the title: When I sat down to write this post, I realized it needed a title, and that that title needed to be/would be the name for the dynamic. So I brainstormed names, and this is the one I came up with. In this way, I’m identifying it as a kind of inverse of consensual nonconsent. In consensual nonconsent, there is a surface ‘no’, but what is happening is actually consentual. Here there is a surface ‘yes’, but what is happening is actually absolutely nonconsensual.

I’d thought about the nonconsent while I was still brainstorming this post, and realized that was also an important defining factor. For case #1, it’s a straightforward one – case #1 is about threats, and coercion is not consent.

For the others, it can be a bit more complicated. The defining factor there is that the principal either doesn’t care about the constrict’s consent, or doesn’t want it. If the principal in the love example in case #2 enjoyed hurting people, but would never do it to someone unwilling, and the constrict who loved them said “I love you like this, so I am willing”, that would be different. If the principal in case #3 arranged everything with the suffering-desiring constrict, or had the magic power to detect people who wanted to suffer and then hurt only those people, that would be different. But those would be different dynamics, and that is not what’s happening in the dynamics of this set. Here, the principal doesn’t care, their desire is just the suffering, and that they happened to get a victim who is in some way willing doesn’t mitigate their actions at all.

A Distinction in Dynamics

(This is an important distinction that I’ve been trying to figure out how to separate out for a while now. I have an intuitive feeling that it exists, but seeing exactly where the lines are is often rather hard. But I want to be able to refer to these in posts, and I like my latest version, so I’m putting it up).

 Sorting Narrative Power Dynamics

Type 1: Negative dynamics

These dynamics are about bad things. They are defined mainly by the fact that what the principal is doing is wrong. In general, they involve principals who know that what they’re doing is a negative thing for the constrict, and either don’t care about this, or like this. Dynamics of abuse, mistreatment of captives and prisoners, and non-consentual slavery are often good examples.

A lot of my writing has been about these.

Type 2: Positive Dynamics

These dynamics are are the consent-culture friendly ones, where what’s going on is a good and happy thing for everyone involved. Consensual D/s and power exchange relationships go here.

At first, I thought I would write that I’m new to these, but that’s not actually true. I’ve enjoyed and in fact created stories with them for years. I am, however, new to my explicit recognition of them, and they’re often very separate in my mind from other power dynamics (my liking of them is emotionally different, too) to the point that I often forget to consider them. For example, my ‘principal’ and ‘constrict’ terms don’t actually feel very correct to them.

I hope to write more about these in the future.

Type 3: Gray Dynamics

These, of course, are the ones left over, the ones in between. In means they’re not as simply-defined of a group – there’s at least three distinct groups inside here, and probably more that I’m not thinking of.

First are the dynamics of jagged edges. There are bad things here, wrong things, dysfunctional things, pain where there shouldn’t be. But it’s also what the people involved want/need, and there’s also good things, and within the worlds they live in, it’s probably the closest to the positive kind they can get. I call these ‘twisted dynamics’, usually, and they are very much a thing of mine.

Second are the dynamics where they’re also clearly bad, but it’s not because anyone within them is doing something wrong. These are the ones with participants who are understanding the same thing in different ways and not realizing it, etc. They also tend to be set in screwed up worlds, and they’re also twisted, but I don’t tend to like them very much. (This one is a bit odd to try to explain. Here is a story with it. In fact, this is the story that made me realize I needed to include this as a category).

Third are the dynamics where good people do bad things because they think they’re good. Where the principal genuinely believes that this is what is needed by/beneficial to the constrict, but they’re wrong. I don’t tend like these as a class, but I’ve definitely liked some examples – usually when this dynamic is not the main focus, but is among other things I like.

Concepts Relating to Emotional Abuse in Narrative Power Dynamics

I recently read a very interesting (and sadly unlinkable) writing about Humiliation vs Shame vs Embarrassment vs Objectification vs Degradation in BDSM scening. This made me think about doing a similar study and organization of concepts as they apply to narrative power dynamics. Because certainly a lot of what principals can do to their constricts in not physical, and equally certainly, this non-physical element contains a great deal of variety. So, this is what I have.

Note: Each of these categories can come from either or both the principle’s side, or the constrict’s. On the principle’s side, each category is about idea and/or intent- what the principal thinks of the constrict, and/or what effect the principal want the constrict to experience, regardless of whether or not the constrict in fact experiences it. On the constrict’s side, it is about what the constrict does experience, regardless of whether or not this was the principal’s intent.
Thereby also, these categories are about intent and emotion, not action. The same actions- say, demanding that a constrict kneel, or addressing them with something other than their name, etc- can fit into any of the categories, depending on their emotion and/or intent.

  1. Reinforcing the power dynamic/situation
    This is exactly what it says- the intent or the effect here is simply to reinforce the dynamics of the situations. Making the constrict feel bad in some way is not part of it. Reinforcing the power dynamic means making the constrict more actively aware of their lesser position- “I’m more important than you, so you have to call me ‘Officer’, while I call you ‘servant’, so you have to stand up when I enter a room”, etc. Reinforcing the situation is about making the constrict aware of their specific position. “You’re about to be punished, so you have to stand over here”.
  2. Shaming
    Shaming means drawing attention to the constrict’s failures, with the intent or the effect being to invoke the feelings caused by them (including shame, hence the name). It is about the constrict’s actions or inactions that the constrict would identify as wrong or bad. The element that makes shaming is the idea of ‘you could have done better, and you didn’t’. “You could have saved them/completed that order/followed that rule if you tried harder, but you didn’t try hard enough”.
  3. Degradation
    Degradation means that the intent or the effect is to make the constrict feel or appear as less. Not of lesser position or importance, not less competent, but literally less in and of themselves, in terms of intrinsic worth or value. “You’re worthless”, “you’re stupid”, “you’re not good for anything”, etc.
    When invoked with respect to specific failures, degradation is, in some ways, an opposite to shaming, since shaming is about ‘you could have done better’, and degradation is about “no, you couldn’t have, because you’re just such a failure”. So saying “I ordered you to deliver that message in 5 minutes, and you took 7. You could have done it right, but you just didn’t run fast enough. Now our order won’t be done on time, and it’s your fault. You’re going to be transferred to the housekeeping division until you can prove you have the dedication for serious work” is shaming. Saying “You completely useless idiot! You were supposed to deliver that message in 5 minutes. But of course, you can never so anything right, so you took 7! Now our order won’t be out on time. Clearly, the only thing you’re good for is scrubbing floors, so go do that, if you can even manage it!” is degradation.
  4. Humiliation
    Humiliation-the-feeling is itself the intent or effect here. As a feeling, humiliation has to do with the situation as viewed from outside- so, either the constrict is thinking of people actually watching, or they’re thinking of their situation from an outside perspective- “I look ridiculous”, “Everyone would laugh at me and mock me”, etc. Humiliation can be involved in any of the previous three, but doesn’t have to be.
    (Note: I am not putting embarrassment on this list. This is because to me it is a much milder word/feeling that has its place in relatively light day-to-day situations. When it is more serious, it is humiliation, and a narrative power dynamic means that there is this level of seriousness).

 

A case study:

-Say the principal has made the constrict eat food off the floor. (Note: The first three are written from the principal’s perspective. Switching the first and second person pronouns gives the contrict’s. The third is from the contrict’s perspective already).

  • This could be reinforcing the power dynamic: “You’re lesser in status, so this is what you have to do”. “I have power over you, so I can make you do this.”
  • This could be shaming: “You’re acting cowardly. If you were braver, you’d refuse to do this. But look, here you are!”.
  • This could be degradation: “Look at you, you’re like an animal! This is how animals eat, and you’re no better, so of course this is how you ought to eat.”
  • This could be humiliation: “If someone saw me like this/knew I was doing this…”.

Note that in fact, any or all of these could be the case, as could none of them- perhaps the principal just likes seeing the constrict doing this, or needs them to do it for some ulterior reason, etc.

Constricts Who are Not Defiant

As noted in the defiance post, aside from different kinds of scenarios involving defiance, there are also many scenarios in which the constrict is not defiant to begin with. Alternatively, some constricts start out defiant, but become compliant, while some are defiant sometimes, and compliant other times. Either way, however, since non-defiance is an absence of something, and not a presence, it doesn’t so much determine the scenario as originate from a state of mind.

So, an exploration of some states of mind that lead to the constrict being non-defiant:

1)    The threat of the principal. The power dynamic between the principal and the constrict means that the principal holds the potential for hurting the constrict. The constrict is probably aware of this, either just due to the situation, or to something more explicit- perhaps the principal has a reputation they have heard about, or has actually threatened or hurt them or someone else (If the constrict starts out defiant, this can also be an outcome of #3 on the defiance list). The constrict wants to avoid getting hurt, and so complies with the wishes of the principal. This generally manifests in one of two emotional ways (which can be mixed together in varying ratios).

  1. Terror. The constrict is afraid of the principal, and this fear is in control of them. They might be shaking, crying, begging, etc. It’s unlikely that they’re even thinking about defiance. Some principals enjoy this manifestation- in fact, for some it is their goal in whatever they are doing. Other can find it irritating.
    • This is the dynamic that I have actually roleplayed. It is a lot of fun, involving both a threatening principal, which I enjoy, and very ‘active’ acting.
  2. Pragmatism. The constrict may still be afraid (and often is), but they are controlling this fear enough to be thinking more clearly. However, being aware of their situation, they come to the conclusion that defying/antagonizing the principal will harm them more than benefit them, so they refrain from it. Alternatively, this can be combined with limited amounts of defiance- the constrict decides that some things are important enough to them to be worth suffering for, but everything else is not, and they save their energy for the important things. This is then very compatible with #2 from defiance.
    • I generally really love this set-up, and would like to try roleplaying it. However, this would be a very different kind of scene- this situation is largely in the constrict’s head, and would need to be brought into the scene with dialogue. (For example, the principal might ask the constrict why they are not defiant). I do not at all think this is a bad thing though.

2)    Acceptance/acquiescence. In this situation, the constrict does not need to be intimidated into complying, because they already agree, for others reasons, that complying is what they ought to do. Again, this generally takes two forms.

  1. Attitude toward the event. For whatever reason, the constrict agrees that the negative things happening to them should, in fact, be happening to them. This is most common in a punishment dynamic in which the constrict agrees the punishment is deserved.
    • I would love to play this as well. This situation would also need to be expressed in dialogue, but for here, I think this could happen very naturally, and again the idea of such dialog appeals to me a lot.
  2. Attitude toward the principal. The constrict has feelings for the principal (love, loyalty, devotion, etc, often in rather twisted forms) in such a way that anything the principal wishes them to endure, they will accept enduring.
    • I think this would be interesting to try. Again, it is a ‘mostly in the contrict’s head’ situation, and would need to be treated accordingly.

A note on #2) in general: some constricts have or develop these feelings on their own. Others are mindscrewed into them. The first version appeals to me generally, while the second has absolutely appealed to me in some instances, but can also very much be the kind of unappealing where I want nothing to do with it, so thought and care would be required in any scene involving it.

Defiance in Narrative Power Dynamics

Ways defiance scenarios can happen in a narrative power dynamic, and my thoughts on roleplaying each way (generally as the constrict, because I have other issues with the idea of playing the principal):

(Note: ‘Defiance’ in this case means any kind of purposeful behavior by the constrict that the principal doesn’t want them engaging in. This includes insulting the principal, not obeying orders, breaking rules, etc.)

  1. The constrict is defiant. The principal tries (in whatever way) to make them stop, but is unsuccessful.
    • While this kind of situation can be very enjoyable to read about, I don’t think I would want to roleplay it. It basically makes the principal helpless and powerless- all they can do is rage futilely- and this is non-conducive to the feeling that they are powerful or even self-possessed. I don’t want that in a scenario I’m playing in.
  2. The constrict is defiant. For every defiance, there is a set punishment, and the principal delivers that punishment. The constrict continues to be defiant, knowing they will be punished each time, and they are.
    • I like this dynamic a lot, and would like to try playing it. It requires a rather self-possessed constrict, and a principal with the ability to be dispassionate. I very much like the former, and the latter is what keeps the principal from becoming pathetic like the one in scenario #1.
  3. The constrict is defiant. With some combination of consequences and threats, the principal ‘convinces’ them to stop it.
    • I think this would be interesting to play, but it would need to be planned out ahead of time. Basically, if I play the constrict, I would need to decide ahead of time at which ‘point’ I will break and become compliant. The reality of this scenario would be impossible (for me, at least) to play out in a safe and consensual manner, because if I’m actually being pushed to the point of breaking, I wouldn’t start complying, I would safeword.
  4. The constrict is defiant. They are physically prevented from continuing this. (So, if they’re refusing to walk across a room, they get dragged. If they keep insulting the principal, a gag is used. Etc. Note that this is not possible for everything- if they are refusing to, say, cook dinner, this method can’t be used (#3 could, though)).
    • There would be two ways to play this one. One, like in #3, C decides ahead of time at which point to be ‘overpowered’. Two, they actually fight and are actually overpowered. Both of these actually interest me, but the second would require a lot of care and thought about safety, both physical (making sure P doesn’t hurt C more than C is alright with, and, if C is actually fighting, making sure C doesn’t hurt P either), and psychological (How OK is P with physically coercing C? Does C feel safe enough with P to allow this?).
  5. The constrict is defiant. The principal acts in a way that demonstrates to the constrict that they are worthy of respect and obedience. The constrict comes to believe this, and stops being defiant. (Note: I actually didn’t think of this one when I thought of the other ones. It was sparked by a reading I did later).
    • Honestly, this is a dynamic that I’m not particularly interested in. While I do enjoy positive-authority dynamics as well as negative-authority ones, I prefer a positive authority to have a cooperative constrict. Also, I am rather bad with characters who are dynamic (change how they are) in this way.
  6. The constrict is not defiant. This is obviously then not a defiance scenario, but it belongs here as an acknowledgement of its possibility/reality. At some point, I might do a closer examination of its subcategories too.
    • This is the only dynamic I have actually roleplayed, and I do enjoy it.