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Maslow and the Actualized Slave

By Carolyn Vakesh <>

(Carloyn's essay was originally published in our enslavement discussion group. For more information about Maslow, Bill Huitt's and Em Griffin's articles are good places to start.)

It seems to me that Maslow's hierarchy and theory of self-actualization has a great deal to commend it to us for consideration of where it fits within the M/s relationship.

Before I go any further, though, let me review the idea of Internal Enslavement. My understanding of the use of the term is that Internal Enslavement occurs when the following conditions are met:

1) The potential slave desires to become a slave to a particular person and communicates that desire.

2) The person who would be her Master agrees to take responsibility for the slave's basic emotional and physical needs; requires her respect, obedience and honesty; and commences a regimen designed to manifest the longing for slavery into the actuality of enslavement. If the two do not already live together, they move in together.

3) The Master uses various psychological tools and metaphors to move the slave into a state where she is incapable of seeing herself as anything other than his slave. This incapacity is similar to the kind of incapacity that a religious Jew would have of picturing himself eating non-kosher food or a committed vegetarian would have eating meat. It is not that the slave physically cannot be free; it is that her self-image is inextricably tied into being a slave and to be otherwise would do violence to her idea of self. Depending on the depth of her slave-consciousness, she will only abandon it in cases of great extremity (threat to life, threats to the those she loves, etc.)

4) Safe within the framework of her slavery, the slave manifests happiness, service, the ability to function at higher levels in other areas of her life, significant periods of peak flow experiences, unselfishness, and joy.

There is a mistaken view in the bdsm world that because the slave gives up everything, she is necessarily deprived of everything. In fact, this does not occur. I have observed many successful M/s relationships in the last 20 some years and the reality is that at every level of Maslow's hierarchy (except perhaps the top level) the slave's basic needs are met, frequently better than the slave herself can meet them on her own. Her needs for food, shelter, sleep, water, etc. are ensured by her Master's watchful dominance of these areas.

She knows herself to be secure and in a stable relationship, meeting Maslow's next level in the hierarchy of needs. (This, by the way, is where I think many incipient M/s relationships go wrong and fail to thrive. They embrace a notion of unpredictability and instability as a way of keeping the slave off-balance. This can be an erotic, short-term activity, but because it doesn't meet the basic human needs of the slave, it provides an unstable base on which to build.)

She is loved and loves with great devotion, knowing herself to belong to her Master. This meets her need for love and belongingness. She identifies with him and this creates that group that is greater than her self.

Her esteem is validated by her Master when she meets his requirements and expectations. In fact, it is frequently easier to enjoy good self-esteem as a slave than as a non-slave since the person who provides the validation that encourages this self-esteem also provides a great deal of feedback on how the slave must change her behavior in order to enjoy the esteem and recognition of her Master.

This leaves only the final level of Maslow's hierarchy: self-actualization. But how can we ever see a slave as self- actualized? She is the opposite of self-actualized, isn't she? But the dilemma is that when you look at the description of self-actualization, it seems to be describing the slave.

According to Maslow, self-actualization resolves many dichotomies: "opposites are seen to be unities and the whole dichotomous way of thinking is recognized to be immature. For self-actualizing people, there is a strong tendency for selfishness and unselfishness to fuse into a higher subordinate unity. Work tends to be the same as play; vocation and avocation become the same thing. When duty is pleasant and pleasure is fulfillment of duty, then they lose their separateness and oppositeness. The highest maturity is discovered to include a childlike quality. The inner-outer split between self and all else, gets fuzzy and much less sharp and they are seen to be permeable to each other at the highest level of personality development. In these people, the conative, the cognitive, the affective, and the motor are less separated from each other and more synergic, that is, working collaboratively without conflict to the same ends. The conclusions of rational, careful thinking are apt to come to the same conclusions as those of the blind appetites."

Reading this, it seemed clear to me that what I was seeing described was what occurs in a long-term slave. However, it cannot be said that the slave is "self" actualized. She is actualized by her Master. So can we look at the process of creating this slave as one that can be better done by paying close attention to Maslow's hierarchy? I think so. An understanding that the slave gives up all that is within Maslow's hierarchy as a voluntary act of submission and that she receives it all back on the Master's terms is an excellent way to look at the problem of creating internally enslaved people.

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