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The Art of Mind-Fucking

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

How a dominant messes with the mind of the submissive in BDSM

Man covers eyes and stifles woman on black background.
Shutterstock 2079069409, by illustrissima.

What is mind-fucking?

You may have heard the expression ‘mind-fucking’ and wonder what it is. Maybe you are turned off by its obscene name. However, it has become commonly accepted. It uniquely describes well-established practices in interrogation techniques, the writing of novels and movies, the abuse of people under the influence of drugs and in BDSM.

Many instances of mind-fucking are unethical. It can be a form of psychological torture, or a way to manipulate people in abusive relationships or cults. But it also can be used in a playful way for entertainment in performances, novels and movies.

I would define mind-fucking as a psychological manipulation that uses deception, confusion, sensory overload, pranks, predicaments and exhausting tasks to alter a person’s sense of reality.

Gaslighting is a particular form of mind-fucking in which somebody is driven to question their sense of reality or their sanity through lies or misinformation, with the goal of emotionally abusing or manipulating them.

Mind-fucking and spirituality

Mind-fucking is used by some mystical schools as a way to force the mind of the student out of its habitual way of thinking and into new insights, even illumination.

This is particularly true in Zen Buddhism. The Rinzai school of Zen uses koans: questions that do not have a logical answer, usually embedded in a shocking story. The koan is handed down by a Zen teacher to the student, who has to meditate on it for hours on end. In sesshins (Zen retreats), each student has a private meeting with the teacher (‘roshi’) during the early morning meditation. The teacher will demand an answer to the koan, and can become quite confrontational if the student is not able to provide one. In these private meetings, the teacher plays tricks with the mind of the student that can well be considered mind-fucking. The objective is to shock the student into a new understanding, at the same time that he is prodded to put more effort into the resolution of his koan.

While I was doing a Zen sesshin in a beautiful monastery in the mountains of upstate New York, I was offered the koan mu - the most famous of all koans - by Eido Shimano Roshi. Many of his students meditated on mu. They would sit by the lake at night chanting mu out loud. There was so much power in their voices that it gave me goosebumps. It seemed that the monastery was surrounded by a herd of crazy cows. I had been practicing Soto Zen, without koans, for many years, so I turned down the offer of the roshi, something that I have always regretted.

Zen stories about the interaction between teachers and student have examples of impossible task, predicaments and misdirection similar to those used in BDSM.

There is mind-fucking in other schools of mysticism. That's why it's so common in cults. Like in BDSM, there is a blurry line between healthy exploration and abuse.

Mind-fucking in BDSM

In BDSM, mind-fucking consists of mental games that the dominant plays on the submissive to weave a collective fantasy that brings the submissive to a state of defeat and surrender.

It should always be done with the full consent of the submissive and in such a way that it does not harm his or her physical and mental safety.

Mild mind-fucking plays a role in many BDSM scenes and is quite safe. However, elaborated and prolonged mind-fucking that affects the psychology of the submissive should be considered edge play and done with extreme caution.

BDSM encompasses bondage, dominance-submission and sadomasochism. Mind-fucking is more often done in dominance-submission, but it can also be part of sadomasochism and bondage. In these last two cases, the participants should be called ‘top’ and ‘bottom.’ However, I will refer to them as ‘dominant’ and ‘submissive’ throughout this article for simplicity.

I consider mind-fucking one of the most difficult things to do in BDSM, because it requires an enormous creativity and intimate knowledge of the submissive from the dominant.

Mind-fucking is not so much something that the dominant does to the submissive as something that they create together. Without the willful collaboration of the submissive, the entire process would fail. No matter how skillful the dominant, it is impossible for him to mind-fuck the submissive if he or she doesn’t surrender or lacks the discipline to cooperate.

Why do mind-fucking?

You may wonder why anybody would want to be mentally manipulated by another person. Playing tricks on the mind of the submissive may be a power trip for the dominant, but why would the submissive agree to that? Do dominants use the commitment of submissives to obey them to force them to undergo mind-fucking?

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The motivation to do mind-fucking often comes from the submissives. Here are some of their reasons:

  • Submissives want to be taken into a separate reality in which the power of the dominant becomes all-encompassing and they experience a deepest state of submission.

  • Many submissives explain that they have hyperactive minds that never shut down, which can be accomplished with a good mind-fuck.

  • They also may have a powerful ego and self-importance, which are defeated by the mind-fuck. This brings a paradoxical feeling of liberation and peacefulness.

  • A good mind-fuck can also induce catharsis: an experience of emotional cleansing in which bottled-up emotions and trauma are released as crying, laughing or screaming.

  • Mind-fucking can be a way to induce sub-space, an altered state of consciousness in which submissives feel euphoric, relaxed and peaceful.

  • For some experienced submissives, mind-fucking is a path of self-discovery, healing and transformation. Mind-fucking brings out hidden emotional habits and defenses of the ego that need to be understood and managed.

For dominants, mind-fucking is without doubt a power trip, but they also want to give submissives a nice experience and help them achieve catharsis, healing and self-discovery.

Does mind-fucking induce sub-space?

We should not take it for granted that mind-fucking will induce sub-space, at least not the sub-space that is mediated by endorphins and feels relaxed and floaty. This type of sub-space requires that the submissive becomes passive, while most mind-fucking games actively engage the submissives by demanding them to take decisions, imagine what will happen next, guess what the dominant is up to, or perform an intellectual task.

Still, these activities may induce a different type of sub-space in which pain is inhibited by norepinephrine released and the brain accompanied by an increase of adrenaline in the blood. This sub-space is characterized by an increased alertness and feelings of fear and surprise.

Unlike other BDSM activities, mind-fucking may not even inhibit pain, but increase it. The submissive may become more sensitive and emotionally fragile, instead of less. In fact, this could be one of the goals of the mind-fuck.

However, mind-fucking may serve as a first step to break some barriers to the induction of the endorphin type of sub-space. As I mentioned before, many submissives are too uptight, concerned about their image or have hyperactive minds. A mind-fuck at the beginning of a scene could wear down their minds and get them to let go.

Next, I am going to describe some strategies that can be used for mind-fucking in BDSM.

Deception games

Websites like Ontario Kink, Fetish.com, Kinky Craft and Kinky World describe mind-fucking as a deception game in which the dominant makes the submissive believe that something is happening to her/him.

An example offered in many of these sites is to make the submissive believe that she is being branded with a hot iron. A branding iron in hot embers is on display. The submissive is blindfolded and her skin is touched with ice, perhaps while the branding iron is dipped in water to make a hissing sound. The submissive screams in pain, thinking that she just has been branded. I’m not sure if this can actually work out. Branding is one of the most extreme forms of edge play, so it would be unethical to do it without the submissive’s consent. And that is the kind of consent that needs to be fully informed and mulled over for a long time, because branding is permanent. Besides, pain from cold is quite different from pain from burning. Still, I’m ready to believe that some people are suggestible to this extreme.

Other deception can be pretend knife play, using a blunt knife instead of the sharp, scary knife previously shown to the submissive. A warm, viscous liquid can be used to fake that the submissive is bleeding, either with the bottom blindfolded or adding red color for effect.

The dominant can also pretend to be angry, disappointed, cruel or sadistic, just to scare the submissive.

Vague threats

Another mind-fuck that is often mentioned are unspecified threats, such as telling submissives that they are going to be punished in the worst possible way. They are not told what the actual punishment would be, so that their overactive imagination starts churning out ideas about what would happen to them.

Sometimes, a vague description of the punishment can be put forward to give starting material to the submissive mind. For example, the dominant could say that they would be punished with “painful bondage” or “horrible sex.”

These should not be empty threats, however, because then the submissive will learn not to trust the dominant. But it’s okay if the actual punishment is much less harsh than what the submissive imagined. Then the submissive’s imagination can be blamed. After all, the dominant never actually said what the punishment would be like.

Sensory overstimulation and illusions

Another form of mind-fucking that is frequently mentioned are threatening noises, like the crack of the belt on the floor around a naked and blindfolded submissive.

In my experience, a mild game that can induce a strong sub-space is when a naked submissive, tied-up and blindfolded, is touched by multiple people. Multiple tactile stimuli and trying to keep up what goes on in different parts of the body soon leads to sensory overload. An additional mind-fuck is not knowing who is touching you.

As I said before, some people use ice to create the illusion of a burn, but I have my doubts about how effective this is. A much clever way to simulate a burn is to use capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot. Capsaicin activates heat receptors, so what would normally feel like mild heat now feels like a burn. There is no actual damage to the skin, but the sensation can go from mild to extremely painful, depending on how much capsaicin is used.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is sensory deprivation. Combining a good blindfold with earplugs and enveloping the body in something that provides neutral touch can lead to an altered state of consciousness characterized by daydreaming and loss of the sense of reality. Coming out of that state, a person becomes extremely sensitive and emotionally vulnerable.

Humiliation games and embarrassing tasks

Shame is a powerful emotion that can be used for mind-fucking. There are plenty of social taboos, like public nudity and sexual arousal, that can be used to mess with somebody’s mind.

Here are a few examples:

  • A woman wearing a skirt is made to take off her panties in a public place.

  • Or her panties are pushed down to the top of her thighs and she has to walk around like that.

  • A man is made to put on lipstick and wear it in public.

  • Wearing a butt plug in public.

  • Wearing a vibrator that the top can turn on and off at will.

  • A shy submissive is ordered to sign a song or tell an embarrassing joke.

  • Wearing ridiculous clothes, or garments that are too sexy or revealing.

  • Wearing bunny ears, dog ears or a tail.

  • Being led on a collar and a leash.

These are things that are better done at a kinky party or in a similar safe environment. Submissives should not be put in situations that would damage their social or professional images. Also, exposing bystanders to your kinky games is considered a violation of their consent. Things that you do to your partner in public may be triggering to somebody else. Keep in mind that strangers do not have the means to distinguish a kinky game from abuse.

Trust games

The bottom is put in a vulnerable position in which he or she has to trust the top for protection. The vulnerability can come from danger or embarrassment that is perceived, but not real.

An easy way to induce vulnerability is to blindfold somebody in an unknown place. Then, the submissive has to rely on the top for guidance. A nasty twist would be for the top to describe something about their surrounding that is not true, guiding the bottom into an alternate reality full of perceived dangers or rewards. For example, dominants can tell submissives that everybody is staring at them, or that the laugher that they hear is about them. Or he can say that somebody sexually desirable is looking at them with lust.

Mental games

This type of games consist in giving the submissive a mental task to keep him or her from thinking about anything else. This helps bottoms who cannot shut off their hyperactive minds or who criticize the top inside their heads. To focus the attention of the submissive, there is a penalty to be paid immediately for failing at the mental task.

Here is an example. The submissive has to count the strokes of a paddle, backwards from 100 by sevens (serial sevens). The results are 93-86-79-72-65-58-51-44-37-30-23-16-9-2, which the dominant can have in a cheat sheet. The paddling will stop when 2 is reached in the count, but any mistake would reset the count back to 100. If the task is performed correctly, the submissive would receive just 14 strokes with the paddle. However, mistakes will considerably prolong the length of the paddling. As the pain increases, the likelihood of making mistakes becomes higher, so this can go on forever and lead the submissive to desperation. To add to the mind-fuck, the submissive perceives the mistakes as a personal failure, and the prolongation of the paddling as a deserved punishment for it. This leads to loss of self-confidence and to a state of defeat.

Keep in mind that mental tasks like this would prevent the bottom from going into sub-space, because endorphin release requires a mental attitude of letting go and relaxation. Hence, the bottom will stay vulnerable to pain and even become more sensitive over time.

Impossible tasks

In the example above, it is often the case that the submissive is completely unable to perform the task. Here, the mind-fuck could consist in the dominant pretending that this is, in fact, an easy task and that there is no reason why the submissive should not be able to do it. The dominant keeps reassuring the submissive by saying ‘you can do it’ and ‘anybody can do this.’ This is an element of gaslighting: the top is being deceitful about how difficult the task is.

Other impossible tasks may be to find a well-hidden object, to follow an elaborate ritual, or to clean something that is impossible to clean. The bottom is made to feel like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain.

Of course, the submissive may know very well that the task is impossible. Attempting it, anyway, becomes a proof of submission and commitment.

This game also teaches submissives to accept failure with grace, which is an emotional block common in people with demanding careers.

Humor

Humor is a form of mind-fucking that provides an emotional escape from ego-busting and seriousness. Switching over to humor can be a way for the dominant to rescue the submissive from a state of desperation before it becomes too psychologically hurtful.

For example, let’s go back to the ‘serial sevens’ exercise that I described above. At some point, it has become clear that the submissive is never going to take the count all the way down to 2. What I would do to switch over to humor is to say:

“This is hopeless. I have beaten your butt so badly already that you won’t be able to sit down tomorrow. So, since you are useless at math, with every stroke of the paddle, you are going to tell me one thing that requires sitting down that you won’t be able to do.”

Then I might be able to end the paddling after a few more strokes.

Still, the joke is on the submissive, so this continues to be a mind-fuck. There is a humiliation element, and the scene is still centered on the submissive and her/his predicament.

Predicament

A predicament consists of putting the submissive in a situation in which he or she has to choose between two unpleasant outcomes.

Sometimes, the choice itself is deceptive, because one of the choices is better than the other but the bottom doesn’t know that. Even more devilish: the choice that appears to be the best turns out to be the worse.

Predicaments are psychologically powerful, inasmuch as they give the submissive a choice but, in fact, the submissive is still choosing to hurt themselves. Self-inflicted pain has been found to be a powerful torture mechanism.

Here are some examples of physical predicaments:

  • The bottom is made to straddle a bar placed high enough so that he or she has to stand on tiptoes to avoid a painful pressure on the crotch. As their calves get tired, bottoms are forced to choose between the two forms of pain, which keep increasing.

  • Bondage with a rope system that makes the bottom choose between a painful pull of the nipples or a strappado of the arms.

  • Making the bottom choose between two punishments. The more different the punishments, the better.

  • Choosing between sexual pleasure (for example, a vibrator in the crotch) and pain (a pricking object or an uncomfortable position in bondage). The bottom initially chooses the pleasure, but eventually becomes overstimulated and has to endure the pain.

Predicaments can also be psychological. For example, having to choose between apologizing or being punished.

Deep mind-fucking

The key to a good mind-fucking is to find the points of resistance and inner conflicts of the submissive, and gently push against them. Often, the conflict is so strong that just the threat of confronting it will elicit a strong emotional reaction.

Keep in mind that these conflicts will be the limits of the submissive, even if he or she doesn’t realize that they are. When a dominant discovers them, the ethical thing to do is to talk to the submissive about them and find out if he or she wants to confront them in a mind-fucking scene.

We all have triggers and emotional landmines. Secret fears. Hidden trauma. Things in our past that we haven’t resolved. Dreams that we have given up. Experienced BDSMers may choose to confront them with a trusted dominant in a deep mind-fucking scene.

Deep mind-fucking is to engage in a game that would intentionally bring out our demons so that we can exorcise them.

Over time, a dominant gains such an intimate knowledge of the submissive bottom that he knows where those demons are. They may have created an intimate space where they feel safe to explore these dangerous corners of the mind.

From the outside, it may not look like much: a certain body position, wearing some particular clothes, a pretend game, a phrase pronounced in a special way. Sometimes, it’s the unknown. We know that something is there, lurking in the dark recesses of our mind, but we don’t know what it is.

This requires a lot of attention and skill from the dominant. He needs to have a deep empathy with the submissive throughout the scene, pushing and pulling on their emotional strings, ready to bring them out if there are signs of trouble. If successful, this type of scene can lead to self-discovery and self-transformation.

Mind-fucking is edge BDSM

Except in its milder, short-term forms, mind-fucking should be considered edge play. It should be done after careful negotiation and with good knowledge of the mental health of the submissive or bottom.

In the next article, I will explore in detail the issues of consent and safety in mind-fucking.

Copyright 2023 Hermes Solenzol.

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