Hecate wrote an absolutely marvelous and thoughtful post on the subject of how a submissive’s behavior reflects on her dominant over on Alt, entitled “The Reflection“. It is a particularly well-balanced treatment of the subject, looking not just at the old saw that if a submissive is badly behaved, it makes her dominant look bad, and reflects on his own competence, but also points out the pitfalls of judging what “bad behavior” in others really are, when you’re not privy to the details of the relationship. A few excerpts follow, since not everyone will be able to access the link to the original, then my own further comments.
“There seems to be a general consensus, although not unanimous, that a submissive who is well-mannered, respectful of others, and considerate is deemed a reflection of a competent Dominant. However this is then branches into a chicken or egg type of thought. Does this mean that the Dominant has helped the submissive to achieve these traits or does it mean that competent Dominants tend to chose this type of submissive?”…
“It has been pointed out that often times saying a submissive reflects badly on the Dominant is a judgement call or a way to “keep the submissive in check” used by others, not in the relationship… But it is very hard to make that kind of judgement unless you are actually privy to the things the Dominant considers appropriate… We need to care [sic] with the judgement calls.”…
“Finally, as one of our respected Masters pointed out, a submissive who is seen to have failed a Dominant, points to a less competent Dominant as it is the responsibilty of the Dominant to make the expected behavior very clear to said submissive. However, watch out for those judgements–you might think the submissive is failing but the Dominant might be beaming with pride.”
Yes, we do need to be careful with judging the behavior of others for these reasons, but the dominant himself must also be careful about judging behavior he doesn’t like in his own submissive as entirely her fault as well.
Not only does the submissive’s behavior tend to reflect on the dominant and his competence, regardless of the choices of partner that either may make, but the dominant himself can actually use the sub’s behavior as a tool to help him to assess how well he himself is doing at setting clear expectations, holding a safe space for her, being consistent, and much more when he himself doesn’t like what’s happening.
While it’s certainly possible, and often true, it’s not always the case that “bad” behavior originates within the sub herself because she’s some awful person, stubbornly disobedient, or “not submissive enough”, it’s at least equally likely that it’s the result of the dominant’s own failure to do the above, or to stepping on limits or other issues she has that may cause a sub with healthy boundaries to resist or otherwise “misbehave”, etc.
A savvy dominant will start to assess behavior he doesn’t like by first looking inside himself to see what he himself may be doing to cause it, because there are many ways in which a dominant’s own behavior may be generating that which the submissive may be doing that he finds displeasing.
By looking inside at what we ourselves are doing, we can often come up with answers as to how to seduce and evoke (and reinforce) the behaviors we would prefer in others. The reality in all of life is that what we see in front of us is often a reflection of what we ourselves are doing, where we are in our own lives and awareness, etc. Nowhere is this more true than within a D/s relationship, and specifically with how the dominant himself sets the tone for the overall relationship, to which in many ways, the sub may only be responding.
This takes a particularly high degree of self awareness to be able to honestly see his own role in the matter, and often the willingness to accept input from others about what they see, how they would handle similar situations, etc. It’s also essential that he accept feedback from the sub herself, especially if she is able to be specific about what it is that he is doing (or not doing) that causes her displeasing behavior.
This is not to say that the sub herself is absolved of her own responsibilities in the matter, which she is certainly not, or that there isn’t such a thing as a bad fit between a particular dominant and his submissive in terms of what they both want and are capable of behavior or style-wise, or in any other way, because that certainly happens frequently, over many issues.
This aspect clearly deserves examination as well, but in this particular post, I’m looking at it just from the point of view of what the dominant can best do about it when behavior he doesn’t like surfaces.
SimplyMichael also speaks about this from the dominant’s point of view in the Poor Girl thread on the Intimate D/s Discussion group on Fetlife.