Mental Health and Sacred Kink

This morning I got an email asking why I singled out folk with mental illness as something to “watch out for,” when it comes to working with Sacred Kink, in my book “Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond.”  I speed-responded to the individual, then went back to the manuscript and made sure I was citing myself properly.

They meant the following segment

However, not everyone heeds that call. Some individuals get so caught up in what they are doing that their connection with a partner in a Sacred Kink arrangement can go from being mutually beneficial for all parties involved to leading into obsession and addiction. Again, know your boundaries and limits.  What is helpful for you? Just because someone says they need you, does not mean that it is your job to be there for them. Keep an eye open for mental illness as well, as some individuals living with (treated or untreated) Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder), Borderline Personality Disorder, Manic Depression, and other mental health concerns can be drawn to Sacred Kink as a way to compensate for, or try to self-medicate, their mental conditions.

I never say beware.  I say to keep an eye open for… which I feel is a fair statement.

A few pages ealier (p 38) I discuss sharing mental health, history with triggers, etc for optimal chance of success.

On p 72 I have a further note on mental health, as a warning:

Some individuals don’t want to come back, liking what they found out there. Others may be in pieces and need assistance processing what they experienced before they can function in the world again. It is this reason that this work is not encouraged for individuals who are deeply mentally troubled or suffer from mental illness, as what bubbles to the surface may be a key to that illness that you as the Guide and they as the Journeyer do not have the skills to process.

and then of course there is the passing mention of the Path of Madness on p 25.

So yeah, thats the mental health warnings I have in the book.  They are all things I have seen be issues in Sacred Kink, and I have had a few shamans/ordeal workers I know in the community ask if I put enough warnings in.

There are individuals, especially with the challenges listed, whom I have seen obsess over Sacred Kink, become unethical in the ways they get others involved, or use it as a form of self-medication with no oversight from others.  Now, can some folks self-medicate with success?  Absolutely.  No one ever “prescribed” me meditation, but it is a tool I use for working with my manic phases.  That is, by definition a form of self-medication.

I have seen folks with DID be especially prone to challenges with Path of the Horse (especially when doing possessory rituals and ending up with soul fragments and other such things “left behind”), and folks with BPD be majorly affected by Energetically Transmitted Disease.  And I have seen the partners of these individuals be taken for unexpected (painful) journeys with them, when they were not aware that their partner was using Sacred Kink as something that was being magnified by the realities of their neurological non-normality.

Awareness is stressed throughout the project 🙂  Mental health awareness is one point of that.  I think there are dangers to Sacred Kink working, for individuals of any level of mental health- but those of us with known challenges (or our partners, Guides, etc), should maintain especial vigilance.  It’s like being diabetic.  Eating too many cookies can be bad for anyone… but if we know that sugar affects us more with diabetes, we should be especially watchful.  So I have seen it be with energetic and sacred working and those of use who are energetically attuned differently.  Not better, not worse- differently.

I personally think every one of us is mentally unique, and thus faces our own challenges when we do work that will put us into an altered state of consciousness.  We each have shadows, demons, challenges, and unexpected brilliance and light as well.  And sometimes, it is our lightness, not our shadow, that will scare us the most.

However, for those of us already living with mental illness, neurological non-normativity, a differently functioning mind, or a brain that operates at a different wavelength- pretending that we operate the same not only downplays our potential dangers… but our potential successes as well.

I do not believe that the universe makes Junk.  We have a purpose, those of us who operate differently.  We have a gift, and having awareness also brings to light that possibility.

I remember watching “Percy Jackson and The Olympians” and being struck by their revelations around ADD.  Percy was a troubled boy in modern society as his mind would race, he did three things at once, all the time… and then they put him into combat training.  He excelled, because he *could* do three things at once, and that racing mind allowed him to slow down the world to focus each blow.

What would happen if we unlocked the gifts of each of our mental uniquenesses?

I look forward to living in a world where see each of our gifts as gifts- with the awareness that with each gift comes a warning.  Spiderman echoes in my head- with great power, great responsibility.

And part of that responsibility is watching out for obsession.  For delusion.  For mis-interpretation or inflation of meaning.  For magnified fear.  For slipping sideways into the stream of our passions to be washed away to sea… and to take others with us.

I believe it is our obligation as neurologically non-normative individuals to stay aware of our journeys, and share them and their potential affects on others with them.  Now, of course, we get to run into that pesky social injustice thing.  If I share that I am not normal, folks will treat me as if I am not normal.  They will say I am a worthless kid with ADD (see Percy, not me, I have a different set of mental health adventures), instead of the mighty warrior with ADD.

Social injustice sucks.

The fact that mental illness is given a different category than physical illness, sucks.  That there is an expectation that “can’t you just go be normal” is said to folks living with diverse mental non-normalacies, from folks who would NEVER say that to someone living with physical non-normalacies- it tweeks me.  The desire to say “sorry, this is how I am” echoes, and then I get pissed that the word sorry came out when I have nothing to be sorry for.

So to you, reader living with a different brain- I am sorry if the way I talked about mental illness in the book hit a button.  But I think it is fair to let folks know.

Now, of course, to eliminate that social injustice that has folks think that not-normal = bad… that, that would be a delight 🙂


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.


  1. I like the way you think on this subject. I have some mental challenges, and a useful way (for me) of dealing with them. My wife is an atheist, but is open minded towards my beliefs. When things that are “obviously ‘foo’ directed”, I run them past her. We discuss how the event in question may be my perception, may have “real world” explanation, and may just be a desire to find something out of nothing. We ALSO discuss that just because something has a scientific explanation doesn’t mean it could not be used by Deity to serve Their own purposes. Challenging my own faith on a regular basis is a useful tool to me. My mental illness does Not keep me from doing what I need to do, and my constant examination and discussion keep me from being swept away, or using what I do spiritually as an improper way of dealing with my mental illnesses.
    thank you Lee 🙂

  2. Perhaps looking at it not as being aware of mental illness labels, but instead specific symptoms, may be less contentious? Though some people do prefer having labels as shorthand.

    I tend to disagree with the “not normal” application to mental illness. Mental illness is a normal part of human experience; not everyone experiences it directly, and some only under the very greatest of stress, but even without diagnosis everyone is touched by it.

    Also, just curious as to why you used the outdated term “Manic Depression” instead of Bipolar Disorder when you used DID instead of MPD?

    Good post overall!

    • Yup, a HUGE chunk of it is language.
      I actually said later in the reply that no one is normal, really 🙂 Its all a construct, there is not single baseline.

      As for Manic Depression v Bipolar Disorder… I have no idea. It slipped though the cracks is the simplest answer- I did not catch it and neither did either of my copy/content editors. Sigh.

  3. Whether we are differently bodied/minded or not, it is important to bring consciousness to our actions. Period. Knowing our limitations ((as well as our strengths) is useful. ANYONE can use poor coping skills and self-medicating behaviors, thus awareness is imperative for all people – mentally different or not.

    I think that we, the marginalized, often times become so used to defending ourselves that we see fault and offense in places that are sometimes well-intentioned. We can become so sensitive that mere mention of us or our kind can be immediately taken as injustice; however, I think it stems from our own faltering self-worth from constantly defending our integrity. I wonder if the same paragraphs would read differently if the stigma of mental illness were eliminated from our culture….

  4. I LOVE YOU! Thank you for those words of comfort and quiet caution.

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