Understanding Power


Some Thoughts on Power:

Power.  For many this is a very provocative word.  I find in my practice that it is most often associated with abuse or something bad.  I likely would have said the same in my young adulthood.

When we think of Mother Theresa do we think of power?  Of Martin Luther King?  Of Mahatma Gandhi?  Do we conjure images of mountain climbing, of yoga asana and meditation practice?  I hope so.  But when we associate the word power with something bad we've likely experienced abuse of power in our life time.


It seems that in the last year, it is possible that we have seen more overt images and representation of power in the media than we have seen since the 1960's and maybe ever before.  We are seeing images of girl power, of black power, of Trump power.  We are seeing images of police officers exhibiting power over innocent people, black people going about their lives.  We are seeing images of student power rising up to reclaim their security in the world.  We are seeing a righteous female power demanding the end of misogyny and exposing sexual assault as a daily occurrance.  We are seeing religious leaders demand that they know what it means to live a wholesome life and that all other examples of being and living are wrong.  We are seeing men asserting their power to make decisions for women on healthcare and women asserting their power to say, "No, that won't work for us."

So what is it?  Power. Is it good?  Is it bad?  I'm sure as you read these examples in your mind you assigned good and bad to these various examples.  Perhaps with good reason.  However, I'd like to move away from good and bad and toward some important facts on power.

To put it simply, there are two forms of power: Power Over and Power With.  The Power Over model is dualistic.  There are two opposing forms of power.  Within the Power Over paradigm there must be power under—or without power.  We are seeing this modeled in our government at present and throughout our nation and what is cropping up in backlash is an assertion of another kind of power.  A type of power we call Power With.

Power With is an inclusive power.  It’s the power that understands human rights, the rights of animals, the rights of planet earth.  It is a power that understands other.  And it is the form of power that we are working on and moving toward within therapy and within the therapeutic alliance.

Parents often believe that to parent they must govern the power and that if they don't their child will be out of control, spoiled, or entitled.  In a Power With parenting model the parent is the adult that holds adult power that includes appropriate and effective boundaries, respect for other and respect for self, the ability to listen to, to attune to and to be flexible enough that the child is participating within a secure and contained system but not so contained that their power and growth is stifled.  Power With understands the innate right to power, to having a say, to human rights.  Children are humans too and by default they also have power.  Power With understands other and other's right to power.  Not just humans but any living creature. 

In Power With we move away from right and wrong and good and bad.  We are not here to say what is right for you, for other.  Hmmm…provocative?  This does not equal complacency, of standing by and watching abuse of anyone or anything take place because within the Power With model there is an inherent right to power that is being respected and honored.  But I am not here to tell you who to love, what god to pray to, whether you should put bows in your hair or not.  In Power With we understand that these are not our decisions to make.

My first blog, Understanding Codependency, is my first introduction to these two paradigms.  To connect some dots, the power over model resides within the codependency paradigm and Power With, interdependency.

In Power Over we attempt the control of others, in Power With we recognize that real control lies within our own choices, how we treat ourselves and others, how we react to our feelings, how we conduct ourselves.  We have no control over anyone else.  And in truth, no one else has control over us.  Therefore, we cannot wait for someone to liberate us, we must rise up and do this our self.

Many of us know the wonderful words of Eleanor Roosevelt "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  A century earlier William Ellery Channing said something similar "No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent."

Someone recently asked me "Does this mean that someone brings abuse upon themselves?"  NO!  Never!  But it may mean that you were taught to seek out abusive relationships as you were likely raised within a power over model and therefore not given the opportunity to learn of your own inherent right to power in relationships.

I have a provocative truth which is that I was raised to be raped.  I promise you that my parents had absolutely no intention of raising me in this way and would likely be mortified to read this and to learn this of my upbringing.  To my parents, most especially to my Italian-Portuguese American father, an assertion of my voice, my power, was seen as a sign of disrespect and disobedience.  I must not question.  He meant well.  It was very important to him to have "good" kids and for them to be "upstanding citizens", most especially his daughter.  Girls are goodAnd good is obedient.  And obedient does not question.

What my father didn't understand is that I needed that voice to protect myself and keep my body safe.  If I didn't have any practice saying 'No.', how was it that I was ever going to be able to say "NO!"?  If I didn't have practice questioning authority how was I going to navigate my education, how was I going to advocate for myself in my first job?  How was I going to feel respected, powerful in my career, successful?  I'm sure you can imagine my coming of age and young adulthood was quite challenging.  Sometimes I feel like I was a young adult well into my late thirties.  Adulthood came to me after decades of therapy and learning about my rights as an individual and cultivating my voice and learning, learning, learning so very much from my clients about power and the misuse of power and how and where to locate this power within.  I didn't become an adult until I stepped into my own power.

It's there.  It already exists.  And its waiting.  We just have to step into it.

I often say to my clients that anger is the agent for change! Not because power is always angry, but because it is one important version of your power.  So is love.  So is kindness.  So is discernment.  And so is respect, self respect.