In Part 1, power was described as an ongoing choice regarding the type of energy (emotion) we activate in and around us. It is not power that has a particular effect, however, rather what we believe power is, which directly impacts how we exercise, handle or respond to one another’s personal power, i.e., actions, choices, and so on.
The view of power we hold, either as a capacity to make optimally creative choices, or an ability to be in control over our own power (choices) or another’s, dramatically changes our behaviors, feelings, wants, goals, and so on. It also produces radically different outcomes.
Defining power as a mere ability or right to dominate, to impose or to force one’s will on another is a limiting view of power. Even worse, it can be toxic to our relationships and our health.
This limiting view also hides multiple healthy-dimensions of power as a creative and energizing force, for example, one that can be used to foster mutual caring, empower creativity and personal transformation, among other positive outcomes.
Psychologist Alfred Adler held that a “neurotic lust” for aggressiveness and self-absorption were a result of failed attempts in childhood to meet needs for healthy power in contexts where parenting practices were domineering or harsh. Adler regarded human beings as, above all, social beings who instinctively seek to exercise their “power” to fulfill certain drives to belong and to find meaningful ways to connect and contribute to life around them. The most important elements to healthy child development, in his view, were parental love and interest. According to Adler, to the extent children are dominated, they learn how to use an array of punitive tactics to get their needs met, whether aggressively or passively, manipulating others’ emotions of fear, shame and guilt.
In relational contexts, it is not power itself that makes a particular impact, rather what we believe power is, and therefore, what we believe we “have to” do to get the love, recognition, value — to matter — in relation to those that most matter to us. If tactics of dominance seem to “work,” and they do at least on the surface, it is only because human behaviors are shaped by underlying emotion-drives to matter, to feel loved, accepted and recognized.
Here are a few ideas to consider in exploring your beliefs about healthy power.
R – Restores.
Healthy or “pure” power is “real” power because it is healthy, having an emotional healing effect. It consists of actions and a set intention to restore emotional, mental or relational balance in our life and relationships. It is a force we can access to energize emotions in and around us that generate healing. It stems from compassion when we see and feel the desire to restore balance in some area of our life. It works similar to the “refresh” button on our computer. It galvanizes the energy we need to rise above our fears and ego, to break old barriers, to do what is uncomfortable, such as to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” (The power of a genuine apology is immeasurable.)
E – Energizes.
Healthy power energizes our ability to tap into inner sources of action-activating energy. Actions seal the deal, and the ability to take action toward realizing our dreams and aspirations builds courage, confidence and sense of self-efficacy. It sustains our momentum to take action consistently to reach our goals, for example, in the direction of healing or reconciling a relationship, asking “What can I do to make amends?”
A – Awakens.
Real power awakens us to inner sources of strength, courage and determination to see and stand in our truth. As we access these resources, we grow our wisdom and compassion, a capacity to consciously love that’s based on a growing understanding of our self, others and life that allows us to freely give and receive, depending on what area we most need to strengthen to find balance and peace of mind.
L – Links.
Real power links us to others in meaningful ways. It builds heart to heart connections as we act to mutuality honor our own and other’s capacity to make choices, act as agents of our lives, and so on. When we interact with a loved, for example, we come face to face with their power — their personal power to make choices. It is the power of the other that we most fear (fear of intimacy). They have the power, for example, to say no, to deny us the love we yearn for, to dismiss what we want, to reject or to disapprove of some aspect of our life, and so on.
In sum, power is a perception and a choice. The power of another is simply our perception of their power. The source of our power, or another’s, therefore, is in our mind. When someone judges us, we always have a choice in how we will respond, for example. Will we respond in a way that brings you closer or increases the gap between you and loved ones, for example?
If we choose to take what another said or did personally, in effect, we grant them power they do not really possess, except subconsciously in our mind (or theirs). Best selling author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer identifies a helpful rule of thumb to keep in mind, as follows: “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
Power is a choice of what and how we use our energy. We always have a choice in how we respond, and that’s our core power. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl says the following: “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Whether conscious or subconscious, our perceptions of power and how we relate to one another’s power are learned. They emerge from our life experiences, and the meanings we’ve internalized that form our most current worldview. Our most powerful teachers as children and young adults have been subconscious cultural influences that have shaped our beliefs, such as family, school, church, government, entertainment media, and so on. As adults, it’s up to us to sift through these meanings to make conscious what is subconscious, to choice what is healthy and let go of what is not.
Power is what power does, and it’s impossible not to have power. Power is energy that is activated moment-by-moment as we take action, accordingly, to realize our emotional needs for love, recognition, free agency, purpose, etc. The only power others ever have “over us” is the power we give them in our mind.
Regardless the type of power, misguided or not, at heart, the human quest for power is a means to find balance and create meaningful connections to life in and around us.