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Why Sexual Assault Is Based on Powerlessness, Not Power

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It’s clear that rape and sexual assault are not about sex.

What is less clear, however, is that these acts are also not merely about power — at least not power per se. They are rather a form of power, or lust, to objectify, diminish, dehumanize, exploit another.

This cannot be emphasized enough.

Like mass shootings and domestic violence, and pedophilia, intentional acts of violence, emotional or physical, are about deriving pleasure from rendering others powerless.

To be clear, we’re speaking of a pathological form of power.

Why? Because these acts are rooted in:

  • Intense fears of powerlessness, inadequacy and rejection.
  • A neediness or dependency that demans, like a drug, on feeling superior over another to feel worthwhile.
  • Proving self-worth on the basis of skills to con, exploit, block another human being from sources of healthy human power (agency, esteem, sense of worth, value, etc).
  • Lust for a type of power “over” that is, arguably, the most toxic type of power to human relationships, thus dangerous to the human psyche of the perpetrator and prey alike.
  • A rejection of key emotions of vulnerability, such as empathy and emotional connection, which are critical to human growth and development of knowledge and understanding of self and other, and the formation of mutually enriching relationships, growing wisdom, and other transformative processes.

Conceivably, to deeply fear one’s true self is a fear of being human — it is fear or fear itself.

To be specific, it’s a thinking pattern associated with the criminal mind.

It is a thought-disorder characterized by impairment of self and interpersonal functioning, and in varying degrees, one that is so disturbing to the human psyche, it is listed separately from other mental health disorders in the diagnostic manual, or DSM. It is one of the personality disorders: antisocial personality disorder, or APD.

Known also as sociopathology or psychopathology, or the criminal mind, APD is arguably the most disturbing of personality disorders listed in the DSM.

While the harm and risk to others ranges on a wide spectrum, from emotional abuse to sexual assault with PTSD-like symptoms, or narcissistic abuse syndrome, on the one end, to violent rape and taking of life on the other, the impact of an APD on others, and their key relationships, is extensive. Perhaps worst of all is the traumatizing effects on children in formative years who, as a result of witnessing and experiencing narcissistic abuse and neglect, are at high risk of repeating the patterns in their adult relationships, as perpetrators or victims accordingly. And thus the legacy of narcissistic physical and, or emotional violence and trauma gets passed on from one unsuspecting generation to the next.

Psychopathology was first identified in the 1800s by Dr. J.C. Prichard, a physician who coined the term ‘moral insanity,’ noted a recent article on The 10 Personality Disorders, to describe the characteristic lack of remorse for moral treatment of others along with a “morbid perversion of the natural feelings, affections, inclinations … and natural impulses” of those suffering from this disorder.

Similar traits characterize APD’s closest cousin, narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, so much so that NPD was removed from the most recent edition of the diagnostic manual, the DSM-V. (Many practitioners do not agree with this revision.)

Although the line between them can be hazy, NPDs tend to protect their image, and thus adopt ways of inflicting pain and chaos that avoids tarnishing their image; whereas the APD is proud to boast of criminal behaviors, such as physical violence, sexual assault, rape, etc.

Again, it’s a fine line. Some of the recently accused celebrities, in entertainment, media and politics, were regarded as “nice guys, admirable” (think of Bill Cosby, a nice guy icon), but still engaged in criminal behaviors. And this is where it gets muddled, but only because men learn that they can count on the good ol’ boy network to rescue them, to get them out of hot water, to use money to buy access to campaigns that tarnish and discredit their victims, and as a last resort, for victims who stand their ground, to buy them off.

This thought-disorder elevates aggression and core survival-fears that keep the body’s survival system on guard, in certain relational contexts, ready to activate. In survival mode, however, the higher thinking capacity of the brain, the frontal cortex, is crippled, and thus blocked from its otherwise amazing capacity to use higher thinking, both-and reflective processes.

Unfortunately, this thinking pattern is reinforced by cultural ideals for extreme masculinity that men as a group are expected to adapt throughout their lives, for example:

  • Dichotomous views of men as either callous and emotionally detached, or weak and gay; correspondingly, views of women as either submissive and serving at the pleasure of men, or dangerous and evil.
  • Narcissistic false-self definitions of masculinity that demand men strongly defend and detach themselves from feeling empathy and emotional pain, and other vulnerable emotions, in order to prove manliness, self-worth and thus their superiority and rights to entitlements.
  • (And yes, there are cases where women adapt these norms; the problem is not men or women, it is in the traumatizing might-makes-right belief system and its dehumanizing norms.)
  • Denial of one’s true self as a human being that yearns for authentic and meaningful connection with self, life, others —  the outcome of which is the formation of a narcissistic false-self, inhumane expectations to suppress and feel shame, hatred, disgust for emotions of empathy, compassion in themselves — or others.
  • Beliefs that masculinity is something that must be protected from the influences of women and “lesser” humans in general must be kept separate and at bay, in order to protect the purity of masculinity from the supposed “threats” or dangerous influences of what women tend to promote, such as empathy and nonsexual closeness and touch, and so on
  • A might-makes right belief system that tricks men to associate pleasure with displays of superiority over women and girls, thus entitlement rights to hoard pleasures, treat and mistreat them as objects (not human, thus do not feel pain) with impunity, show callous disregard, no remorse, and so on.

(Notably, these ideas of women (and other groups deemed “inferior”), as non-human, by the way, were first disseminated by the writings of Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who felt women were a contaminating influence in the training of men to fight in wars; his writings had a powerful influence in Western culture, indeed, he was canonized as a saint by the Medieval Church that burned millions of women, by some estimates, at the stake.)

To be accurate, it is an illusion of power based on a false-self.

Rape and assault are criminal actions rooted in a false-self sense of power, or powerlessness, and other core fears. 

Why? Firstly, because genuinely powerful men (or women):

  • Do not acts in ways that knowingly seek to subvert another’s needs, emotionally or physically.
  • Do not derive pleasure from limiting or taking away another’s sense of power, agency.
  • Do not use their power to intentionally disrupt another’s career, financial health, reputation, etc.

Genuinely powerful men and women are authentically connected to their emotions. They do not feel diminished by evidence of another’s strengths, talents or successes, regardless of their gender or age or status or race, and so on. Indeed, they feel happy to celebrate others’ talents, feeling awe for the accomplishments of others, and human creativity and innovation, stamina and ingenuity, in general. Healthy human beings have thinking patterns, and belief systems, that free them to be human, most of all, and thus to do what humans are hardwired and driven to do around the close — to seek to matter and find fulfillment (in healthy rather than toxic ways), and thus through empowering self and others, making contributions, growing from facing the pain and challenges of coming out of old comfort zones, and creating meaningful connections and contributions to life, self and others in the process, wherever possible.

Sadly, there as those who have big money and thus power to buy access to the means, such as mass media and entertainment, to include pornography, that are known, based on scientific proof, to influence changes in social behavior, and manipulate “the public mind” through propaganda campaigns that intentionally seek to also hide, and con others into believing — a topsy turvy might-makes-right worldview of lies and con artistry. Literally, these lies seek to con others into thinking what is perverse (because it is traumatizing to human health and wellbeing) is “good and normal,” and vice versa, what is normal is “evil and dangerous.”

And thus we see orchestrated efforts by big money to both profit and maintain the old status quo with mass media campaigns, and tactics such as blaming-the-victim, “boys will be boys” excuse-making, to include misogyny and hate propaganda disguised as “eroticized dominance” for men, romanticized dominance for women, at every level of our society, mass media, entertainment. The porn industry is particularly damaging in promoting myths that normalize cruelty, dominance and violence against women in couple relations.

Together, these institutions have increasingly worked in the last three decades, to “normalize” rape, assault, and even pedophilia, effectively fostering a social mileau that hides criminal behaviors.

More often, men who assault women (and others arbitrarily deemed weak, i.e., children, etc.) have witnessed or experienced assault themselves in childhood, perhaps also neglect. Thus their experiences overall have taught them that “power and status” are something a man guards with aggression and force, physical and, or emotional violence; that human beings are either superior or inferior, entitled to benefits or objects to be used for pleasure, and so on; and that throughout their lives they must hyper-vigilantly “prove” their superiority by rendering those deemed “weak,” such as women, children, powerless.

Life experiences have also led them reject their true self as human, and instead:
  • To adapt a might-makes-right worldview as a defensive strategy.
  • To regard the “weak” as dangerous competitors.
  • To hyper-vigilantly remain on guard and approach women with a “get them before they get you” mentality.
  • To regard empathy as a hated-sign of weakness and inferiority, but also as a potentially dangerous contaminant to masculinity.
  • To treat those who empathized like objects who deserved to be exploited, attacked like prey, taught lessons.

Fearing intimacy more than death, men who rape and assault women, or protect a system that excuses and hides these criminal acts, do so because they’ve been socially trained, from early childhood experiences, to fear what women represent. Women are a reminder of “human” parts of themselves inside that they learned to regard with scoren and disgust, something that is a “threat” as it is “dangerous to masculinity” — in truth, of course, it is impossible to suppress vulnerable emotions without also suppressing joy and love and celebration of life and relationships.

These inhumane expectations leave men feeling isolated, alone, disconnected and fearful of feeling or expressing human emotions. When men hurt, women hurt, children hurt, couple and family relationships hurt.

Our men and boys as a group are hurting; and hurt people hurt people.

It’s harmful to the perpetrator, and society, as it is to victims.

A human being is wired with mirror neurons; they cannot act to dehumanize, objectify another without committing the same neuro-chemical states of mind and body inside  themselves.

Toxic power is fear based. This fear-appeal forces men to make an inhumane decision between either belonging to an “entitled” group or enslaved groups.

It is used by someone who is addicted to feeling power over others in order to feel worthwhile, thus carry a depraved neediness to limit or block the power of others in order to feel power over the other.

Power, at core, is fundamentally healthy emotion-drive for self-agency, something every human being yearns to realize, from the first breath to the last, that is, to experience the freedom and joy of realizing one’s capacity to create a fulfilling inner life as a result of learning how to create meaningful connections to self, life and others. It’s an ever present capacity to choose how to respond, at any given moment.

It’s a multi-facted concept, and can be healthy or not depending on how it is used. The question is whether the means to increase sense of power and choices are based on energies that elevate fear — or elevate a sense of safety and mutual caring.

Power is healthy to the extent actions are collaborative and honor the power of others to make choices. In contrast, it is unhealthy to the degree it strategizes to derive pleasure from inflicting intentional harm, and nothing is more traumatizing to humans than the sense of loss of agency.

Dr. Alfred Adler, a 20th century psychiatrist and major psychological theorist, referred to this craving or lust to dominate and prove supremacy as “neurotic power” and contrasted this to what he termed as natural human strivings for “healthy power” as a sense of agency and choice making.

Men who are confident in themselves, as strong and worthwhile human beings, value the strengths of a woman, or any other human beings for that matter. Leadership is about sharing power, identifying diverse strengths, and working collaboratively to enhance the quality of life for all concerned. No exceptions.

Recent findings in the field of neuroscience reveal that the human brain is a social organ above all. Researchers have found that empathy and violence share the same circuitry the brain. They have an inverse relationship, however; that is, the more a brain is trained to be empathic on a regular basis, the less inclination for violence, and vice versa.

It is only men that feel threatened by a woman sense of separate self that exhibit a “neediness” or craving to dominate, demoralize, make another feel invisible, destroy in order to prove themselves.(And yes, it can happen to women as well, more often in the role of parent where proof of dominance is expected from mothers. It’s essential to “blame” or hold the widespread reinforcement of might-makes-right values responsible — and not men and women per se.)

The former disrupts emotional connection in relation to self and other, and the latter promotes them.

To refer to wounded men who need help as “men of power” or “powerful” — is incorrect.

Individuals that suffer from APD or NPD do not want help, and that’s the problem. Their actions, nevertheless, are a cry for help.

Overall, this fear-based worldview elevates cortisol and, in varying degrees, depending on the situation, their autonomic nervous system remains hyper-vigilantly on guard, scanning for perceived threats and attacks.

They’ve been brainwashed to believe it is normal for those who prove “might” to act like god-like beings, entitled to exploit and mistreat with impunity those whom they regard with scorn as their possessions, objects of pleasure. In short, they are so disconnected from reality, that the reality of being human, having human emotions of empathy and compassion, and so on, is what they consider pathology.

This training keeps their autonomic nervous system on guard 24/7 to aggressively attack signs of vulnerability in others — and themselves.

Exposed to traumatizing effects of living with an APD or NPD in childhood, they’ve been trained to suppress vulnerable emotions from early childhood, and to relish and feel proud to regard such with disgust and hatred, scorn and shame. In this thought-disordered worldview, these emotions are regarded as evidence of weakness and inferiority, and dangerous contaminants to masculinity.

From an APDs worldview, women are dangerous, fierce competitors, continually scheming to emasculate men — by asking them to do “unmanly” things such as emotionally connect, empathize, engage in vulnerable communications, do romantic things, enjoy nonsexual touch and affection, and the like.

Literally, this might makes right belief system gets them to intensely fear and regard as “threats” the very things that would enhance their personal and relational happiness and fulfillment!

It is no wonder the narcissist and sociopath have such fragile egos; they are hooked on this illusion of power. Like addicts, they crave and depend on this drug to numb the pain they feel inside that their unwilling to face and heal.

Men who veer from these arbitrary standards, however, are shamed and rejected as weak, unmanly, girls, gay. No wonder their autonomic nervous system of APDs and NPDs is hyper-vigilantly on guard against any infraction of these norms, any signs of not acknowledging their status as “entitled” and so on. In their belief, the world consists of two categories of persons, predators and prey; and prey must be hurt or broken, otherwise they’ll turn into predators.

It’s a crazy belief system that keeps the neurochemistry of the brain and body in guarded, alert mode — fighting against the formation of human relationships, and human responses in self and others.

In truth, of course, empathy and compassion are core emotion-drives that regulate the brain and autonomic nervous system. They are not only hardwired into human biology, they are also key attributes that, when cultivated, are what add meaning to life and relationships, and thus are critical to human health and wellbeing.

Last but not least, to describe those who commit these acts as “men of power,” wittingly or unwittingly, plays right into the mind games and topsy-turvy belief system of narcissist- and sociopath-trolls who, it cannot be said enough, strategize 24/7 to tear down what is true biologically about the nature of human beings and human relationships, and instead spread lies to “normalize” a might-makes-right worldview.

In truth, aggression and force are low-energy frequencies in the body, the weakest form of power, designed to be used to deal with real physical threats. As irrational states of mind and body they harmful and destructive to health and wellbeing. Power in the form of kind and caring actions, creative solutions and collaboration, in contrast, are the basis for healthy personal and relational wellbeing, and communities.

To be accurate, history flags APDs as dangerous to democracy.

History provides ample evidence of the predictably destructive impact of APD oligarchs on social relationships. That’s because they fight vehemently against concepts of collaboration, democracy, pursuit of freedom and happiness for all.

They are masters of disguise, and scheme to obfuscate the truth with lies.

Sociopathic acts, such as sexual assault and rape, are widespread for one reason alone: because a good ol’ boy network believes the self-proclaimed “mighty” are entitled to treating and mistreating others as they wish, to allocating rewards and punishments accordingly, and thus, to disregarding the true nature of human beings and social relationships, and using their means to normalize dominance, and other perverse abuses, in relationships between men and women in particular, but also children and other groups.

In this era, their con artistry is backed by scientific proven methods of deception.  In the words of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s appointed propaganda minister:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

That’s what makes them dangerous, if not physically, at minimum to the mental and emotional wellbeing of those around them, but also to society at large.

A society that is willing to lie (even in our history and science books) in order to eliminate evidence that disproves white male supremacy is detrimental to itself.

Those who have money and status may have the option to use their power and ownership of mass media and entertainment to hide, and mask what is a sickness of the human soul, to normalize rape, assault, pedophilia, fostering a social mileau that promotes these crimes at the highest levels.

To refer to these men as “powerful” — is false. Money may buy a lot of power in terms of physical comforts and access, true. Inside, however, where it matters most, money devoid of human connection to self and others is an addictive craving to nothing more than temporary, cheap-thrills that can never satisfy the human soul — it is driven to emotionally connect with self and others, to matter, in meaningful ways.

As with others addictions, lust for this type of power turns the mind and body into a prison, where the addict feels increasingly empty, isolated, enslaved by his own lust for what is keeping him disconnected, lost and detached — yet helpless, powerless to stop their own destruction.

Our society, for hundreds and thousands of years, has tricked men into believing in a topsy-turvy world, that power is glorified through aggressive and violence, and that empathy, and mutual caring and collaboration as weaknesses.

It’s not power, it’s powerlessness.

Emotional intimacy and empathic connection are emotion-drives hardwired into human biology, indeed, key attributes that, when cultivated, add meaning to life and relationships, thus contribute to healthy mind and body.

In contrast, rape and assault, pedophilia are criminal behavior patterns rooted in a false-self sense of power, and thus intense and hyper-vigilant fear, among others, of powerlessness, inadequacy and rejection.

Ultimately, it’s a protective mechanism that allows psychopaths to derive pleasure from inflicting harm, while feeling no remorse for the vulnerable persons they attack, woman, child, weaker men, other groups deemed weak, etc.

We must wake up as a society. This problem is systematic and can only be solved by men and women working together as, first and foremost, human beings.

We all must realize that a society that:

A society that is not safe for women is not safe for men.

A society that is not safe for children is not safe for men or women.

A society that is not safe for nonwhites is not safe for whites.

The Golden Rule is not a theory. It is one of the driving Principles of Life. Those who seek wisdom have known it from the beginning of recorded history. Today, neuroscience backs this with hard scientific evidence thanks to advanced methodology in studying the brain..

The mirror neuron feature of the human brain makes it impossible for one to feel scorn for another, and not release the same emotion-molecule state of mind and body in themselves.

No power is greater than creative acts of conscious love and collaboration, kindness. This is pure power, and that’s not theory, it’s science.

Photo by new 1lluminati

Why Sexual Assault Is Based on Powerlessness, Not Power

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2017). Why Sexual Assault Is Based on Powerlessness, Not Power. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Dec 2017
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