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3 Reasons Sexual Assault Is Rooted In Powerlessness, Not Power

power photoSexual assault is never about sex. Like mass shootings and domestic violence, even pedophilia, these acts are not about power — rather a set of behaviors linked to disordered individuals that at minimum need to be identified for treatment.

These acts are rooted in powerlessness, not power. Why?

1. Acts that exhibit an intent to violate another with disregard for their rights or agency are rooted in a pathological “neediness” for a false sense of power.  

These acts are:

  • Based on an addictive craving or lust for power over others that can never be satisfied.
  • Rooted in intense fear related to powerlessness, inadequacy and rejection.
  • Driven by a lust for a false sense of power, a godlike superiority over others.
  • Attempts to numb the pain of powerless, a drug of choice, an addiction.

In contrast to individuals with a healthy sense of power, those with a pathological lust for power exhibit a neediness to subvert another’s will to feel worthwhile. There is nothing “normal” (biologically) about one person intentionally tormenting and traumatizing another. What wounds and harms any person, or limit them from being a full human being, with rights to their own life and agency, can never be; based on how the mirror neurons in human brains work, in a relationship, what harms one, harms both.

Fair to say, money and means permit access to mass media, entertainment and pornography, among others, as top money making industries, have increasingly fostered the spread of messages and myths in the last few decades that normalize rape, assault, pedophilia, sadism, overall fostering a social milieu that promotes criminal acts.

2. Individuals that that derive pleasure from disregarding and violating others have a pathological need for power rooted in powerlessness.

Individuals with a healthy sense of power tend to value their relationships with key others, and thus make choices that promote their own, but also others health and wellbeing. Thus they:

  • Do not lust to commit acts that emotionally or physically harm others.
  • Do not derive pleasure from limiting or taking away another’s sense of power and agency.
  • Do not use their power to intentionally inflict emotional and relational disturbances on others, such as narcissistic abuse syndrome, and Stockholm Syndrome.

Healthy individuals understand that authentic power is a choice to increase the sense of wellbeing of self or another at any given moment. They also understand the connection between treating others with dignity and respect with one’s own sense of authentic dignity and self-respect. To describe those who commit acts of sexual assault as “men of power” or “powerful” simply feeds the problem, and the pathology of those that commit these acts.

3. Individuals that self-identify with a pathological “neediness” to violate others to prove superiority meet the DSM diagnostic criteria for a criminal mind.

Those individuals that regard violating others with impunity as an entitlement, and thus act with intent to disregard and violate others meet key criteria for psychopathology, a thought-disorder pattern so disturbing to the human psyche that it is listed separately from other mental health disorders in the diagnostic manual, or DSM — as one of the personality disorders: antisocial personality disorder.

Arguably this is what makes APD the most disturbing of all mental health or personality disorders (to include narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, which is a less extreme version).

An individual that meets the criteria for APD or NPD feels disdain for human emotions of empathy and compassion, thus intentionally disconnects from them. Their early experiences traumatized them into wearing a mask, feeling disgust for emotional connection, or empathy, and the like. In their thought-disordered mind, these are evidence of weakness and inferiority.

In varying degrees, those with a criminal mind pose a risk of harm to others.

It must also be said that some men who otherwise would never rape or assault a woman, may do so in certain contexts, i.e., in a group of boys or men, to avoid being perceived as weak, etc., in which one or more males pressure them to display and conform to the norms of what some refer to as “toxic  masculinity” or “the cult of masculinity.” In his research titled Dying to Be Men, for example, Dr. Gary Barker describes how men often feel forced to go along with group norms, in situations that pose high risk of harm to themselves and others, in order to avoid rejection, shame-based taunting, and to prove they are “real” men, not sissies or girls.

Rape and assault are criminal actions rooted in a false-self sense of power, hyper-vigilant ego-defenses, and core fears, among others, of powerlessness, rejection and inadequacy.



Photo by frantiekl

3 Reasons Sexual Assault Is Rooted In 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. (2018). 3 Reasons Sexual Assault Is Rooted In Powerlessness, Not Power. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Nov 2018
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