Power Struggle: The Invisible Addiction

By Sharon Strand Ellison

Wife: "You never listen to me!"
Husband: "What do you mean? I never listen to you! It's you who never listens!!"

Child: "I can't do this math assignment. It's too hard!"
Parent: "Sure you can, honey." You are really smart.

Friend #1: I'm feeling kind of low. I don't think I'll go to the party.
Friend #2: Oh, C'mon. You'll feel better if you go.

Most people would identify the argument between the husband and wife as a power struggle. Many people would identify the parent as being "encouraging," showing faith in the child's intelligence. Likewise the friend #2 might be seen as being supportive, helping a friend get out of a bad mood.

I think all three scenarios are examples of power struggle. In each case the second speaker "countered" what the first person said.

1. You never listen — No, it is you who never listens.
2. I can't learn it — Yes, you can
3. I don’t want to go — You should go

In our traditional ways of talking to each other, we are constantly creating power struggles. In a hundred ways, every day.

What is a power struggle?

The Britannica World Dictionary defines power first as the "ability to act; potency.  …produces change…" Then, most of the rest of the definitions focus on words like "control" and "domination": "any agent that exercises power; as in control or domination."

When we are in power struggle, we are trying to control the other person, not just ourselves. In some cases we are trying to get that person to change, in other cases, we are trying to stop that person from controlling us.

One thing is clear, when we are in power struggle, our primary goal is winning, gaining control. It can take the form of proving our point, convincing someone to agree with us, being "right."

When we are in power struggle, we have the assumption that only one of us can be the winner and the other must be the loser. It is as if we see power like a single gold bar that we must fight over to see who gets it.

What affect does power struggle have on us?

I think it has the same affect as any addiction. We value being right, coming out ahead in the argument, gaining control, winning — all forms of power that give us more and the other person less. We care more about the winning than the relationship, just like the alcoholic. We keep going after the win, even when it costs us more than it gives us. As with any addiction, we can never get enough, we need more. Power struggle is progessive and destructive, like an addiction to drugs, eating, or shopping.

In fact, I think that power struggle is an addiction. Pervasive and invisible, it has escaped recognition as a addictive force of destruction.

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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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