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Uses and abuses of power in relationships
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Empowerment, or the lack of it, is a major player in relationships. However, most couples are unaware of this dynamic and how it affects not only their behaviours, but how they feel about each other. Be aware that you can get into various empowerment states over time. Highlight below those sentences that most closely describe situations that happens to you. Get your partner to do likewise.
Avoidant Insecure (Withdrawer) Disempowerment
1. Disempowerment takes many forms, and a Withdrawer may have one, but more likely none, of these disempowered patterns. Examples of disempowerment include:
i. An absence of a connection to any part of self that even feels like speaking up on one’s own behalf. Usually this is because the Avoidant is disconnected to feelings that could alert him to his predicament.
ii. An absence of a connection to any part of self that desires to speak up on one’s own behalf. A small percentage of Avoidants struggle to string words together required to respond to conflict.
iii. Point ii. above can be triggered by fear/self-doubt (commonly based on an “I’m not good enough” script) that I won’t succeed in making my case - “I won’t be able to state my point of view well enough – so I won’t try.” This reason is not so common amongst Avoidants.
Any of the above would be adopting the Victim position in the Control Drama Triangle (see Part 1.)
2. A common response to fearing conflict is to just give up raising concerns, or expressing preferences. However, minimising any fuss will ensure that you feel safer having avoided a drama, but deep within yourself, you will know that this pattern is not good for the relationship.
3. For a Withdrawer, emotions that result can include feeling criticised, wrong, hopeless, helpless, concerned, numb, wrong, etc. These feelings may in turn generate frustration, irritation, resentment, anger or even rage. By this point, disempowerment has been replaced by over-empowerment.
4. The Withdrawer may suffer from self-doubt fuelled by a fear of engagement, or from fearing not having the required answers, or solutions.
5. Withdrawers are very vulnerable to feeling shame, or its close companion, feeling criticised. Their immediate reaction to feeling shame, is to feel disempowered because they feel diminished, inadequate or wrong. This generates a response of either behaving defensively, or becoming over-empowered and angry, or both.
6. Withdrawing itself can be an act of retreating or giving up on connection. This may be caused by an absence of confidence about engaging successfully. If resorted to often, the connections and cohesion in the relationship can be seriously undermined.
7. However there are times when withdrawing can be used to manipulate, upset the partner, or even ‘punish’ the partner. Over-empowerment, the flip side of disempowerment, is then at play.
Anxious Insecure (Connector) Disempowerment
1. Disempowerment is common amongst Connectors. In my experience, at least 80% would have one or more of the patterns described below.
i. An absence of a connection to any part of self that even feels like speaking up on one’s own behalf. This is especially the case if disempowerment has a long history, and is experienced as a ‘normal’ part of everyday life.
ii. An absence of a connection to any part of self that desires to speak up on one’s own behalf. This pattern usually also has a long history, but could develop if disempowerment has become a norm in the relationship for quite some time.
iii. Fear/self-doubt (often based on an “I’m not good enough” script) that I won’t succeed in making my case. This is like an internal flame extinguishing script. Its exacerbated if you are in the habit of surrendering power to what is perceived as a “capable”, dominant, bossy, or quick-thinking partner.
iv. Fear/self-doubt that my argument will not be strong enough, “I won’t be able to state my point of view well enough – so I won’t try”; "I’ll be talked down, my argument may be flawed”, or “I won’t cope with the backlash”, or “Engaging will just set off a fight and I can’t stand arguments”;
iv. A belief generating disdain/fear/guilt towards an empowered self that those who promote their own interests are selfish, self-serving, and so are not very nice people, and I don’t want to be one of them.
2. A common response to fearing conflict is to just give up raising concerns, or expressing preferences. Minimising any fuss will ensure that feelings of being squashed, diminished, overridden or ignored are likely to arise, and could result in your emotions exploding at some point. Over time, such Connectors tend to raise fewer and fewer issues knowing that the outcome is likely to be unproductive at best, and conflictual at worst.
3. A disempowered Connector may feel bullied, controlled, dominated, criticised, unappreciated, or minimised by their partner, whether or not their partner is in fact intending or doing any of that.
4. Typical disempowered feelings for a Connector include feeling flat, lifeless, hopeless, helpless, hurt, burned out, ignored, uncared for, unimportant, overlooked, unseen or even unloved. These feelings may then turn into frustration, irritation, resentment, anger or even rage. By this point, disempowerment has been replaced by over-empowerment.
5. The dilemma for Connectors is that their more natural tendency is to have a mutual discussion of preferences. Forcing a viewpoint, or having to 'market' their preference isn’t usually a comfortable approach. However, empowerment requires that the Connector pushes through discomfort in order to voice needs, preferences and concerns.
6. Thus, engaging in a debate or exchange of views can feel wearisome for most Connectors who would usually prefer a calm, mutually supportive discussion.
7. If disempowerment persists, the natural tendency to connect may become replaced by a tendency to engage less and less. Eventually, this may give rise to the Anxious/Avoidant style.
8. Alternatively, other strategies are developed. This could involve telling lies, doing things behind their partner’s back, keeping their thoughts to themselves, acting alone rather than as a couple, not bothering to raise potentially divisive subjects, or angrily pushing for what is wanted. Avoidants may relish the conflict-free environment, but may not recognise that their relationship is now dying.
Avoidant Insecure (Withdrawer) Over-empowerment
1. This occurs when someone uses a dominating tone, anger, abuse, physical force, shouting, etc to dominate a discussion or interaction. Vocal, emotional or physical force dominance is at play. At times, just being bossy and controlling generally makes one’s partner feel one down, making it easy for the over-empowered to dominate. Over-empowerment equates to the Persecutor position in the Control Drama Triangle.
2. Such an individual usually has a history, since childhood, of getting their own way forcefully or copying a parent who did something similar, and so the child has taken on parental modelling.
3. Amongst Withdrawers, this most commonly is an empowered individual, usually male, who has learned to use power excessively to dominate when it suits them. This of course generates the likelihood of a disempowered partner who feels controlled, manipulated, or dominated by their partner. Narcissism is an extreme example of this at work.
4. This creates a dilemma for the partner who is most likely a Connector. “Do I also ramp up and argue my viewpoint, or do I close down to this?” If they ramp up, a ‘Right versus Right’ argument most likely results. If the Connector closes down, they become the Anxious/Avoidant Insecure type.
5. Avoidants must be aware that their desire for logical reasoning over-rides a partner whose truth is found in their feelings. They must learn to communicate calmly where there is a chance for all viewpoints to be put on the table and considered.
6. Withdrawers often find their partner has walked out when “I didn’t know there was a problem.” This is often the problem – and the disconnection that results from it.
Anxious Insecure (Connector) Over-empowerment
1. However, it’s also possible that a disempowered Anxious Insecure female will flip from being disempowered to being over-empowered. They may use anger, manipulation, coercion, or lies to ensure they control circumstances to their advantage. Those with Borderline Personality Disorder are an example of this.
2. A Connector faces some difficult choices when engaged with an over-empowered partner, because whatever they do may not serve them. Either they also become over-empowered and get angry and shout back and forsake the connection with their Avoidant partner, or they withdraw into greater disempowerment and avoidance and stop being themselves
3. There is thus a huge cost to such dynamics for a Connector. It’s impossible to maintain a loving, caring, balanced relationship if these dynamics are present, even if only occasionally.
4. Most arguing couples are in fact engaged in such a tug of war over power, being heard, being taken seriously, being in control of the life they choose. One person usually gives up on their own knowing, feelings and choices in such a relationship
5. Right versus Right arguments create such an imbalance in power that usually the relationship will eventually break down because such a sustained experience is destructive to the health and well-being of the less empowered person. Such a person can only be ‘not self’ for a short period of time and still remain emotionally and mentally balanced and healthy.
6. Connectors will find that neither getting angry nor retreating works. They must invite cool, calm and collected communication described in Part 4.
A scholar tries to learn something every day; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.
Avoidant Insecure (Withdrawer) Empowerment
1. Those who are naturally empowered tend to do whatever they deem necessary that suits them. Their decisions are usually self-serving, but are not necessarily selfish. They are simply good at tuning into, and pleasing, number one.
2. Withdrawers may decide to do tasks, meet people, initiate activities, etc. all based on their own preferences. They’re good at following their own inner rhythm.
3. For most of their lives, the empowered avoidant person has just done what they saw fit to do. As a rule, they’ve not been in the habit of engaging with a loving partner to reach a mutual agreement. They may achieve this in business, because they manage themselves better there for the purposes of achieving a task. If they do try to engage with their Connecting partner, they are likely to be good at arguing their point - usually using reason – for what best suits their own logic.
4. The more connected amongst Avoidants may have learned the art of negotiation or at least discussion with their partners about matters of mutual interest, but may still every now and then just go off and do their own thing, or think things through independently. To regularly run ideas past their partner is an acquired skill for Withdrawers, and will hugely benefit the relationship because it will empower their partners and allow consensus.
5. If ever the relationship strikes trouble, many Withdrawers may limit their discussions with their partner and hope to minimise the potential for conflict/shaming by withdrawing. This puts their partner in a quandary - whether or not to pursue discussions their avoiding partner does not want to have, but needs to be had – whilst risking rocking the boat – or close down also.
6. At times, Avoidants use withdrawing to intentionally keep control of an interaction. What is not discussed won’t require negotiation or a potential loss of empowerment.
7. It’s worth noting that more often than not, the empowered person does not realise the impact of their naturally self-serving style, and that their empowerment may be unintentionally disempowering their partner.
8. Withdrawers must be aware that the most common disempowering weapon they can unleash on their partner is the use of uncompromising reason. Thus, the fight to be right tends to be a common feature of a relationship in which skewed empowerment patterns exist.
9. Calm, balanced and slowed down negotiation must be learned by empowered people, or they will continue to cause an imbalance in power (see below, and in Part 4).
10. The challenge for a Withdrawer, is to sit with their knowing that remaining quietly self-connected and calm will draw power to them.
Anxious Insecure (Connector) Empowerment
1. This attachment style doesn’t very often do whatever suits them, because they are too concerned about the interests, needs and feelings of others. However, being more self-serving and self-referenced would often bring better balance in to their relationships.
2. Connectors may be very good at empowering others also because they are able to attune to others’ needs. Once again though, empowerment balance must be sought.
3. If a Connector supports and empowers themselves well, they will become more like the Secure attachment style because valuing and supporting self reduces the likelihood that they will be reactive.
4. Connectors must come to realise that if they stand up for themselves and invite their partner to engage with them, power imbalance is less likely, and the relationship is less likely to become skewed or distorted due to power plays.
5. Furthermore, if Withdrawers are engaged productively, the Connector can help their partner see how to bring better balance and connection into the relationship.
Highlight your commonly occurring emotions:
Feeling, recognizing then managing your emotions is crucial to relationship harmony. (See the help offered in chapter 6). Highlight here those that you risk being entrapped then controlled by.
Don’t stop until you’ve highlighted several.
Anxiety, shame, embarrassment, defensive, self-doubting, doubtful, hopeless, helpless, hurt, fear, anxiety, sadness, confusion, nervous, guarded, upset, bewildered, stunned, overwhelmed, resentful, bitter, hateful, guilt, undermined, awkward, relief, craving, disgust, empathic pain, surprise, disgust, envy, despair, dejection, shy, relief, bored. “I also feel ………………………….”
Frustrated, angry, aggressive, enraged, controlling, demanding, bossy, pushy, greedy, nasty, cruel, indignant, vengeful. “I also feel ……………………………”
Caring, cared for, loving, loved, affectionate, supportive, supported, empowered, empowering, happy, connected, connecting, secure, optimistic, engaged, engaging, compassion, confident, determined, committed, excited, centered, joyful, admiring, adoring, appreciative, amused, trusting, anticipating, calm, kind, pitying, reflective, devoted, interested, sexual. “I also feel ……….……………….”
Escaping empowerment entrapment
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
1. Get to know your attachment style, it’s more extreme tendencies, and how your partner is responding according to their attachment patterns.
2. Be realistic about the consequences of these empowerment differences, and where this will eventually take your relationship if nothing is done about it.
3. Know that empowerment extremes destroy relationships sooner or later, and that you are likely to play out your empowerment style in any new relationship. So - get this sorted ASAP.
4. In order to move from disempowered to empowered, you will need to keep speaking up for yourself. You can do this quietly, but must do it persistently. You will have to cope with emotions that tell you not to take such a risk for fear of a backlash, not to be empowered because of the guilt you’ll feel, or not to be empowered because it’s ‘not a nice thing to do’. This is childhood programming putting the brakes on a new and necessary skill. Check in an earlier chapter just which emotions relate to your state of empowerment.
5. If you have Connector tendencies, step up and do what would bring you closeness, warmth, attunement, happiness, camaraderie, loving closeness.
6. If you have Withdrawer tendencies, seek to calmly stay engaged where possible, knowing that defending yourself risks distancing from those who can contribute quality to your life. The only risk is the inner judgement you put on yourself.
7. Bear in mind that if you empower yourself and speak your truth, or even speak a possible self-truth, you do your partner a favour. You step up and fully engage, inviting your partner to learn the skill of negotiation, and the skill of stepping outside of self in order to focus on and support another.
8. In order to be empowered without risking over-empowerment, seek your partners viewpoint and validate it, attempt to negotiate so as to incorporate two viewpoints, keep your voice and emotions calm, non-dominating and non-withdrawing.
9. Seek to regularly share viewpoints with your partner. Recognise that if your partner goes quiet, withdraws or slinks away, then they may have experienced you as over-powering, triggering the fear or feeling of hopelessness of ever engaging compatibly with you. Invite your partner to engage in a mutual sharing of viewpoints, knowing that all perspectives have validity, no matter how ‘accurate’ they are.
10. Furthermore, this acceptance and consideration of differences is an essential ingredient of a successful relationship. A viewpoint doesn’t have to be “right” or “thoroughly and correctly researched” to be valid.
11. Once two viewpoints are on the table, each can be calmly considered. What is “right” for one person, may not be so for the other. A respectful consideration of alternatives is the way to proceed.
12. If you find yourself often over-empowered, take heed that your relationships are unlikely to survive your emotional reactivity. Find a way to manage disempowerment so that you become empowered, but not over-empowered.
13. Recognise your history that has got you to become over-empowered. Maybe you had a parent who modelled over-empowerment, maybe you learned this as a strategy to avoid disempowerment. Don’t allow your existing pattern to dominate your life. Over-empowered individuals don’t tend to have a happy life, and are often carrying anxieties that are related to being right, in control, and on top of things. But such anxieties are not a recipe for happiness.
Overcoming empowerment blocks - Negotiation
The only way to predict the future is to have power to shape the future.
Tick the statement which best describes what happens to you when you and your partner disagree. This will help you identify your likely empowerment strategy.
When it comes to negotiating with my partner, are you a pushover (disempowered), or a dictator (over-empowered), or somewhere in between?
1. I'm a pushover. I do as my partner wants. I rarely contest an argument.
2. I state my preference, but quickly give in to what my partner wants, and usually withdraw.
3. I try to state my case, but struggle to do this well. Eventually and resentfully, I give up because I feel dominated.
4. I state my case well, and sometimes my viewpoint is taken on board. However, I tire of making my point, so may just walk away.
5. I state my case well, but care about my partner's viewpoint also. I care about how we both feel. I seek a win/win solution.
6. I state my case, but have to argue strongly if my preference is to be heard. I sometimes get angry about this.
7. I state my case powerfully because I'm usually convinced my idea is best.
8. I state my case forcefully, and usually win any argument and tend to get my way.
9. I will raise my voice, or use strong reasoning in order to get heard, and usually I win the debate. I don't like losing.
□10. I .........(write your own)
My negotiating competency score
Are you a competent negotiator? Score yourself on each of these criteria 0 (low) to 10 (high) on numbers 1 to 5, the reverse for 6 to 10. Also tick those statements that best describe you. Then score your partner.
1. Yes, because I endeavour to find middle ground between two viewpoints.
2. Yes, because I'm good at reflecting what my partner says and so understand their needs well.
3. Yes, because I've never been told by my partner that I'm controlling.
4. Yes, because I work hard with my partner to see if their needs and mine can both be met in some way.
5. Yes, because when we come to what seems to be an agreement, I check that my partner is OK with the outcome.
6. No because I have a strong desire to have my viewpoint heard, more than to hear another view.
7. No most likely, because more than once I've been told I'm controlling.
8. No most likely, because my partner closes down quite often when we're having a discussion.
9. No, because I often find myself raising my voice and pushing my viewpoint when we have our differences.
10. No, because my partner is often unhappy with me after discussions about what they want or prefer.
Skills for negotiating
1. Ask your partner to put time aside to have a chat about a topic on your mind.
2. Make it clear you want both viewpoints to be considered, theirs and yours.
3. State your position, preferably stating the feelings that back up your argument.
4. Try and avoid a detailed story. Your partner won't keep up. Keep to a two or three minute statement and then invite a response.
5. Ensure responses begin with a reflection of feelings stated by the other linked to their content if appropriate.
6. Make sure your partner nods or affirms they've been heard before you begin to respond.
7. Repeat 3 to 6 above when you respond.
8. Keep this pattern going whenever you each discuss a topic that has any emotional charge whatsoever.
9. Ensure at all times that you talk slowly enough that no one gets anxious and thereby emotionally charged.
10. If needs be, defer the topic to another (agreed) time so that you can each take time to reflect on each other's story.
Record on page 242, Your Interactive Conflict Cycle the following:
1. Highlight, or record those points made above, that seem to describe well how you function, especially in times of conflict. What do you feel? What do your feelings get you to do – that is helpful – unhelpful? When do you become disempowered, empowered, or over-empowered?
2. Similarly, highlight those points that seem to describe well how your partner functions, especially in times of conflict.
3. See if you can now link these two styles interactively. What do you do when there is conflict or tension, and how does your partner respond? When your partner responds as they do, what do you then do in response? Which emotions dictate how you behave?
4. The journey of relationship healing begins with insight into the fact that you and your partner are different in ways which usually don’t need to create conflict.
5. What can you now see about your partner’s relating style that you’ve previously been critical of or resentful about, but can now make better sense of?