Know the Different Types of Power in Relationships – Therapy Threads


Know the Different Types of Power in Relationships

Understanding the Power Struggle in Verbally Abusive Relationships

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Relationships can sometimes feel like a power struggle. Either one person is calling the shots, you’re frightened to share your opinion and face the emotional reaction of your partner or you’re simply making each other jealous. According The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, the first thing to know about relationships with verbal abuse is that there are two kinds of power; and thus two completely different, and separate realities. One reality kills the spirit, the other reality nourishes it.


Power Over Vs. Personal Power


The first is called Power Over (Reality 1) and the second is Personal Power (Reality 2). Power Over shows up as control and dominance, whereas Personal Power shows up as mutuality and co-creation, meaning you’re promoting growth, empathy and helping each other to reach your goals.


Power Over


Some people see the world in a Power Over perspective. Someone who believes in Power Over expects to get what he or she wants through the use of Power Over another: either by power over others or power over life, which is otherwise known as a non-peer, positional relationship.


Western civilization was founded on Power Over. As a civilization, we have tremendous Power Over the earth and its peoples and resources; we even have the power of total destruction. However, the Power Over model isn’t sustainable. We can see this through pollution, hunger, homelessness and prejudice.


Freedom from Power Over

To free ourselves from the influence of the Power Over model, we must become aware of the words we speak and in what manner we speak them. Likewise, we must hear the words spoken to us and the manner in which they are spoken.


In the Power Over model, individuals are motivated to control and dominate others. However, their illusion of power is maintained only as long as they have an “other” to have power over. Tragically, many are desperate to maintain this stance, because it’s the only power they know. If there is no “other,” one is created.

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Personal Power


Personal Power is another way of experiencing power, one which doesn’t need winners and losers, dominant people and subordinates, and which doesn’t require Power Over “another.” Personal Power works by mutuality and co-creation and may be considered a new way of being in and perceiving the world.


How the Different Powers Play Out in Relationships


Conflicts start to arise when people are living in the different realities, whether it’s romantic relationships or friendships. In verbally abusive relationships, the verbal abuser and the partner seem to be living in two different realities. The abuser fights for control and dominance, while the partner seeks mutuality and co-creation.


If a partner of the abuser grew up under the influence of Reality 1 and then emerged in Reality 2, he/she may find it extremely difficult to distinguish between the two realities. She may be living in Reality 2, and seeking mutuality without having achieved Reality 2 self-esteem. Many people who live in Reality 2 accept and respond to communications from Reality 1 as if the communications were valid.


Emerging into Reality 2


Abusers live in Reality 1 and value themselves according to Reality 1. Abusers are not familiar with Personal Power, nor does they experience the security and self-acceptance of Personal Power. Consequently, they avoid their feelings of powerlessness by dominating and controlling others, including their partners. The abusers are determined never to admit to their manipulation and control. If they did, they would come face to face with their own feelings.

The abusers reject their partners’ warmth and openness, because they fear those qualities in themselves. They require vulnerability, and in Reality 1, vulnerability is weak and tantamount to death.


What is present        What is lacking

Inequality                 Equality

Competition            Partnership

Manipulation           Mutuality

Hostility                  Goodwill

Control                   Intimacy

Negation                Validation


Those who live in Reality 1, although they are abusers, are often “victims” with the victim mentality who seem to always blame others for their problems, and never take personality responsibility for themselves, their lives, their actions, and their emotions. Just because someone grows up in Reality 1 (Power Over), doesn’t mean they can never emerge into Reality 2 (Personal Power). In order to emerge into Reality 2, one would have to recognize and integrate the experiences of childhood which have left them so insecure -- so in need of controlling.


The Verbally Abusive Relationship




Without proper attention, verbal abuse, manipulation, Reality 1 and the victim mentality can also all be passed down to your children. If you don’t work on yourself and emerge into Reality 2, this will become a multi generational issue. Start making a change in yourself today.


If you think you are in a verbally abusive relationship, we recommend reading The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. If you need help, call 1.866.223.1111 at any time.

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