Don’t we all want to be in charge?

Everyone wants to feel like they have control over things in their life. Having some power and control helps us accomplish tasks and orchestrate things in our life the way we want or need. Even small children want power to be able to control their environment suggesting this is an innate human desire and need. Not everyone wields power and control very fairly or effectively; children being a good case in point.

When it comes to relationships most people want a sense of power and control just like they do over other things in their life. In healthy and mature relationships people are able to discuss and negotiate the sharing of power and control so that there is a mutual meeting of needs. Unfortunately, many people are not real good at navigating this balancing act. Additionally, a lot of people are not even consciously aware that some of their actions and words are driven by their unconscious need for power and control. Needless to say, this can create issues, conflicts, arguments, or even the demise of relationships.

When power and control turn abusive

In extreme situations some relationships become abusive. For a long time, people in physically abusive relationships, and those people outside, have been able to see that the person who becomes abusive is driven by an intense need for power and need to control things and people. Abusive people use aggression and violence to get what they want. Even those who engage in sexual abuse are driven by an intense need for power and control. These extreme forms of control and power have long been recognized as abuse and severely damaging to people and relationships.

Researchers like Ellen Pence have realized there are many more subtle forms of abuse and misuse of power and control. Ellen Pence helped create the original Wheel of Power.

On the outer periphery are the obvious and extreme forms of abuse we just discussed, physical and sexual abuse. The inner wheel discusses some of the other variations that many people do not recognize as an abuse of power and control. We are going to look at each in turn here, so you are more aware of the different types of misuse of power and control. You can evaluate your own behavior and relationships to see if there are any changes that need to be made or things that need to be discussed with the people in your life.

Coercion and Threats:

People often recognize these as obvious attempts to use power and control a person. Like intimidation, coercion and threats can often precede physical or sexual violence. Examples include:

  • Veiled threats such as, “you better do this, or else”.
  • Overt threats such as “If you don’t give me that, I’ll make you pay”.
  • Threats to commit physical or sexual harm
  • Threats to commit property destruction
  • Threats to commit suicide or murder, “I’ll kill you”, or “I’ll kill myself”

Types of Intimidation

Of those misuses of power and control, this is one method that is more recognizable by most people and may be one of the precursors to many blatant physical or sexual abuses. Most recipients and victims recognize these strategies as inappropriate and out of line. Here are some examples:

  • Driving recklessly to make another feel threatened or endangered
  • Destroying property or cherished possessions
  • Making another afraid by using looks/actions/gestures
  • Throwing objects as an expression of anger to make another feel threatened
  • Displaying weapons
  • Violating personal space, getting in someone’s face, or towering over them

Emotional Abuse

This is an attempt to control others that take a wide variety of manifestations. Sometimes they are hurtful, often they are manipulative, and they all definitely take a toll over the long run. Some people might describe this strategy as “playing the long game”. These strategies tend to undermine a person’s confidence over time and leave them worn down and sometimes like their spirit is broken and they stop standing up for themselves.

  • Putting another down/name-calling
  • Belittling religious or political beliefs
  • Ignoring or discounting activities and accomplishments
  • Withholding approval or affection
  • Making another feel as if they are crazy in public or through private humiliation
  • Unreasonable jealousy and suspicion, spying, snooping, requiring someone to check in, unfounded accusations of infidelity
  • Playing mind games
  • Chronic criticism
  • Making love conditional, “If you lost a little more weight, I would probably be more attracted to you.”
  • Using guilt to get someone to comply with what you want
  • Making you “earn” trust or good treatment
  • Making you feel like you don’t measure up, “I don’t know why I stay with you.”
  • Relentless teasing or ridicule
  • Undermining or thwarting your goals, “I don’t know why you think you are smart enough to get into college.”

Using Isolation

This is a strategy of power and control that is intended to limit another person’s support system over time and render them dependent on just them. It also sets the stage of fostering doubts and challenging beliefs where the victim does not have others from their support system to encourage and reassure them that they are right in their thinking and position.

  • Limiting outside involvement in groups or activities
  • Making another avoid people/friends/family by deliberately embarrassing or humiliating them in front of others
  • Expecting another to report every move and activity
  • Restricting use of the car
  • Moving residences
  • Controlling who they see and talk to
  • Controlling what they read
  • Complaining and criticizing friends and family to avoid being around them
  • Not respecting your need for time alone, guilting you into being with them or making you feel like you don’t love them for not spending all your time with them

Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming

These techniques are intended to downplay that things have occurred, shift responsibility, or get you to question your judgment or reality of things.

  • Downplaying inappropriate behavior, “You are blowing things out of proportion” or “It’s not that big of a deal.”
  • Blaming you for their behavior, “I wouldn’t have done that if you didn’t…”
  • Blaming or excusing their action as fueled by someone else’s behaviors
  • Denying they said or did things that cast them in a negative light
  • Gaslighting – challenging someone’s reality of things and causing them to doubt what they heard, felt, or experienced

Using Children or Pets:

These types of strategies are intended to leverage another person’s love or concern for the children or pets in order to get what they want.

  • Threatening to take the children away
  • Making the partner feel guilty about the children
  • Abusing children or pets to punish the partner
  • Using the children to relay messages
  • Guilting a partner to comply so it won’t upset the kids

Using Privilege

This is taking a dominant stance or position as the self-proclaimed authority and using that to assert agendas and control situations.

  • Treating another like a servant
  • Making all the big decisions
  • Being the one to define male and female roles
  • Acting like the master or queen of the castle
  • Leverage bread winner status to get what they want
  • Unwillingness to even hear your point of view by interrupting and dismissing opinions as unimportant

Economic Abuse:

These strategies prevent a person from having access and means to resources so they could act on their own.

  • Preventing another from getting or keeping a job
  • Withholding funds or making them ask for money
  • Spending family income without consent and/or making the partner struggle to pay bills
  • Not letting someone know of or have access to family/personal income
  • Forcing someone to ask for basic necessities

If you are interested in talking with one of our therapists about concerns you have in a relationship and whether power and control may be used against you, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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