The Abuse of Power

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” – Thomas Jefferson

Power can be defined as (1) one possessing or exercising power or influence or authority; (2) possession of controlling influence. The existence of power is not necessarily negative or unhealthy. We have power over ourselves and sometimes power over others. Yet, it is the way in which we use or misuse our power that defines whether or not we are capable of controlling or deserving of the power that we maintain.

There are many ways in which individuals misuse the power that they sustain in their private or professional lives. Individuals may misuse power by:

• Undermining or not listening to the needs and wants of the people they currently have power over. How many of us have experienced someone simply not listening to what we are saying? They may hear what we are saying, but they are not listening. By not listening they are minimizing ideas, thoughts and feelings and creating a disrespectful environment. It is okay to disagree, but it is not okay to ignore or disregard another opinion simply because you do not agree with it.

• Using their position of power to advance their own wants and needs without taking into account the consequences of their actions and ideas. This is sometimes referred to as being hardheaded. That is, the inability to look beyond your own ideas in order to see the views of others.

• Using power to make others feel inferior or powerless. When individuals create a system of rigid power roles, they are doing so to make others feel lesser. They attempt to force the idea of power roles in order to elevate their own power status.

• Creating unhealthy environments for others by constructing environments that can produce feelings of fear, anxiety and unhappiness. It becomes quite clear in homes or businesses when power is being misused. There is a general sense of discontent and disregard.

• Using miscommunication as a tool of power to create dissent and distrust. Attempting to turn one person against another, creating negative feelings towards another by twisting ideas, forcing secrecy, or omitting communications are all ways that communication can be used to maintain unhealthy power.

There are many ways in which people misuse power. Yet, the misuse of power is only a symptom of weakness and insecurity; it is not an expression of authority and does not create a respectful environment. There is a very fine line between maintaining power and creating fear and insecurity and as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it well.”

If you or someone you know is unsafe and would like to speak to an advocate please call HELP of Door County, Inc at 920.743.8818 or the Sexual Assault Center at 920.746.8996.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams.