(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey. That’s Bert at the left, looking powerful.
What follows is an expansion of the article “Seven Kinds of Power,” which appeared previously in several places.
Maybe because Steve’s been working hard and feeling a bit crispy — almost burnt out, but not quite — he’s been thinking a lot lately about the difference between control and power.
So he asked me (his control-addicted-but-working-his-butt-off-in-recovery inner monkey), to share what I’ve learned about that difference.
No, they’re not the same thing.
In some ways, they’re opposites.
One difference is: power is possible, but control is usually an illusion.
Another is: power can set you free, while controlling can make you crazy.
Let me explain.
Control means the ability to dictate reality. To get life itself — people, places and things — to meet our expectations.
But power (as we here at Monkeytraps define it) means being able to get your needs met.
To take care of yourself.
To not just survive, but to heal, and grow, and be happy.
I think it’s power we all want and need. But because we never really think about how power and control differ, we end up confusing the two. And then we chase the wrong one. Which can be disastrous.
Steve, give an example of the difference.
Well, notice how we hear the words differently.
Imagine you have a daughter of marrying age. She comes home and reports she’s engaged to a man you don’t know. “What’s he like?” you ask.
Scenario A: “Oh, he’s very powerful,” she replies.
How do you feel?
Scenario B: “Oh, he’s very controlling.”
How do you feel now?
If you’re anything like me, Scenario A leaves you intrigued (powerful has several connotations), while Scenario B leaves you pretty damned nervous. Who wants a controlling son-in-law?
Steve, another example.
Imagine your rich uncle dies suddenly and leaves you control of his multinational corporation. You wake up one morning the CEO of Big Bux, Inc.
You go to your new job. You sit behind a huge desk. Four secretaries line up to do your bidding. You have tons of control. You can hire and fire, buy and sell, build plants or close them, approve product lines, mount advertising campaigns, manage investments, bribe congressmen, you name it.
How do you feel?
If you’re like me, you feel crippled by anxiety. Bewildered and overwhelmed by your new responsibilities. Disoriented. Panicked.
Anything but in control.
As a recovering control addict, I’ve learned two essential differences between control and power.
~ Control focuses outward, at other people, places and things. So control-seeking pulls me away from myself, away from self-awareness and self-care. The more controlling I am, the more I lose touch with me. But power focuses inward, on my own needs, thoughts and feelings. So developing power is all about developing the ability to know, understand and accept myself.
~ Control works paradoxically. (See Bert meets the First Paradox and Control is a boomerang.) People who depend on having control to feel safe and happy don’t feel safe or happy most of the time. Chasing control is like chasing a train you can never catch. Power, though — rooted in healthy, intelligent self-care — is something you really can learn and practice.
Like a muscle which, if you exercise it, can’t help but grow stronger over time.
(To be continued.)
Watch the short, wordless film “Bodhisattva in Metro.” Oh, go ahead. You can spare the time. It’s just over six and a half minutes, it should make you smile, and it offers one example of what we here at Monkeytraps think of as a powerful person.
(Bert says, “I so want to be this guy when I grow up.”)