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Handling the Use of Power and Control

Chapter 8: Handling the Use

of Power and Control

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is the difference between the use of power and the use of control?

Power is maintaining influence over the behavior, attitudes and feelings of others.
Control is maintaining a check on the behavior, attitudes and feelings of one's self.


Power is exerting control over others.
Control is exerting control over one's self.


Power is the expression of commands, demands, directives, orders, and requests as to how others are to act, think, behave, feel, believe.
Control is the expression of commands, demands, directives, orders, and requests as to how I am to act, think, behave, feel, believe.


Power is the attitude of strength, one up, on top, number one, or leader projected to others in order to direct how they live their lives.
Control is the attitude of being strong, being on top of it, being in control, being self-led that one feels inside as he lives his life in his self-directed way.


Power can be a survival tool used to exist in a self-threatening environment to avoid being taken advantage of by others. The power response is to go on the offensive, take a position of strength, take the lead, and direct others in the environment. This can lead to over responsibility feeling overly concerned for everyone's welfare. By taking the power role people try to ensure that others survive a threatening environment, but this exacts a major price emotionally, physically, and spiritually from them.
Control can be a survival tool used to exist in a threatening environment. The control response is to go on the defensive, and direct oneself so that it appears one is not being taken advantage of by another. It can also help one to exist in and maintain sanity in a confusing environment. This can lead to a position of being too self-contained and self-directed. The over-control phenomenon can result when it becomes difficult to let go of control over self. This can result in never loosening up enough to accept direction from others, be they teachers, employers, spouses, or authorized authorities and leaders.


Power is a vehicle by which people can become exempt from revealing personal feelings. They have risen to the top and the people below are refused entry into the power type's emotional life. This is a defense mechanism to avoid full emotional involvement.
Control is a vehicle by which one can avoid revealing personal feelings because by maintaining self-control he submerges and hides how he is reacting to the emotional stresses in life. One can close oneself off from others so successfully that the emotional side of life is kept hidden. A person who exerts self-control over his emotions hides behind a guard all invisible shield; however, the lack of emotional self-disclosing takes a fall of the self-controller.


Power is often exerted by people who believe they have the answers but lack the patience for others in their lives to come a to consensus or agreement on what an appropriate course of action should be. The power play is using the position of authority or status to get your way with total disregard for the feelings or ideas of others.
Control is often exerted by one who believes he has the answers, yet also believes that no one in his environment will listen to him. The control play is the refusal to reveal any ideas, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, or alternative problem solutions so as to avoid expected or anticipated rejection.


Power can be the mode of operation of people who believe that at one point in their lives they were taken advantage of, and that will never happen again. Actually, they are treating others in as poor a fashion as they believe they were treated in the past.
Control can be the mode of operation of one who believes that at one point in his life he was taken advantage of, and that will never happen again. By his emotional passivity he often incurs the wrath of others in his life who cannot break through the guard all shield.


Power is the mode of operation of people who desire to make their beliefs of what reality is become the reality. They take charge in order to reorganize their existence to become the expression of what they believe life should be. They take over to ensure that their reality' becomes the reality of others.
Control is the mode of operation of one who desires to make his beliefs of what reality is become his reality. He controls himself in order to retain his existence as the expression of what he believes his life should be. He takes control of his life to ensure that his reality is the reality for himself.


Power is ensuring that people get their way, even if manipulation, conning, lying, deceit, and dishonesty need to be used. It may result in their eventually getting their way; it could also, however, result in their being exposed as people who would do anything to get things their way, ultimately losing all power.

Control is ensuring that one continues to see life his way, even if he needs to use self- manipulation, self-conning, lying to self, self-deceit and dishonesty to self. It may result in the eventual maintenance of his own view of life; however, it could result in such deep self-deception that he no longer can perceive the difference between what is real and what is not real.

What is the difference between physical and emotional power and control?

Physical power and control are:

  • Attempts to exert influence over the external things, persons, and events of life.
  • The external behavior that revolves around how problems concerning issues, conflicts, and mistakes are resolved in the outside world.
  • The visible aftermath of involvement in the handling of objects, materials, resources, and personnel.
  • Represented by symbols of status, position, and placement in the hierarchy of life.
  • Clearly recognized by those upon whom they are being used.


Emotional power and control are:
  • Attempts to influence inner feelings, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, values, and thoughts of others (power) or ourselves (control).
  • The inner personal behavior engaged in when individuals deal with issues, conflicts, or mistakes. The inner behavior can be oriented to others (power) or to self (control).
  • The not-so-obvious aftermath of involvement in the handling of objects, materials, resources, and personnel where the emotions of others (power) or ourselves (control) are affected.
  • Represented by symbols of emotional suppression, depression, negativity, pessimism, low self-esteem, insecurity, discouragement in others (power) or in ourselves (control).
  • Less clearly recognized when they are used because they are used in manipulative ways on others (power) or on ourselves (control).

What are some typical beliefs of people who utilize power and control?

Physical Power
  • I am the greatest!
  • People should listen to me!
  • People should respect me!
  • I have the answer to everyone's problems!
  • There is no problem I can't solve!
  • Everyone around here is a jerk!
  • I am the only one who knows what's happening around here!
  • They can't survive without me!
  • There is only one way to do thingsCmy way!
  • Might makes right!


Physical Control
  • Everyone is out to cheat me!
  • Don't trust anyone; they are all after something!
  • Everyone is out to take advantage of me!
  • Everyone is jealous of what I have!
  • Never let anyone in on your business!
  • It is nobody's business what I am doing!
  • Never take a risk!
  • You will lose it all if you're not careful!
  • I worked hard to get where I have gotten and no one is going to take it away from me!
  • Don't let anyone know what you are doing; they are bound to steal it if they know!


Emotional Power
  • There is only one way to think, feel or believe: my way!
  • I've got to get them to see things my way so they won't take advantage of me!
  • If I am open to their point of view they will try to mislead me; I need to convert them to my way!
  • Dump on them before they dump on me!
  • If I keep them busy enough they'll ignore me!
  • I will always have to pay an emotional price if I open myself up to others; keep them at an arm's length!
  • It doesn't matter how they feel or react as long as I maintain the emotional control in the meantime!
  • My feelings come first!
  • Take control of them before they take control of you!
  • Everyone is out to take advantage of everyone else, so the best defense is a good offense!


Emotional Control
  • Don't trust anyone with your feelings, beliefs, or thoughts!
  • Everyone is out to rape me emotionally!
  • If I lose my control there will be no sanity in my house (or on the job, etc.)!
  • It is important to maintain control over your feelings so that you don't go insane!
  • Getting angry or losing your cool is bad for you!
  • Avoid conflict at all costs!
  • You should never let others know how their behavior or actions affect you!
  • There is only one way to survive a crazy environment, climb into your shell!
  • No one is ever going to get under my skin again!
  • I'll never allow myself to get hurt again!


What negative consequences result from overuse of power or control?

People who overuse power can:

  • Create a barrier between themselves and others, always being one up on the others.
  • Find their designated underlings resentful of being subjected to the put down of the power people.
  • Effect a revolt by those subjected to being ignored, blamed, accused, abused emotionally, neglected, or belittled.
  • Find it difficult to establish mature adult relationships.
  • Become socially isolated, often being seen as egotistical, obnoxious, poor sports, and as people who want things only their way.
  • Be oblivious to the nonverbal feedback from others, isolating themselves all the more.
  • Begin to believe that they are the center of their universe, eventually becoming so caught up in this belief that they have a distorted perception of reality. They work hard at instituting this perception in their sphere of influence, be it in a relationship, family, social group, at work, or in the community.
  • Begin to believe that they are all knowing, infallible, all powerful, lacking the common sense to avoid problems, issues, or conflicts outside of their level of competence. Eventually they experience a setback or downfall that can precipitate a crisis of major proportion.
  • Develop a list of opponents or competitors whose major role in life is to bring about the downfall of the power person. Through chronic competition for control, chronic fights and arguments, the power person's effectiveness and efficiency is hurt until, having little or no energy left to continue battling for control, the power person gives up.
  • Become so busy defending themselves from others that they eventually lose contact with their own feelings and experience a sense of disassociation from themselves.


Over-controlling people can:
  • Be experienced in maintaining control in their early family lives in order to survive a chaotic environment, finding it difficult to accept direction from others later. They become anxious working for anyone except for themselves.
  • Keep their feelings hidden so well and for so long that others become frustrated leading to the others rejecting, becoming angry with, fighting with, attacking, nagging, and complaining to them.
  • By their passivity, affect those people in their lives who take a more active, open, emotional, and verbal role in life. This can eventually lead to the controlling people being made the object of scorn, being blamed for all problems, being misjudged as to their intentions, being misunderstood, and being seen as the sick persons.
  • Find it hard to understand other's reactions to their behavior. They often get confused about the behavior addressed at them, becoming overly sensitive to this feedback or become so insensitive that they avoid, reject, or ignore others.
  • Get themselves into trouble because of their need to avoid conflict, avoid disapproving situations, and avoid taking risks. The others in their lives respond opposite to the wishes of the controlling people. This results in increased conflict, increased disapproval, or the need to take new risks to resolve the problems.
  • Become quiet or silent when arguments arise. This silence typically arouses the anger of the others who desire dialogue or confrontation. This can arouse a greater conflict than what the original issue deserves.
  • Become the target of attacks from others for their lack of sharing, lack of openness, lack of communication, lack of emotional awareness, lack of warmth and caring, lack of support, and lack of response. These attacks usually succeed in convincing the controlling people that they were correct in controlling their lives, and they escape deeper into their shells.
  • Be so self-protective that they become social isolates, incapable of connecting with anyone in their lives.
  • Be so caught up in denial that they are unable to solve problems. They lack the social competence and skills necessary to confront problems; therefore, they become overwhelmed by the very troubles which they deny exist.
  • Be so defensive that it is impossible to have a mature adult relationship with them. They often give the others in their lives so much power over themselves that they are in a permanent one down position.

Steps to overcome your power and/or controlling behavior:


Step 1: Review the material in this chapter. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • Am I a person who uses power or control?
  • My behavior is characterized by: (1) physical power, (2) emotional power, (3) physical control, (4) emotional control.
  • The beliefs accounting for my behavior include:
  • The negative consequences I experience as a result of my use of power/control include:


Step 2: List specific problems you have experienced as a result of the use of power/control.

  • The problems I experience:
  • In my relationships due to my power/control behavior include:
  • In my family due to my power/control behavior include:
  • On the job (or at school) due to my power/control behavior include:
  • In the community due to my power/control behavior include:


Step 3: For each of the problems identified in Step 2, list the beliefs that account for your use of power/control:


Step 4: List each problem from Step 2 in priority order. Record the following in your journal:

  • Identify the obstacles to resolving this problem:
  • Using the problem-solving model in Tools For Coping Series, Tools for Relationships, Chapter #3, the possible solutions are:
  • Use the irrational belief refutation model in Tools For Coping Series, Tools for Personal Growth, Chapter #2, to refute the beliefs leading to your use of power/control. List your replacement beliefs:
  • Review Chapter #3, Productive Problem-Solving, for each problem. Detail a plan to implement realistic solution.
  • Identify behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that need to be changed in order to resolve the problem. Take the steps necessary to experience change and growth.


Step 5: Use Step 4 on each problem identified in Step 3.

If after dealing with each problem you still suffer with power and/or control issues, return to Step 1 and begin again.