Character and the Abuse of Power

The Abuse of Power

Perhaps nothing is as troubling as the abuse of power. But in the age of widespread character dysfunction, such abuse is frighteningly common. Moreover, the disturbed characters I call the Aggressive Personalities are particularly prone to abusing power egregiously. (See also: Chapter 3 Character Disturbance.) Such folks tend to seek power rabidly, and for its own sake. That’s why you can count on them to abuse it when they get it. That’s also why it’s so important to consider and to properly vet a person’s character before affording them any measure of power.

Sometimes the abuse of power is so egregious it makes news. Such is the case when public officials, sworn to protect and defend those over whom they have power, victimize instead. But the more subtle abuses of power that occur in relationships every day are a big problem, too. And some would say an epidemic one.

Abusive Power Dynamics

Disturbed characters are often adept at coralling power within a relationship. They know just what to say and do to entice you to surrender power. And once they feel they have enough power, you can count on them to abuse it. That’s why it’s so important that you make yourself aware early on of the power dynamics within your relationship. There are simply too many character-deficient people out there. And you can’t afford the risk of being in a one-down position with any of them.

Wanting power and control over things in your life is not an inherently bad thing. But the unscrupulous ways some characters go about this can devastate a relationship. Some folks can’t stand the thought of losing or ceding control. They always have to be right, feel victorious, and be in charge. Such attitudes are toxic for any relationship.

Power and the Ways We Fight

My book In Sheep’s Clothing was groundbreaking for many reasons. But perhaps one of it’s biggest contributions was to increase awareness of the myriad of ways we humans fight. Fighting is a huge part of life, and necessarily so. Some things in life are worth fighting for. And some things simply must be fought for. But why we fight and how we fight makes all the difference in our relationships. In the end, our fighting will be principled and disciplined, and inherently constructive (the definition of assertiveness), or unscrupulous and inherently destructive.

Too many relationships end in disaster because of unfair and destructive fighting. And I have more to say on the topic on the current installment of Character Matters.

12 thoughts on “Character and the Abuse of Power

  1. I believe there is an abuser of power in an Alanon group I have been attending. I think whats confusing is that people don’t see it because this person tries to control under the cover of “helping” others. He said in the group that he has never judged anyone. How disingenuous is that? He’s got it all figured out and he’s just there to “help” others. He has a spouse as well that also sits in on the meetings. There are a few people I really do connect with in that group but decided to stop going because I just can’t be around it – I dealt with that for too long with the ex, if I don’t have to be around it I won’t be.

    1. It’s disheartening to find that the leader of a support group, with people who need the help, have a leader with control issues. He’s got his own agenda, getting his fix having people who look up to him in his leadership. Good thing you spotted it, and question what goes on in the group.

      1. Hi Lucy
        One of Alanon’s “rules” is that there are no leaders, everyone is on equal footing. How that works out in the real world is different from the ideal. I think he saw an opportunity and its one of those situations where its easier to take over. There are people who see whats going on but it would take a “group conscience” vote to tell him he needs to stop. I doubt that will ever happen, and thats whats unfortunate – it is supposed to be a support group and I think he intimidates people because he seems angry most of the time and acts like he knows everything. I don’t know if he is a narc but he’s very controlling.

        1. kat
          I could see why no one would want to confront him. That’s a huge effort, and members are there for support. I know people do sample different groups in different towns till they find one they like. Makes it difficult, though, if you have to take time to drive out of your hometown to a group.

  2. Working in the court system, I see what happens sometimes when an attorney becomes a judge and how they handle the power. Mostly, they’ve got integrity. But there are those who wallow in that power and it’s sickening to observe.

  3. The narcs and their ugly traits do not change with time. Even after being away from the X for eight years, he still wants control.
    We have a grandson, which we both watch on weekends since our daughter works weekends. I typically take Saturday or Sunday with GS.
    Lately I’ve texted him regarding which day I could take and trying to clear it with him rather than through my daughter to him and then to me. To me it seemed too complicated, so I went directly to him. I keep it short. I’m available _____ are you available to watch him _____. Then I’d ask what time to pickup/drop off.
    Last night I was told by my daughter to go directly to her because he’s really annoyed that I contacted him and said I was trying to control things. In his narc mind it was about CONTROL. Even the simplest thing. That’s how he thinks. She’s been studying narcissism and now sees what’s happening. She says, don’t worry, it’s about control, just run it by me so we don’t have to deal with that.
    Such a difficult distorted man. I am so glad I left him. I knew, even when I was being cordial and inviting him to family gathering, that he could not be trusted.

    1. Lucy,

      I recently had the ‘delightful’ opportunity to listen to a rant from my ex husband regarding questions because I’m the only one who could understand him. His rant went something like this:

      Why do people think I’m going to answer their questions? Do they think I have nothing going on in my life? That I’m just living to answer their questions? What’s their questions doing for me? I’ll tell you, making me answering more questions! I don’t get anything out of answering questions, there’s nothing in it for me. Why the hell do they think I even care about their questions? They take up my time with their stupid questions, I have to drop everything I’m doing because THEY have questions!

      My response, why are you telling me this, I’ve never understood why you get aggravated about answering questions. He expanded on the above rant with the added, this is not something he could disclose to others, just me. My response, you must have hated being married to me, I’m the question queen!! His response, It was difficult, you were very demanding.

      Im so glad that’s I’m so special that he can only tell me (cause other people would figure out what he is) and he apparently doesn’t care that I know.

      So all that to say, yep, questions are definitely a problem when it comes to our disturbed characters. They see questions as demands for their time, attention and answers which they don’t want to give. And apparently, they see the questioner in the control seat. He once told a marriage counselor, arguing with me was like the Spanish Inquisition, a torturous interrogation.

      So questions are bad. Oops!

      1. Charlie,

        Bingo! My X would never answer a question. He would answer with a question. I could never get answers.
        At a counseling session (this was at a point I’d become angry, frustrated and powerful – yes, weird mix) I kept asking a question, and he wouldn’t answer. He stood up and said he was leaving. I quickly scooted my chair to block the door and said he wasn’t going anywhere. (yes, as I say, I was angry) My counselor calmy says “I don’t think you’re going to get your answer.” So I said ok I’ll stop asking if you sit back down.
        They are always on guard, on watch, for having control in any situation, even if it’s not a control-type situation, just normal everyday occuroances. I think of all the unneceesary stress I went through being married to him. So many years that could have should have been good.

        1. Hi, Lucy,

          You ex husband was an attorney so asking questions, demanding answers, put him in the power and control seat. I’m not sure what type of attorney he was but he sounds like an aggressive man so I’m imagine he used the questioning attorney to be powerful, for the gotcha game.

          I think a lot of our disturbed characters are attracted to the legal profession.

          1. Also: Answering questions would create a level playing field and we know they don’t fight fair.

    1. …more like how to spot the tactics used such as pitting people against each other (divide and conquer) and playing on folks hopes and fears, and then using those same folks as a means to an end. The results, and the rest are not in the best interests of the people duped into the scheme.

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