How do you see power, abuse, and abuse of power?

Warrior Chicken

I'm able to understand these concepts as they apply to others, but it recently came to light that I'm a bit confused when I throw myself into the mix. This was discovered in looking at my own history - which I don't think is relevant to the discussion at this point. I'm mostly curious how others who have experienced trauma caused by a power imbalance view themselves when it comes to power.

When I think about it for myself what comes up right away is - No. Power is abuse. (They are deeply connected).

I can understand that power can be held by someone without abusing it, but at the same time - I struggle to view that as power and not just a good human behaving justly.....the fact that they aren't abusing means that they've relinquished power. Or power is balanced out of the equation.

No idea if this makes sense or resonates with anyone else - curious to hear from others.


It's a really good question.
Which sucks - cause.... ya.... I get it 🥺

For me having power is about being in control - always. Not that I have to have power over others necessarily, but that I have to have the power over me. I have to know where/what/who is in play and what they are doing at any given time. It's why I was a kick ass dispatcher! Dare you to hide from me 😁

But if you think about it - the dispatch/LE/EMS cycle is all about power. Power to make decisions for others, power to solve problems, power to do what others can't. We hold that power over others because they give it to us during their crisis. Then, when all is done, we give it back.

Is it a power imbalance? Yep
Is it a beneficial or necessary power imbalance? Yep
Does it make us a "good human behaving justly"?
Oh hell no.
It means we understand the concept of using power - both ours and theirs - for a purpose during a trauma

Is that abusing power?
Or is that allowing others to catch their breath while we keep the power?

And don't fool yourself thinking an imbalance is a bad thing. Sometimes taking someones power is going to piss them off.

Think about a DV situation. You take the suspects power, regardless if they want you to or not. But at the same time you are giving the victim back their power. You are using the power imbalance to keep others safe. So that means the imbalance works.

Ya - pretty convoluted.
But....... it shows me over and over that even if my power was taken from me during trauma it didn't stay taken. I eventually gained it back - and then was able to use it successfully for both myself and others. It sometimes makes me wonder if I would have been as good at the job as I was if I hadn't experienced that loss of power during a trauma. Because it meant I could relate to the caller when they lost theirs


I had crazy stupid abuse issues between birth and the age of 2. I developed a learned helplessness style of coping because - well - at that age you actually are helpless. *heavy sigh* I was a long time into my healing when I realized that I absolutely suck at power dynamics. I don't understand them, have no idea why anybody would want power over somebody else, and figure adults should be adult enough to leave everyone else alone to 'do you'.

Oddly enough, this is not the way the world works. As a result I have to be very careful as to who I interact with. I need to be in relationships with people who don't need to take control over others. It is difficult to navigate these days especially, but now that I understand what the issues are with me I am better able to get into relationships that don't destroy me in the end.


I'm able to understand these concepts as they apply to others, but it recently came to light that I'm a bit confused when I throw myself into the mix.
I have sort of a rule of thumb for those situations. If I really think something should be applied to other people, it should also be applied to me. I know it seems crazy. At least it did to me. It's also kind of uncomfortable, but I've gotten used to it. I decided I needed this rule because I really DO have a problem knowing what a level playing field looks like.

@Warrior Chicken, how would you define "power"? What @Freida talked about isn't something I would have thought of as "power", but after reading that, and giving it a bit of thought, I guess I can see where it is a form of power. So, I guess there are examples of "power" all over the places. And all of them could be both used and abused, I guess.


Not Active
Very interesting topic.
I think I understand you and where you are coming from. You touched a nerve!

I think it depends what is the definition of power and what is the situation?

I was abused as a child so powerlessness was my state of mind then. As an adult, I am quite conscious of my power over others and hope often I am doing no harm even if I must take something in the situation.
In more vulnerable level, I am not easily influenced in therapy. If any, I consciously try to take in knowledge and learning intellectually and let it seep into my dreams or unconsciousness rather than directly expressing my needs to the therapist - cause I do not feel I need to give my power that way of "as if" situations.
I see power and control differently. I have power over myself not others but I have no control over things or others or even my body/mind.

I am very sensitive not to fall under authority figures and power positions at the expense of rendering myself powerless. Even doctors, I need them to explain, describe what they will do to me rather than take their word for it. I also find funny enough, this throws them off as they are used to being taken for granted whatever they may say. I often say I want to learn and believe what you are saying rather than soften the blow to the ego!

As I learn in marriage, most of my needs cannot met by others so it is useless to have power struggle to force each other to comply!


When I think about it for myself what comes up right away is - No. Power is abuse. (They are deeply connected).
Do you drive a car?
Do you ever own Draino/Liquid Plumber?
Ever use a hammer, cut food with a knife, fill a tank with petrol?

If so, day in & day out, you have to power to kill countless people. How often do you abuse that power?

We’re most of us all quite lethal creatures.

And yet we walk past each other on the street, drive together on the roads, work together in countless environments. All of us with the power to do inestibke harm to others. How often throughout the day do you abuse that power? How often do the people around you put draino in your glass, run you down with their car, cave your skull in with a hammer, slice your throat, or burn your house to sticks and ash?

Most people? Are quite careful NOT to hurt others, even though they have the power to do so, they don’t abuse that power, nor anyone else.


This from my last therapy session-
I don't have a startle reflex like the combat hero survivors that unfortunately carry PTSD with them along with their courage and my respect. I do, however, have a strong unstoppable reflex reaction to anyone that shows the first signs of wielding power in a selfish or careless or reckless way. It is as strong as hitting the dirt when a door slams.
The most common form of this for me is traffic. I feel like I have had a shotgun pointed at my neck after a near miss in traffic, for hours or days or even weeks of on edge hypervigilance and all that goes with it. I have seen the results of being struck by the likes of a Ford F150. It scares me like a mortar round scares a soldier on the field of battle when I get a feeling one is headed my way. When someone is wielding that power in a selfish and uncaring way the courts call it reckless driving. I call it negligent homicide (attempted).

We all have the power to harm others and we all have to a degree at some time. But it should be purged from us by the time we are old enough to be considered free from the status of dependant minors. And unbendingly dealt with by the courts after that.

I see the use of power for self as the definition of selfishness. I think it should be a punishable offense if convicted. Read the UN human rights definitions. Any violation should get put on your permanent record, and once you are determined to a terminal case you should be removed from society. Maybe a few shoplifting arrests or burglary or DUI along the way and you should be looking at the possibility of being kept somewhere safe for awhile.

Thats my view, but admittedly I am oversensitized to abuse of power. Somebody moderate me please? There has to be a workable set of rules and punishments somewher between what I want and the current situation where it seems at times that nobody wants.


Interesting topic.

For me, if people in power have abused me, my core reaction is to see it as my failing, not there abuse of power. I'm weak, broken, defective or something that leads those with power to do the abusing. I don't see it as them abusing power. It's just a natural outcome. I don't assume those in power will abuse but at the same time, I guess I believe that certain characteristics in someone (well me) can bring out abuse. Meh, that's messed up.

At the same time, I work in a veterinary clinic. We have so much power over the pets. And we can be in high stress, unpleasant situations. A dog that barks nonstop can be a bigger stressors than one that tries to bite. There's situations where our patience is pushed and we are frazzled. Add in the pressures of being a busy clinic where we can't meet demand and corporate pushing for numbers we can feel stretched tight. But it's our responsibility to deal with that. And I've seen coworkers who don't deal as smoothly. Their gentleness wears thin. And then there are folks like me, who never take out the stress on the pets. Who never forget these beings are dependent on us and we have to give them gentleness and patience. I'm not alone in that. It's possible. Even when the dog is biting you or the cat is trying to rip you to shreds. Because being in power can mean you remember that you're the one creating the situation and even when you have to protect yourself, you have options.


It's possible. Even when the dog is biting you or the cat is trying to rip you to shreds. Because being in power can mean you remember that you're the one creating the situation and even when you have to protect yourself, you have options.
In the movies they say that cruelty to animals is a precursor to cruelty to humans, like thats a warning sign of future atrocities. Nothing is an absolute and anything on TV or in the movies is portrayed as dramaticly as possible on the subject, but I think most of us would agree that killing pets is a far reach from center and these people ought to be kept on the radar.


I think in the past I could be described as someone who had "trouble with authority figures." I was never belligerent, but was ambivalent about anyone who had power over me. This thread reminded me of Laurence Heller's Healing From Developmental Trauma. He talks about how those whose trauma affected their autonomy perceive interactions with people based on authority/rebellion - they feel that their only choices are to submit and lower oneself or rebel in order to keep their integrity. For example, they might perceive a suggestion by a teacher as a command rather than simply as a suggestion. They either rebel or try really hard to appease, but often end up resenting being "told what to do" and may end up rebelling anyway. I think having had abusive parents make us associate power as always antagonistic/aggressive. It closes us off to possibly seeing people as mentors who want to help and guide our choices. If we felt we had a say, we had a voice, then we wouldn't feel our integrity was always on the line.

Warrior Chicken

Been thinking about this quite a bit cuz I'd like to sort it out in my head. I agree with many of the comments and that power can adapt depending on the situation. It can also be used as a catch all to describe certain circumstances quickly - like: the ______ political party is in power. They have the power to force change - for good or bad, but they pick and choose what they do with that power.

So, that aside, from person to person in various situations I realize that I view power as the presence of 3 things: Ability, Intent, Means.
Without all 3, or if the person decides to relinquish one of the 3 - power is balanced, abuse doesn't occur. I see power as force over something/someone in an effort to obtain a desired outcome. Power needs to be applied to ensure that outcome, otherwise it would be agreement and/or compliance.

Someone can have the Ability, and the means - like in @Friday 's example with cars. But they don't have intent - so power is balanced.
Or they could have the Intent, and ability.....but not means. So power isn't present. If they obtain the means, that changes.

I am unable to see that power can be positive. I don't necessarily thing that's a bad thing to be honest, but I do wonder if it can be.


Power, in the hands of humans, is corruptible. And even that is subject to interpretation.
I think that ability, intent, and means are always in flux. It is our perceptions and experiences(and other things) that are required to guide us and keep us safe.
The exercise of power is necessary.
The early bird gets the worm. On the other hand, the early worm gets eaten by the bird.
Seems kind of like power being "positive" depends partly upon your needs and the point at which you are viewing it from?