Understanding power and powerlessness is useful to your recovery. You are told you are powerless over your addiction. You may hear talk of being powerless over people, places, and things. You hear you have to have a Higher Power to recover. Therefore it may take some attention on your part to make sense of these ideas.

First Step

The First Step simply means admitting powerlessness over your addictive substance or behavior of choice. This is not so difficult if you see it as simply a way of stating that trying to control and use will power have not worked. Numerous commitments, plans, diets, gimmicks, and even psychological improvement don’t quite provide the relief you need from the struggle. So part of the First Step is giving up the idea that there is a magical solution that will give you control.

Illusion of Control

The Twelve-Step programs are full of people who struggle with trying to control their lives. No one really has any control over most things, although they may be deluded into thinking they do (see the module Control). Giving up that delusion is what Step Three is all about. There is, however, a use of the energy we call power that is beneficial in recovery and in life in general.

Types of Power

Rollo May (1972) says, “Power is the ability to cause or prevent change.” He describes five kinds of power.

Exploitative power This is a simple and destructive kind of power that is identified with force. Violence or the threat of violence is usually involved and allows for no choice or spontaneity by the victims. Dictatorships and child abuse are examples of exploitative power.

Manipulation This is power over another person that capitalizes on the victim’s weakness, desperation, or anxiety. Hitler began his reign of terror by manipulation of the German people. Con artists use manipulation. Again, Victims in this type of interaction are robbed of conscious and voluntary participation, and are robbed of their power to make decisions.

Competitive power This is power against another. In pure competition one succeeds only because another fails. One wins and the other loses. Severe competition causes a lack of community among people. Friendly competition, however, gives zest and vitality to human relations,‘and can be constructive.

Nutrient power This is power for the other. Parents use power for their children and politicians can use their power for the people.

Integrative power This is power with the other person. Two people can combine their power for a better product or service than one alone could do. One example of integrative power is demonstrated every time a Shuttle lifts off from Kennedy Space Center. Thousands of people have combined efforts to make it happen, and many of us are still thrilled as we participate in feeling that power.

The Twelve-Step fellowships are good examples of integrative power.

In Addiction

Addiction may give you the illusion of power, and some people may appear addicted to power. This‘ may actually be a form of excitement addiction.

There is no doubt that people do help effect changes in others, and it might be more useful to think of this as influence. This avoids the trap of the control illusion.

Healthy Use

Because so many addicts and codependents may have learned meekness and compliance that no longer serve them, claiming the ability to have some influence in your life can be quite healthy. Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse (1985) states this as her “ninth step for healing” for codependents: to assume healthy power in your personal life.

Power, see also: Abuse, Acceptance, Amends, Behavior, Codependency, Control, Defenses, Forgiveness, Higher Power, Honesty, Incest, Magical thinking, Openmindedness, Powerlessness, Prayer & meditation, Religiosity, Sanity, Self-centeredness, Step One, Step Two, Step Three, Step Four, Step Six, Step Eleven, Surrender, Trust.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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