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Acquiring power over another individual can lead to several dysfunction. In fact, Lord Acton's quote:

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

is quite apropos when discussing power over. There is quite a difference between legitimate power, like a leader you choose to follow, and illegitimate, corrupt power such as an abusive relationship.

The PowerOverCycle dehumanizes the victim. If this cycle is detected, it must be broken.

  1. Alice tries to influence Bob, and succeeds. Bob complies without reply.
  2. Alice perceives that she has power over Bob; she has control over him.
  3. Alice distances herself emotionally from Bob, treating him like an object, a machine, rather than a person as a peer. She's becomes cold towards Bob, insensitive and uncaring to his feelings. She orders him rather than discusses with him.
  4. Bob, feeling under control, starts thinking of himself as just an object as well. He complies even moreso to Alice as he no longer feels adequate to argue.
  5. If this cycle continues, as Alice perceives more and more control over Bob, Alice will completely depersonalize Bob in her mind, as will Bob himself. Moreover, Alice will begin to despise Bob, thinking him to be a worthless individual as she has no respect for him. Bob will agree. Bob won't be able to escape; he will fear Alice. Alice will hate Bob. This will give Alice complete power over him.


Define Power

How does Alice get power over Bob in the first place? What is "power" anyway?

We are defined by our relationships. Relationships form around interaction patterns. Interactions are linked series of choices among alternatives. The more alternatives one has, the greater is one's liberty -- the freedom to choose.

You wield power by restricting alternatives. The power component of an interaction counts the number of alternatives owned by the agents. If the interaction results in a decrease of alternatives for an agent, that agent has suffered a negative power play, called control. If there is no change in the number of alternatives for either agent, the interaction is power neutral. An interaction that enlarges the alternatives for an agent is a positive power play, called empowerment.

Now you can unravel the entanglements. In a love relationship, you voluntarily cede some alternatives to gain others. It's much the same in an employer-employee relationship. Such relationships survive as long as the interaction patterns result in a stable balance of alternatives.

Alternatives are pattern complexity. With fewer alternatives, you have less complex patterns. With the same energy in a system, and less complexity, you have greater intensity. Mild irritation escalates to anger and rage as the available alternatives collapse.

Such an analysis (part of what I call Pattern Resonance Theory) can point the way to productive therapeutic or social intervention in dealing with power relationships. -- JerryMuelver

There are other, positive types of power. For instance, Referent Power, whereby an individual gets power by virtue of others giving it to her. For example, JeffBazos? of AmazonDotCom? gets a lot of his power due to his charismatic ability to convince others to do what he wants. There is legitimate power, as mandated by the structure. For instance, a judge has legitimate power. There is expert power, given to people due to lack of time, as in, "Get an expert in here; she'll know what to do." -- SunirShah

Those categories are usually associated with descriptions of types of authority -- you wear a mantle of authority based on office or title (your "legitimate" or structure), by expertise, by age (variant on office), by election (Bush/Gore notwithstanding), by tradition (another office variant), by size or strength, or by other qualities of social standing or presumptive appearance.

One in authority then exerts power in his interactions. I think it's a potential mistake in analysis to commingle the agent and action. For instance, different types of authority might use the same kinds of power plays. Or one authority by expertise may use power-limiting interactions, and another such authority may prefer power-enlarging interactions to get the same job done. -- JerryMuelver


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