Relational Awareness: (Part 3) Moving Out of Power and Control ll Dorothy Wallis

Relational Awareness: (Part 3) Moving Out of Power and Control

By Dorothy Wallis


Your first entrance into the world begins with relationship.  You come into the world with a small body that needs nurturing and care.  You cannot survive on your own.  You are not ready to stand and take care of yourself; you are dependent and vulnerable.  Naturally, there is an inborn fear of separation and a need to attach and bond.  Dependency is a gift that makes it necessary for you to be connected and engage with people and life.  Being seen with caring attention not only means that your basic physical needs will be met, it also fulfills a soulful need of value for simply being, it reflects back to you that you exist.  “I exist, therefore I am.”  You have an innate need to know that you belong, are valued, have meaning and are inherently good and worthy….

​From the start, a sense that you exist and your needs will be met is brought about by being recognized, accepted and valued by those around you. You look for external sources of confirmation of your worth so that you will receive all that you need.  Instead of “Self” esteem, the source of your esteem becomes associated with receiving it outside of yourself.  When you are loved and well cared for receiving external esteem feels great and is supportive.  The downside of this dependency is that no one else can provide for all of your needs nor can they give you the knowing of your inherent value and worth.  When you expect to get your needs or esteem met from others and don’t receive it, you are bound to be disappointed.  When you look to others for acceptance, approval and recognition, you give up awareness of your authentic self.  A sense of autonomy and control are vital stages of growth.  Placing the locus of control about your worth outside of yourself leaves you with a loss of control and sense of powerlessness. 
The sense of powerlessness and not being in control is frightening.  If you are powerless, you are vulnerable, which is, “a quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Being powerless is dangerous.  Your sense of self contracts and you feel weak, diminished, helpless and exposed.  How will you survive?  Regaining your power and control is paramount.  Your psyche constructs the “adaptive child” to protect you and defend against harm.  When you are hurt, the first thing you want to do is stop the pain.  It’s all about stopping the pain.  Overarching instincts of survival kick in and you attempt to keep whatever is hurting you away or get others to give you what you want.  You cannot be concerned about anyone else or their feelings.  It is from this immature egoic child mind that the strategies of fight, flight, and freeze are formed and result in a conditioned stance.

Aggressive action to Regain a Sense of Power and Control

​The first strategy of ego defense is to use aggressive action as a way to gain back perceived loss of power and control.  The impulse to Fight shows up around the age of two, known as the “terrible twos.” Two year olds are known for the emergence of this strategy.  Anger, stubbornness, temper tantrums, firm “No’s,” and hitting are ways to keep others away or to get what you want.  Aggressive uncontained emotional outbursts such as yelling, screaming, shouting, wailing, whining or any sound that is frightening, offensive or annoying is often an effective way to get others to pay attention to your needs.  If this strategy gets results, it will remain as the first way to regain power. 

Passive action to Regain a Sense of Power and Control

​If you were demeaned, squashed, punished, or abused when you fought, you may have learned that fighting did not bring the power and control you sought nor did it work to get your needs met.  You found that keeping away from those that harmed you physically or emotionally kept you safe.  Flight is the urgent impulse activating you to flee, run away or distance yourself.  You learned how to remove your attention by either physically leaving a situation or by going inward, shutting others out, going silent and being passive.  It is the second strategy used by the “adaptive child.”

Inaction to Regain a Sense of Power and Control

​What happens when you can’t fight or run away?  Your psyche protects you by shutting down your conscious awareness so that you do not experience physical and emotional pain.  You Freeze.  You may “leave your body” and your memory and senses like your hearing and sight may turn off or be severely diminished. 

What Happens when you Use these Strategies in Your Adult Relationships?

​Part 2 of the Relational Awareness series introduced the Adaptive Child and the four non-relational stances that the ego uses to defend and protect.  A deeper look at these strategies reveals the way they keep you in a revolving door of separation and escalating conflict.

The “adaptive child” strategies are useful when you are a child and are dependent on your caretakers.  They also protect you in extreme danger.  But how do these strategies work in your relationships as an adult?  Remember, these strategies purposely disconnect you from others.  They engage when you believe it necessary to separate and distance yourself from others so that your value, power and sense of self will remain intact and you will not be harmed. 
There are times in relationship when someone says, does something or behaves in a manner that causes you harm, actual or perceived.  It may be physical, emotional or abhorrent to your values.  The wound to your identity may undermine your physical prowess or diminish your value and worth, or your self-esteem, which creates a sense of weakness.  You counter this with power to reassert control and esteem.

Fight Mode is Boundaryless and Uncontained

​When you react with aggression and fight mode and do not contain your emotions, you are Boundaryless and Uncontained. You allow your hurt and fury to project onto the person you believe has hurt you or is not providing what you need and this pain may spill out onto others as well.  Manipulation is often used to gain “the upper hand” and increase your sense of control and power.  It can take the form of reacting with high drama to get what you want.  This can be through attacking, striking out physically or verbally, with unbridled expression of emotional volatility, stonewalling, or Gaslighting.   

Flight Mode is Walled Off and Contained

​When you react to wounding by withdrawing, you contain your emotions and shield yourself from harm.  You are Walled Off and Contained.  You regain control through removing your attention by either physically leaving a situation or by going inward, shutting down and going silent.  The warmth of reciprocating energy is no longer flowing.  An icy cold shield blocks any connection.  Where the light of your being once stood is now a frozen silence of emptiness. 

The Effect on Relationship being 1 Up and “Better Than”

​When both you and your partner are 1 Up, there will be an exchange that ramps-up with rapid intensity.  Both partners believe that they are “right” and feel justified in their strong stance.  It may begin with a comment from one partner that triggers the other into returning a defensive rebuke.  

1 Up Boundaryless meets 1 Up Boundaryless

​When both partners are 1 Up and Boundaryless, they gain power through conflict and force.  The tone of voices will become increasingly firmer, sharper, louder and harsher and the energy will become heated with anger as the conflict escalates.  Both may hurl nasty, abusive, damaging, mocking and threatening words to strike the other person down.  Gaslighting may be used to gain power.  Screaming, yelling, loudmouthed obnoxious behavior may ensue.  If the fight continues people may slam doors, throw objects, or become physical with their partner by pushing, slapping, hitting or using increasingly violent physical abuse.  The conflict can become highly volatile and dangerous.  

1 Up Boundaryless meets 1 Up Walled Off

​The above tactics and heated exchange from the 1 Up and Boundaryless partner will feel threatening and attacking to the 1 Up and Walled Off person.  The wound to the self-esteem of the Walled Off person shows up as a sense of hurt pride and it results in an air of arrogance as a defense to the feeling of diminishment.  “I don’t need you and I will not open myself up to you” is held in order to protect and forget the hurt.  A stubborn attitude puts up a wall shutting out the other.  “I am right, end of discussion. There is no need to discuss this further.” “You have insulted my dignity and therefore I have no time for you.”  The shutting out of the other has a cold heartless feeling to it.  There is a sense of righteousness in the withdrawal.  Puffing up and withdrawing feels good initially but underneath there are feelings of hurt, disgrace or shame.  The Wall of protection not only shuts out the “other” but also serves to shut out any painful deprecating feelings about oneself. 
Instead of outwardly confronting the person or situation, if you are Walled Off your hurt and anger will come out in passive aggressive ways such as digs and subtle insults, backhanded compliments, giving the “cold shoulder,” silencing, being grumpy or sullen and unexpressive.  You may ignore or stop doing joint tasks and responsibilities.  Suppression of feelings can be so complete that there is no realization of the suppressed anger or cold aggressive attitude being projected onto your partner.  At first, you may believe that you are taking care of yourself and your feelings by withdrawing or that you are centered and regulated and therefore “above” emotions, all of which advances your feelings of superiority.  In fact, you are actively suppressing your emotions and so become unaware of them.  You may know the effect distancing is having on your partner, but you do not care or you may even relish it. 

The Effect on Relationship being 1 Down and “Less Than”

1 Up meets 1 Down “Less Than” and Boundaryless

​The power and force of the 1 Up partner, whether they are Boundaryless or Walled Off, will have a severe diminishing effect on the 1 Down partner.  An extreme fear of abandonment and loss of relationship and connection arises from disapproval, nonacceptance, or rejection when you are 1 Down.  It does not matter if your partner is aggressive and Boundaryless or if they are Walled Off and withdrawing, the force of disappointment, displeasure and antagonism will be felt as a cutting pain carving out a piece of your sense of self.  The idea of the loss of connection or being alone is so abhorrent that you become exceedingly anxious.  Thoughts of loss and loneliness fill your mind resulting in ruminating on small actions or behaviors of your partner creating exaggerated stories and worst-case scenarios of their intentions or motivations all leading to the conclusion that you will be abandoned.  These devastating thoughts create panic engendering a strong need to gain acceptance and love.  It shows up as boundless neediness and obsessive clinginess.  With severe feelings of powerlessness and fear of loss of control so prominent regaining a sense of control becomes acute.
When you are 1 Down and Boundaryless you actively seek regard and acceptance from your partner to affirm that you exist.  There is a constant need for reassurance that your partner cares for and thinks about you.  Jealousy arises surrounding their time and connection with others and so policing their interactions with others and knowing their whereabouts seems logical.  You may nag or attack your partner with long pronouncements and “unbridled self expression” or have bouts of extreme emotional volatility.  All is in an effort to win your partner back, to be seen, to be accepted, and to know you exist so that you will not face your ultimate fear of being left and alone.

Meeting the Frozen Mode of 1 Down and Walled Off

When you are 1 Down and Walled Off you quickly lose hope of connection or relating to your partner and withdraw.  You resign.  When meeting a Boundaryless person, you often feel overwhelmed with their energy pushing or attacking you.  You easily feel smothered and violated.  You can stealthily retreat so fast that your partner is bewildered about your whereabouts.  “Time-outs” can last for days, weeks, months or an eternity.  You become ambivalent, distant and non-committal.  You are very sensitive to the energetic shield put up by another Walled Off partner.  Their oppressive righteous disregard for you sends you into a frozen state with no fight or flight left in you.  Retreating to your inner world and not confronting or retaliating is a way to gain safety and peace within.  A time period of solitude and hermitage can help you when you have an inner practice.  It may be religious, spiritual, inspirational or uplifting, as long as it connects you to an inner knowing of your True essence and esteem.  If you have feelings of victimhood, you may believe that there is no way out and doomed to despair and your already low self-esteem will plummet.  You may become severely depressed and suicidal.  If you are in this state, seeking support is absolutely vital in order to regain a sense of authentic power.  Connection is the way out.

Control is a Losing Strategy

​Whether you are attempting to control and attack another through spewing your anger and emotions onto them or through withdrawing, closing off and silencing them, you will find yourself in endless conflict and resentment.  These are overt and covert ways of manipulation to assert power and control.  In adult relationships, controlling others only works in the short-term.  It is a major Losing strategy.  Can you see why?  When you control another person, they don’t like it.  Really, they don’t.  It does not feel safe.  Being controlled invokes the sense of powerlessness in others.  It creates contempt, which will show up in various behaviors and responses that will always create distance and lack of trust.  Of course, they push away, fight, or retreat when your energy overpowers them.  If you retreat, they will either attempt to pull you back into relationship so as not to feel abandoned or meet your lack of care with resignation by also withdrawing.  Instead of moving to safety for both, there is a push-pull of control with one person in control and one person feeling a loss of control.  Whether the fight is Boundaryless and overt or Withdrawing and covert, there is a jockeying back and forth, which causes further distance and conflict.    
It is easy to see how both the strategy of aggressive unbounded physical or emotional volatility and the strategy of withdrawing and shutting down of your partner does not create trusting, caring, connected relationships. 

Returning to Healthy Authentic Self-Esteem

​Understanding your reactions when you feel powerless and being aware of your partner’s reactions when they feel powerless will help both of you to return to authentic power and esteem.  When you are not happy or having difficulty with your partner, be aware of your feelings of power and worth.  Are you feeling a loss of control?  Do you feel a sense of diminishment?  Be with the tension instead of reacting.  You may not be feeling confident.  Be humble.  See that the vulnerable parts of you are human.  There is no shame in being vulnerable.   The vulnerable parts of you are the ones that connect you to others.  

You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.

   ~ Brené Brown

Move beyond the hold your ego has on you.  There is no need to be “above” anyone else.  There is no need to be “perfect.”  Everyone makes mistakes and life is filled with challenges.  No one can control everything.  Let go of trying to control other people or outside circumstances.  Notice your expectations and see how they create disappointment and limitation.  With acceptance and allowance, you have the ability to return to equanimity with healthy esteem for yourself.  From this place, you will enhance your ability to Skillfully Relate from a place of Kindness and Compassion. 

Check out the entire Relational Awareness Series

Returning Love and Harmony to Your Relationships: (Part1) Energizing the Love Bond

Relational Awareness: (Part 2) Mirroring Unresolved Wounds

Dorothy Wallis is a former intern at People House in private practice with an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy.  She is an International Spiritual Teacher at the forefront of the consciousness movement for over thirty years grounded in practices of meditation, family systems, relationships, and emotional growth.  Her work reflects efficacious modalities of alternative approaches to healing based upon the latest research in science, human energy fields, psychology, and spirituality. 

As a leader in the field of emotional consciousness and the connection to mind, body and spirit, her compassionate approach safely teaches you how to connect to your body, intuition and knowing to clear emotional wounds and trauma at the core.  The powerful Heartfulness protocol empowers your ability to join with your body’s innate capacity to heal through holistic Somatic, Sensory and Emotional awareness. and

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth