This site is intended for health professionals only

Power lies within you

You are in a relationship, at work or home, and it has its ups and downs. But you are probably not used to thinking of where the balance of power lies within it and seeing the link between this and your contentment with the affiliation.
 
Power brutally boils down to what you can do to another in terms of good or bad consequences that you could invoke, things they want and events they might prefer to avoid - reward and punishment in the old-fashioned behaviourist's lexicon. But the power equation doesn't end there, although many make the fatal mistake of assuming it does. The rest of the formula is just as important as that first half, which is what the other person can do to you in terms of reward and punishment. After all, people have a tendency to retaliate when you try to put a power play on them.
 
It's this bit of the power equation that we frequently have a blind spot over - it's more difficult to see what others can do to us unless we have a good understanding of ourselves and, in particular, our dependencies. The balance of power in a relationship often boils down to who is more dependent on the other person. In some relationships (hopefully rather old-fashioned ones now) the woman depends on the man for financial assistance while the man depends on the woman for housekeeping duties. Who has the more power here comes down to who could do least well without the other in terms of provisions of these services or supports.
 
Now we come to the power of perception. Often it's the woman who, because of less self-confidence than the man, believes that she could not cope so well without him, and yet all the research evidence into divorce and bereavement finds that it is men who cope much less well when they lose their spouses. It's because women perceive themselves as less able to cope with being alone that they feel more dependent on men, which in turn means that the men come to feel they have more power in the relationship.

Now here is a power secret that is rarely openly discussed. You can gain more power in a relationship, particularly if you feel the balance of power is skewed against you, by starting to provide more things the other party likes or desist from providing things they don't like. In other words, create a dependency on you that may not have been there before. Then once this dependency is established, threaten, subtly or not so subtly, to withdraw the activity that they are dependent on.

When it comes to the workplace the balance of power between colleagues often comes down to who is more dependent on whom. This might range widely from being dependent the other doesn't create too much hassle for you or doesn't sack you. Look around and see the world as a complex web of intricate dependencies and you will begin to see where true power lies.
 
Becoming more independent of those around you is a very empowering experience. If you wish to gain power over your boss then the easiest way is if you don't need your job because you have an alternative source of income. One key bit of advice before you start any power play with your superiors is to have at least two years' salary in the bank (or assets to a similar value) and to save until this is in place, or line up an
alternative job.
 
Nurses frequently have problems wielding power precisely because their strongly developed sense of duty and obligation means that they find it difficult to withdraw the things they know others are dependent on them for. Yet unless that happens, or at least the threat of it, nurses are perhaps not flexing their muscles when it comes to power. This isn't a problem if nurses don't like to think about their relationships in terms of power and the power balance therein. Yet if unhappiness arises out of this because relative powerlessness creates situations where power gets wielded against them in an unpleasant manner, then nurses may need to think about whether it's time to consider the world of power in which they inhabit.