The realm of power abuse is far and wide these days. It doesn’t take long to find something whether on the news, at your work place, at home, or even walking along the street when you see someone swearing at someone else over something inconsequential like who should go first at the stop sign. Truly, people are in a lot of pain if abuses of power can be so prevalent.
But let’s take a step back to talk about what abuse of power is as well as where it comes from. In simplest terms, abuse of power is using your influence or strength in a situation to coerce, intimidate, or harm another. War is one of those penultimate abuses of power, but plenty of abuse of power happens in domestic situations all the time. The woman who is stronger in her emotions manipulates her partner’s emotions through shaming. A man who is physically stronger beats his partner. An intellectual defeats another person’s argument just to make herself feel good about being right. There are many kinds of abuses of power, and none of them are good.
Where does this all come from? I am sure many of you are thinking “the ego,” and you are right. More specifically, abuse of power comes from pain within us. Pain gets visited on one person, so they send it along to another. These cycles of power abuse go round and round. But this is a game of telephone that has to stop, and we have to be the ones to stop it. The stakes are getting too high. The ability to harm others in a myriad of ways is getting easier and easier with advances in technology. And so we turn within to find out where we are holding pain and perhaps to find out how we are abusing others or even ourselves with our power.
Tons of self-abuse goes on every day within people. It’s hidden in the mind, so it’s not immediately evident. We can only guess at it by how someone holds their posture, how someone abuses drugs, how someone acts out against another, and other signs. The more someone acts out pain against others, the more deeply they are abusing themselves internally. It really is that simple.
Thus, rising up to face abuses of power always starts by facing yourself. You have to turn your attention within to see all the ways you speak poorly to yourself. Look at all the ways you judge yourself. This self-abuse is an abuse of the power of the mind. You could be having your mind discovering new algorithms, new ways to express loving kindness, or new ways to help live in a more sustainable world. Instead, many people are repeating the same self-deprecating or abusive beliefs about how they are not good enough. Everyone is different, but some common themes include:
- I am not smart enough
- I am not successful enough
- I am bad because I don’t have a romantic partner
- I am lazy
- I suck at having friends
- I am not attractive enough
The list can be quite extensive, and I encourage you to notice throughout your day what your mental dialogue is saying. That’s the start of going within and rising up to face your own abuse.
Facing Your Dictator: Your Unconscious Ego
People like blaming others for being “bad,” but that’s a distraction until we deal with our own pain. With the exception of situations where you are actively being abused (which you should find a means to leave immediately), the pain we typically have to deal with the soonest is caused by us. If you do the above listing exercise, you may find yourself a little dismayed at how much you don’t like yourself. But this has set your feet on the path to changing this.
Now, I’m not one for affirmations. To me, positive affirmations are like retorts. It’s the “are not/am too” argument of the mind. They can be useful for a little while at best, but the real work is getting to the core issue–the base of the “are not.” So if the “are not” belief is that “you are not smart enough,” then you need to delve inwards to find out where that belief comes from. The more you can get to some key moments when you really felt that to be true in your life, the more you can let it go through grieving, journaling, and breathing into all the associated sensations, emotions, and memories. The more painful the remember event is, the more important it is to sit with it. Don’t run from it. You can’t. You can’t run from it because it is you, and most people have been running from these issues for a long time. Eventually, the issue breaks down, and then things start to change inside.
Asking for Forgiveness From Others You’ve Abused
In your process of looking at self-abuse, you will also have to look at the ways you’ve abused others. Whether you’ve intellectually, emotionally, or physically abused someone, you need to repent. The process of forgiveness is different for everyone and for every issue. Some issues that were done to family members and friends who are no longer in your life may not be resolved in person, and others may be. Whether it is physically safe to meet someone or even contact someone varies. Sometimes, you’ll be able to ask for forgiveness in a phone call or a letter, and to be sure, not everyone will be ready to forgive you. What matters is that you do a couple of things:
- Acknowledge your abuse of power
- Sit with the truth and breathe into your feelings around it
- Understand why you did what you did
- Learn ways that you could have handled the situation differently (there are lots of great self-help books and blogs out there to give you ideas)
- Ask for forgiveness from God
Going to a higher power is important because you cannot hide from the Divine. In so doing, you are going to the Supreme source of all forgiveness, and this leads to self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness can be a lot harder to allow oneself, especially as you understand the impacts of your actions.
For truly understanding your abusive actions impacts, you may want to contact the person you harmed. Once again, this highly depends on the abuse you committed and the other person. If you murdered someone’s son, showing up at the parents’ house unannounced on your parole is not okay. If you are apologizing to your youngest brother for breaking his favorite toy when you were 12 years old, you can probably show up at his door, have a conversation, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. In situations where you are allowed to make contact, it is important to apologize and ask for the other person’s perspective. You may open up the issue via a conversation on the phone or via email. The bigger the issue, the longer the time frame you may need to discuss this. The other person or people need time to open up to the issue, and sometimes they won’t want to. You have to allow for that. Sometimes people need years to get to the point of discussing things much less forgiving. That’s why you have to focus on God’s forgiveness and your own as you go through a forgiveness process. That will allow you the deeper peace you truly want.
Nonetheless, reaching out to others can be an important part of a sincere forgiveness process. This process also opens the doorway for your victim(s) to heal. Whether they walk through that doorway is up to them, but at least you’re doing your part to atone for an abuse of power.
Healed in Yourself and Ready to Help Others
I am sure that when many of you saw the title of this blog post, you thought of it only in the context of confronting other people’s abuses of power. But in following the path inwards to face your own abuses of power as well as to heal parts of you that have been abused, you naturally put yourself in a space of clarity and strength to face external abuses of power. If you don’t follow that inward path, you are likely to find yourself constantly angry at other people and running off to try and save the world in five different ways. You are likely to not appreciate other people’s perspectives nor how they came to be abusers. You are likely to only want to “fix” things to get your way rather than to find communal solutions that require compromise and not getting all the things you want. This kind of victimhood is a big driver for a lot of people who want to take down the bully, office dictator, or evil corporation.
It doesn’t mean that you aren’t seeing genuine abuses of power that need to be addressed, but until your victimhood is addressed, you are in a weakened position. In truth, you are probably trying to avoid your pain or are unconsciously attempting to resolve your issues with your initial abuser(s) through this other person or situation. But you can’t fix your issues this way, and your issues will blind you to the reality of the situations you are trying to help. One of the key signs of victimhood is that no sooner is one external world problem resolved, then you go find another issue to be upset about because your pain needs a new distraction. Without a new distraction, you are forced to face the issues inside yourself.
Thus, if you have been abused yourself, the path to truly being able to help others is to learn to help yourself.
Facing Abusers and Understanding Them
If you have healed your victimhood and/or atoned for your abuses, you will have a far easier time understanding the power abusers you choose to face. Whether this is a corporation poisoning the water with chemical run-off or a principal at a school who is handing out overly-harsh punishments to students, it’s important to understand where they are coming from and what they believe. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be helping them to resolve their core issues, being clear on what the other side thinks and believes is how you can peacefully broker change.
Too often, Western Society thinks in a right/wrong mentality where only one side can be right. We need to change this more to a culture of inclusion where differing ideas are given understanding. Even when an idea is flatly wrong, it rarely helps to tell someone that they are completely wrong. Most people just hold onto their beliefs even more. So bringing understanding to a situation creates space for some amount of openness so that you can then educate them on a different point of view. It’s not a glamorous job, and it often takes time to educate power abusers in a new way. But a power abuser is a person, and for any of you who have abused your power, you probably can empathize with what it takes to realize when you’re abusing your power and go through the guilt, sadness, anger, and other emotions that arise as you come to terms with it before you even get to the process of atonement. Thus, compassion and perseverance are important traits to maintain as you help another see the pain that they’re causing.
Drawing the Hard Line Against Truly Unrepentant Abusers
I feel like Western Society immediately jumps to the conclusion that someone or some organization is unrepentant and totally unwilling to change. This polarizes the situation and causes people to get more extreme and even violent. So in most situations in which you act, this is a rarity. Additionally, there are plenty of situations where you can walk away from them. The truly mean boss who doesn’t want to change and delights in abusing others exists, but you can still find other jobs. It’s not always easy, but it’s doable in Western Society for the most part. There are occasions when you may truly feel like you need to rise up and face a mean boss, parent, organization, or something else. If that is the case, take stock of the support you need. Power abusers can do what they do because they have more power than you, and in this world, it is important to equal that scenario or find another power broker. So if you are having a terrible time with your mother, maybe it’s time to call in an aunt or grandmother to help broker the disagreements. In this way, finding allies is important.
If you are going to sue your boss, make sure that what you are getting out of it is truly worth it. Litigation is a lot of work, but it can be necessary. Additionally, it is probably really helpful to get the support of lots of co-workers. If you are drawing a line in the sand, then be prepared for things to get ugly. Unrepentant power abusers are going to fight back hard. Additionally, planning and preparation are all important things in whatever situation you are addressing from the family power abuser to the work situation to the multi-national corporation that is poisoning waters and is covering it up.
Along the way, it is important to maintain your spiritual practice and continue to return to the space of presence. Facing an abuse of power is important. It’s often the only way to get some people’s attention and to stop injustice and harm coming to the innocent. It’s also really easy to get lost in fear and anger in the situation, so your regular spiritual practice can help you stay healthy. It helps you to maintain your inner balance and to endure the ups and downs of battles that may span years. Resting in your presence also guides you towards the best solutions possible in any given situation.
Deepening into True Power
The greatest power of all is love, and when you reside in it, I am not sure how you could abuse that kind of power. The depth of love and acceptance within you is profound, and that should always be the power you most learn to draw upon to face any abuse of power. Too often people are taught all the wrong lessons about power. Most people see power as the ability to make others do what they want and to get what they want. But this is just ego control. It’s everywhere, which is why most people think that this is power. And of course this kind of influence and control in the hands of the unconscious ego leads to many, many abuses of power.
But true power is this space of love that allows everyone to just be. Ironically enough, the more you rest in this space, the more you see how the ego makes a mess of everything in sight. While the Divine allows this, you are likely to feel called to meet some of these abuses of power because you see the suffering it perpetuates. You see the hate that power abuse generates. In this way, you naturally rise up to face abuses of power from a space of love and a willingness to help yourself and others to transform. And this is one of the most beautiful and pure ways we can ever face abuses of power.