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  • Michaela Patel


power struggle

Controlling people trample all over others’ rights. What's more, they deny themselves and others the expression of their authentic needs, being disrespecting in their way of relating, which inevitably leads to resentment and the lack of love present in their relationships.

Have you experienced power struggles in your relationships? Did you feel guilty for how you have acted or disappointed with the way others have behaved towards you? Even though power struggles happen all the time, we are very much unaware of them driving us through the terrain we think we are familiar with. Like angrily explaining to our children for the gazzillionth time our endless frustrations with them in the manner we hated our parents for. Parenting is a bumpy road without a road map. Full of new twists and challenges we never thought existed. Besides it being undoubtedly one of the most amazing adventures, it is typically a very painful affair forcing us parents (surprise surprise!) to grow up fast if we are to ever enjoy parenthood.

Like myself, many women have been shook awake from their blissful unawareness and the amount of bullsh*t they build their living arrangements on. It all started to slide when we got a true call to responsibility beyond that of wiping our own bottom. Our relationship dynamics got tipped on its head with our child’s arrival whilst our birth canal wasn’t clearly the only thing that has opened...

With the shift of love towards our new arrival our priorities had changed, only further deepening our relationship power struggles we haven’t previously cared to acknowledge. The new family dynamic forced us re-evalueate what is important to us in ways not many situations in life can do so effortlessly. Sadly, but unsuprisingly, the many incompatibilities got exposed through the number of rising conflicts with those who wished to steer us in their direction. Unfortunately for them, through the bouts of unconditional love we felt so strongly towards our new life, we came to care for ourselves too. We had to. The importance of becoming a shining example to our litle star gained a whole new meaning. Becoming more protective over our Inner child and truth, our readiness to fight with whomever stood in our way eventually culminated in a departure from any perpetually triggering, unhappy relationship. The mother nature is (luckily for us) wiser in many aspects of its creation... Read more about my personal journey exiting an unhappy marriage here.

A relationship of two immature partners is defined by the lack of assertiveness.

What does it mean to be assertive? Asserting yourself really implies confidently standing up for your rights and respecting the rights of others, leaving you feeling good about yourself. Asserting ourselves in respectful ways requires us to truly believe we are equal and not feel threatened when approaching others. To not feel afraid requires us to have a good self-esteem, trusting ourselves to stand up for ourselves in situations that can feel unsettling (that is by our own or someone else’s doing). When our self-esteem becomes damaged, seeking support of a professional, practicing it with the right people can help us to repair it.

Non-assertive ways of communicating are either A/ denying ourselves a free and honest self-expression out of fear (ignoring our truth), or B/ aggressively expressing our rights at the expense of others, again out of fear (lashing out or sulking). Both types of non-asserting ourselves in, for us, helpful ways leave us feeling discontent, unhappy, oftentimes with our emotions raging. They leave us feeling A/ anxious, sad and resentful, or B/ angry, out of control and guilty. To understand the above, not being scared to express our needs and desires (to speak our truth!) is crucial in making our relationships fulfilling and our interactions satisfying, enjoyable.

Not understanding why we struggle, remaining unaware of our ill dynamics, we have a very little chance to live a happy, connected life.

If there is one take away from this reading it would be that whenever we feel threatened or anxious in an interaction with others we don't believe we are equal. Period. Our perception of reality then distorts by fear which robs us of a wider angle view. We are unable to notice the opportunities we could have otherwise taken up. Power equality in a relationship sits heavily on how we perceive ourselves. We can either have a respectful, enjoyable discussion with our boss or our child, or see ourselves as dis-empowered, unworthy and undeserving which brings an entirely different dynamic to the table. They say opposites attract and that may be true concerning our conscious perception of ourselves (who we think we are). However, where self-esteem is concerned it works ‘perfectly’ and only when both are equally, unconsciously matched! At least till the rose tinted glasses fall...

How do the ill dynamics of power struggle in relationships play out and how these relate to our lack of worth?

A partner with a low self-esteem is capable of seeing themselves only either below, or above their partner, but never truly equal in their black and white thinking. In their minds they can only win or lose. The relationship becomes about a struggle to feel empowered at all costs (although this is only a false sense of empowerment) and the drama (and pain) that comes with it. Without understanding themselves through appropriate coaching, the disempowered partners become emotionally lopsided, restricted to expressing themselves destructively with anger, rage, sadness, disappointment and resentment towards the other as the only (known to them) outlet to ‘treat’ this persistent power imbalance. Flopping from one extreme to the other this frequently hijacks their emotional brain, leading to emotional dysregulation and frequent, unpredictable mood swings. Those on board of a relationship rollercoaster experience one hell of a ride! How bad can this become when one throws alcohol or drugs in the mix can be seen publically in the latest defamation trial of the rich and famous.

To mature is to heal our wounds caused by persistent power imbalances in our early relationships with our carers. To heal is to start respecting and truly caring for ourselves, believing that our rights can be protected with dignity.

How does a truly empowered relating look like? It is filled with love and respect, build on self-love and self-respect. We become confident to express ourselves without fearing that we won’t be liked by those we love. We are unafraid of others leaving us as our safety and well-being becomes our priority. We come to value time alone and peace more than fearing loneliness. Being fully expressed means that we no longer fear to rock the boat of our relationship, no longer worrying that others ‘kicking off’ will make us feel emotionally overwhelmed and out of control. We are capable of confidently asking in a calm and warm tone to have our rights respected because we strongly believe we deserve nothing less. When others take things badly, like them our right is to be treated with dignity. We are no longer afraid to lose the love (even if temporarily) of those who cannot provide a safe space for our self-expression and are capable to request others take a time out until this condition is present for both parties to feel respectfully heard and unafraid. Being able to disagree we no longer fear that this could cause a dislike - hence a disconnection. Right the opposite is true as we become comfortable allowing others to maintain their view, respecting and loving them for it, instead of attempting to manipulate their opinion to fit our own. Maturation is above all understanding that we all have our own filters (past experiences and knowledge we hold to be true) through which we perceive situations and which can be very different, nevertheless true to us. Forcing others to believe that our experiences are more valid, yet another way of attempting to control them (by making them 'similar to us'), we deny them their individuality which is the hallmark of co-dependency.

To remain in a relationship that feels safe for us is our fundamental right.

At times we ought to protect ourselves by removing ourselves from a situation we perceive as unsafe. For example if others become aggressive and hostile. Having an emotional reaction is one thing - it is natural and healthy. What we do as a result of our feelings in the moment is another and it is a function of self-awareness and maturity. Some of us will remain dwarfed by their early power struggles and never truly grow up. They will forever perceive others as a threat to themselves and never equal with those they idealise/proclaim to love. Incapable of consulting themselves with integrity, asking honestly for what they need in respectful ways, unable to create a comfortable environment makes them forever internally unfulfilled and deeply unhappy. Feeling inferior as a result of perpetual competition with others (including their partner and children!) makes them want to escape their misery by wanting to engage in a power struggle by instigating an argument. In a desperate attempt to control their loved ones they create the perfect environment for a combustible relationship: increased sensitivity to situations where they feel disrespected, their loved ones needing to walk on eggshells and becoming of service to them. The feelings of self-resentment in their partners and children eventually causes the death (admitted or not) of true connection and love.

How low self-esteem becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy and how the lack of self-love projects into the amount of abuse in relationships I have discussed in my many previous articles. If you are struggling to stand up for yourself please read my piece on controlling relationships.

The fundamentals of a loving relationship and the biggest commitment we can ever make is to be truthful with ourselves. The pain of a failed relationship is much less to bear than the pain our children are bound to bear if we only model power struggles to them because that same dynamic will play out in their relationship with their partners and children. Treating our significant others with respect and love, providing a safe space for their self-expression, we are cultivating their authentic Self, growing their self-esteem. And good self-esteem ensures resilience of those we love in the face of the inevitably many life challenges, offering the help of the right tools they are truly fortunate to receive from us.

And last but not least...


I have the right

1. to ask for what I want.

2. to say NO.

3. to feel and express my feeling whatever they may be.

4. to make mistakes.

5. to have my opinions, convictions and values.

6. to be treated with respect and dignity.

7. to change my mind or take different action.

8. to protest unfair treatment or criticism.

9. to expect honesty from others.

10. to be angry at someone I love.

11. to say ‘I don’t know’.

12. to negotiate for change.

13. to be in non-abusive environment.

14. ask for help and emotional support.

15. to have my personal space and time even if others prefer my company.

16. not to have to justify myself to others.

17. not to take responsibility other’s behaviour, feelings, or problems.

18. not to anticipate other’s needs and wishes.

19. not to have to worry all the time about the goodwill of others.

20. to choose not to respond to a situation.

Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.

Copyright © 2022 Michaela Patel


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