Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts On Power

I’m thinking about a line in the One True Thing blog that ran two posts ago. Blogger Jen Haupt asked me what I had to give up in order to get better, and I responded: the willingness to give complete power to another person. I’m realizing that this was crucial not only in affording me the courage to step aside from therapy, but in other aspects of my life as well.

It is extremely difficult to disagree with someone in whom you have invested power—either because of an inherent power differential (a boss, teacher, editor, etc.) or the particular dynamic (spouse, lover, friend). When you’re dependent on someone, you fear what you might lose (love, support, a job). Sometimes you merely hold back from voicing your dissent; sometimes you stop yourself from even acknowledging disagreement in your own mind.

At different points in my life I did risk standing up to authority. Years back I told a literary agent that I believed in a book I was working on and stayed with it rather than taking the secure-but-dull projects she recommended. I gave up a lucrative freelance gig because I felt the company wanted me to downplay a problem in a way I felt was dishonest.

The big one, however, was therapy. I regarded a therapist as a lifeline, a link to the world outside myself that often felt out of reach, so I bought everything he/she said. Truth was, I didn’t know what it was to feel okay. The therapists I saw seemed to have a purchase on okay-ness, so I deferred to their judgment (as in, I needed to endure a lot of psychic pain to get better). The worse I felt, the more willingly I gave power to others. I felt that I was gaining something—attention and support—and didn’t see what I had given up, ultimately my own best interests. It wasn’t until it became clear that continuing therapy was untenable that I began to question the framework for healing that I had accepted on faith. Which made for a painful withdrawal rather than a gradual transition.

I believe the courage not to give power to others is important in other ways, including our role as citizens in the larger world. Can our economic “experts” always tell us how to find prosperity? Today, I don’t think so. Check out my recent article on Time.com.Here are lions gathering courage in the Kruger Park.

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