Power And Intimacy

There was a time when I wanted to be a Vulcan. Yep – a pointy-earned, logic-ruled (and completely fictional) Vulcan. To me, they had overcome the human weakness that emotions represent. As a Star Trek fan, I know there’s a lot more to Vulcans than that (he says, trying to avoid the wrath of khanivorous interweb trekkies).

For me though, I loved the idea of logic-ruled people. It was the idea that I could be in control of my feelings enough that they wouldn’t cloud my judgement. I could go through life making logical, sound choices and be in control. There was a strong sense of the power involved in having all that control that I was really drawn to.

And so, I started putting on a flat effect and anytime an emotion passed, I’d block it off and look for the logical thing to do. Please, try and suspend the many possible psychological interpretations of what was going on for me at the time. But to cut an already-too-long story short, I found that level of control really attractive.

I think this is actually part of a natural human desire to be in control and master one’s environment; one’s self. After all, who would want to live a life where we have less control and are more subject to the chaos and threats that life throws at us? Maybe there are a few thrill seekers who like the idea of constantly having to be on their toes, with no power over what happens to them, but I think they’d be pretty rare.

So while it might feel natural to want more power and control in our lives, what happens when this interacts with having relationships with others? What happens when we see things through a logical, controlled lens? This is what I want to talk about. And I’ll start talking about this by asking a question. What’s the opposite of power? If you’re to imagine a sliding scale, with power on one end, what sits at the other?

Powerlessness? I don’t think so – that sits on the same “vertical” scale – it’s still about having power. Vulnerability?  I think this is closer, but not quite.

My suggestion is that the opposite of power is intimacy. I’ll let that sit for a second…

The opposite of power is intimacy.

Carl Jung expressed a similar idea when he said “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking.” This means that if you feel in control in a relationship, then some sort of intimacy is inevitably lacking. To be in control, to have power is an automatically distancing position. No longer are you two equals that are sharing and discovering. Instead, you’ve isolated yourself from the other and established some type of dominance/control.

When two people have a conflict, it boils down to one person trying to establish a dominance over the other – whether it’s just trying to be ‘right’ in an argument  or actually trying control the other’s actions.

Thinking about this can be useful when you feel that there’s a distance between you and your partner. Are you lacking intimacy with your partner? Then perhaps think about how either of you have been trying to gain control of the other. Whether it’s saying how you hate them going out, or withdrawing into yourself to try and figure out an issue. Both are exercises in power and control, and hence, will be a move away from love and intimacy.

Reflect on the times when you felt the closest with a partner. Intimacy is highest when you are open, sharing and vulnerable. We all can relate to the idea that being in a relationship and trying to protect your heart isn’t really conducive to intimacy. But beyond this can be an insidious (and yet normal) desire to want to be in control: in control of your feelings and of your future.

I think most people find that it feels quite natural and seems perfectly logical to want to maintain control of a situation. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – sometimes we need to maintain a sense of power over intimacy (work situations come to mind). But keep in mind that feeling in control is not conducive to gaining intimacy.

One of the most interesting ways this plays out is with regard to people that feel like nobody truly knows them. This is a more common thing than you might think – lots of people say that no matter how long they stay in a relationship, that in the end, the other person never really got to know and understand their deeper self. My first thought is to ask whether in that relationship, they ever felt like they were out of control. It’s very rare.

Most people that feel a lack of connection with others also suffer from an inability to relinquish a sense of power and control in a relationship. This can be experienced as frustration for the other person (who feels open and vulnerable in comparison) as well as for the person in control.

Is there an answer in all this? As with most things, it comes down to trying to understand what’s behind your thoughts and feelings… Why have you developed a desire (need) to feel in control? When did it start? What would happen if you completely lost control?

In the case of the Vulcans, their imposed state of logical control had the unavoidable consequence of – essentially – having a psychotic break every seven years. This psychotic break saw them revert to their most basic animal instincts in order to find a mate and form a life-long bond and was a hugely embarrassing event for Vulcans.

I think the reason it was so embarrassing is because it revealed that in spite of their best efforts, losing control – being vulnerable in a way – was necessary to create an intimate bond.

Perhaps then, the lesson we can gain from this is that being afraid to lose control is as natural as our desire to have an intimate bond with someone. These opposing desires need to be acknowledged and worked with because without maintaining some power in a relationship, we’ll lose ourselves completely; but without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we’ll miss out on the very intimacy we need. TC mark 

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