Why do we need power?

Ellie works as a shop assistant, she’s been with the company for many years. She is always the first  to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. She feels that she has accrued enough experience to be made supervisor, yet Ellie lacks the courage to ask for what she wants and her employers are happy to keep her where she is. If Ellie were to work on increasing her power then she could challenge management and ask for some recognition.

There is probably not a human alive who does not wish they had more power in their life. They might want power in their job or employment situation, perhaps a little more freedom in their marriage or family to make decisions. Perhaps they want a little relief from the relentlessness of young children. There is, and there will always be something else we would like more power over, but at this very moment a lack of resources, the authority or the confidence to achieve that power is lacking.

Power over whom?

If I were to ask you why you wanted more power, you would possibly tell me that you’d like more influence over your own life, that you’d like to have the power to make choices, and that you’d like a little more autonomy.

In the movies, characters want power for one reason only – to control others. Yet, for the majority of us, we don’t want to control others, we simply want to have more control over the direction our own life is taking, rather than it being under the influence of our spouse/employers/parents. One study supports this – that most of us wish to have power only over our own circumstances, rather than to be under the control of others. The authors of the study write;

Power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and this to shape one’s own destiny.

The study goes on to show that when some people achieve a certain level of power they no longer feel the need for it and they stop wanting it. Because at that stage they have a satisfactory level of autonomy. We think we want power over others, but chances are that what we actually want is autonomy over our own lives. 

Power gets us places

We need power so that people will give us what we want or need, whether it be a job, a promotion, respect or recognition – with the result that we will have the kind of life that we aspire to. But it is not power over others that gets us the job that we want, it is power over ourselves that enables us to do what is necessary to get the job we want.

To get power we could go down the coercion route, using underhand tactics, manipulating and treading on others to get there, but that’s not true power. True personal power is achieving the life we want without treading on others. There is a sense of right that comes with having achieved a position of power through our own hard work, that enables us to control our destiny. No one can take that power away. Yet, an empire of power over others is unsecure and can easily come tumbling down.

Having power is having the freedom to control our lives and our destiny, which above everything else will help us achieve happiness, longevity and health. Having limited power in our lives is stressful because it induces feelings of helplessness.  With little power we have little or no control; we simply let life happen to us.


Image credit:  Capture Queen – Power