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Authority vs. Power Over / Power Under

Much pain and suffering comes from confusion about the difference between authority and power over.  In an ideal world, someone who is in authority has earned that authority through experience and learning.  For example, your boss has a certain authority at work.  She is likely able to hold a big picture of what is happening with the business and it's employees and what needs to happen.  She has earned this authority through work experience and education.  Because of this earned authority you and your co-workers give more weight to her ideas, decisions, and directives.  You trust what she is doing most of the time in regards to work decisions.

But when you give your boss authority in areas other than the immediate work environment or when you trust her every decision without checking in with your own sense of integrity, you are moving into a power over / power under consciousness.  For example, your boss doesn't get to weigh in on wether it is healthy for you to take an extra shift this week or not.  Only you have authority over your own self-care.

The reasons for slipping into a power over / power under consciousness are many and complex and volumes have been written about this topic (  For our purposes here, the important thing is to learn to notice this for yourself and be able to return to a consciousness of power with.

Here are some telltale signs that you have put someone in power over you:

  • You seek approval more often than checking in with what feels right for you
  • You believe your needs are not as important or you don't deserve to have them met.
  • You don't speak up when something is happening that is a violation of your ethics.
  • You ask for or willingly receive advice from this person about areas of your life outside of the dimension in which he or she has authority.
  • You bend your sense of personal boundaries to accommodate this person's wishes.
  • You feel like you are in a trance around this person, like you can't access all of who you are or your sense of what's true.
  • You feel smaller, speak in a smaller voice, or literally make yourself smaller through posture.
  • After talking to this person you feel confused or fuzzy or disconnected from yourself.
  • You lose your sense of humor and creativity around this person.
  • You imagine you don't have a choice
  • You "can't say no"

Here are some telltale signs that you have put yourself in power over another:

  • You believe your needs are more important or you deserve to have them met before others.
  • You give less attention and consideration to those you perceive as lower than you in a hierarchy
  • You make most of the decisions regardless of context.
  • You announce what is going to happen rather negotiate to consider the needs of others.
  • You give unsolicited advice about things not falling in your area of authority.
  • You become angry and resentful if someone doesn't follow your advice or do things in a way you expect.
  • You view the other as incapable, pitiful, and in need of your rescuing.
  • You imagine you know what is right for another without asking them.
  • You think a lot of about what this person or group of people should and shouldn't do.
  • You blame, shame, praise, and criticize.
  • You ask someone that you perceive to be lower on the hierarchy to do personal favors for you (that which is not a part of his or her role or job description).
In a "power with" consciousness, you maintain awareness and responsibility for your needs and values while being able to consider and hear the needs of others.  When you receive guidance and directives from someone in authority, you are able to discern your response in integrity with your needs/values and all the details relevant to that context.  If something seems off, you are able to ask questions of the person in authority.  You have clarity about the boundaries of this person's authority.  You remember that the needs of all living beings are equally important regardless of roles and responsibilities.

Take a moment now to reflect.  Is there a relationship in which you slipping into power over / power under consciousness?  What are the signs?  Can you also find some examples in which you are maintaining a power with consciousness?  Your intimate relationship, parenting, work, and spiritual communities are all good places to watch for these dynamics.


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2 Responses

  1. Feb 14, 2013

    Excellent list on when to notice you have given someone power over you. Its experiences like 'speaking as if with a small voice' or changes in posture or feeling disconnected from oneself when around that person that may be brief and passing and go unnoticed but are really great signs that something is off. Very helpful bec the experience of losing power so often involves degrees of disconnection from oneself where there is a loss of contact with identity and one's larger picture/context. Small telltale signs help in those situations.

    Thanks for this blog btw, Lachelle. I randomly came across it almost a year ago and have been a follower. The insights are always conveyed in a way that is specific, practical but very deep. They help shift stances while clarifying internal experiences around relational dynamics. Very often articulating what my clients (and myself) have not fully given mind enough to - to be able to convey so clearly.

  2. Feb 15, 2013

    Dear Zev,

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I am grateful to be a contribution.

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