We are in the middle of a series where I am sharing with you the key lessons I learned as I earned my way out of my relationship with my sexually addicted spouse. The first lesson I learned was how to step out of the cheater’s gaslighting game. The second lesson I learned was how to stop talking and start observing. The third lesson I learned was how to stop giving my power away to my spouse. That lesson is our focus for this week and next week.
The best place to start with this topic is to define what I mean by power. The type of power I’m talking about here is personal power that allows you to determine who you want to be, how you want to think about things, and how you want to behave.
We give our personal power away to others when we let their reality and behaviors determine our reality and behaviors. For example, if we look to another person for approval – trying to figure out who to be, how to be, and what to say or do that will make that other person like us or be happy with us – we give that person our power. We give them the ability to dictate how we feel about ourselves and to shape our thinking and behavior, often in unconscious but significant ways. Brené Brown calls this phenomenon ‘hustling for worthiness.’ Whatever we choose to call it, it is a profound form of giving away our personal power.
We also give our power away when we offend from the victim position. Offending from the victim position occurs when someone hurts us or crosses our boundaries and we feel justified in hurting them back or crossing their boundaries in return. This is a self-righteous position that operates from the misguided belief, “You hurt me, so now I’m going to hurt you back and I’m justified in doing so.”
We give our power away when we offend from the victim position because we compromise our values. We behave in ways that are incongruent with who we want to be in the world and in our relationships. Instead of acting from a place of personal power and integrity, we simply react, often from our lesser selves and frequently in ways that violate our values.
For betrayed partners, offending from the victim position is a particularly potent way of giving away power, mostly because we have been so truly offended against by the cheating. After learning about betrayal, we can’t help but experience a hurricane of emotional and bodily-based trauma reactions that make it incredibly easy to respond by offending from the victim position. Plus, revenge. That’s also a motivation. But when we offend from the victim position, we lose our personal power. We lose the ability to decide for ourselves who we want to be in the world and within our relationships.
Because our partner is our most important other, their opinion of us, response to us, and connection with us is enormously significant. And their extreme importance can make it difficult for us to hold onto our personal power within the relationship. We can find ourselves pleasing our partner instead of being authentic, ignoring what we know to be true to preserve connection or crafting our responses to get the reaction from our partner that we want. Such behaviors move us away from our true selves. They also move us away from true intimacy with our partner – intimacy that is based on transparency and authenticity. In short, we give away our power, and we slowly but steadily become less and less connected to our truest selves.
Giving away our power by hustling for worthiness and offending from the victim position robs us of our values, integrity, and sense of self. It also destroys true intimacy in our relationships. Thus, it is imperative that we learn to overcome this. Until we learn to do this, we will struggle as individuals, and also in our relationships. In next week’s post, I will present ways we can stop giving away our power in relationships – not just with our partners but with every person in our lives.