What’s the best way to control someone?
In every culture in every time there are people and groups who take advantage of others for their own benefit- and there is a tried and tested way to do it.
In this article we’ll explore one of the main ways this happens and how you can guard against it whilst dramatically increasing your quality of life.
One of the keys to establishing control over someone else is this- make yourself their authority figure.
What do I mean by this.
~ We all have internal authority figures ~
Whether conscious of it or not we all have an internal authority figure who tells us what to do and how the world works.
We need this because we have to have some internal rules to make our way through our daily lives.
Most of us don’t have to think twice about picking up a pen or making a cup of tea. Without this internal authority figure telling us how to do it would be a lot more work as we’d have to work everything out from scratch. And that would be exhausting.
This internal authority figure also tells us what to pay attention to, what to believe and what is right and wrong (in our view).
For people, groups and systems who want to exert control over another group or person one of the most powerful ways they can do this is to put themselves in the position of being our authority figure.
It’s a bit like someone taking control of your computer screen remotely to help you work out how to use some software.
Of course this taking control is helpful and important- even vital at times.
A parent of a two year old is definitely doing the right thing picking that little one up if it goes too near the fire.
A foolhardy patient who thinks that it’s a good idea during surgery to remain conscious and advise the surgeon on how to make the next cut.
And a company without strong leadership is likely to find itself running into trouble very quickly.
Others can take control of us through our internal authority figure *
But this same very important mechanism of control so often gets abused.
The parent gets obsessed with having the child follow their way rather than supporting the child in following his or her own.
The doctor ignores information the patient is giving because they think their knowledge is more important than the patient's experience.
An immoral CEO without oversight embezzles money out of the company and runs it into the ground.
~ An authority relationship can be healthy or unhealthy ~
In a healthy authority relationship the asymmetry of power is held only long enough for the task at hand to be accomplished.
Then it is given back. The hierarchy between the different parties becomes flat again and each side goes on it’s way fully in their own power.
In an unhealthy authority relationship the abusive one not only does not hand back power as soon as they can. Instead they try to consolidate their position and make it even stronger by doing anything they can to undermine the other person.
This mechanism is beautifully described by Pia Mellody in her book ‘Facing Codependence’.
She describes spiritual abuse as being arguably the most challenging form of abuse to experience. (In a way this is a meaningless statement- all abuse is horrific- but hopefully you’ll see her point below.)
The reason is that when somebody takes the place of your inner authority, when they put themselves in a position of being the mediator between you and your inner power they have effectively removed your power to choose.
They have put themselves in the place of your free will. And this affects every single aspect of a person’s life.
~ Why and how does this happen? Two primary forces ~
One of my favourite explanations of this is by the author Joseph Chiltern Pearce. He describes how infants basically have two primary forces operating in their world.
The first is their innate desire to explore- what happens if I try and put my whole foot in my mouth? What‘s that bright light?
The second is the parental ‘no’. This includes all the many ways in which parents have to guide and corrall their infants behaviour.
Our particular constellation of these two factors (as well as later life events) will determine how susceptible we are to someone else inserting themselves into a position of authority in our lives.
Somebody who is in the business of exploiting others for their own gain leverages off the emotional and moral shape of our particular internal patterns of authority.
If they are particularly good at it or we are in a particularly vulnerable state then it can be a slippery slope into some awful situations.
~ The system really does want to control you’ ~
A Norwegian economist called Thorsten Veblen was fascinated by how once institutions are up and running their prime motivation is their own survival.
It doesn’t matter what their stated mission is, they want to make sure they survive- even at the expense of others.
The same is true for any system that is operating and there are some huge ones that are operating in our lives- Facebook, Google, government, Agribusiness, the petroleum industry- the list goes on.
Their prime objective is to survive and beyond that, grow their power base.
The thing is for a system to succeed it needs it’s ‘cog’s to do what it says. It needs all the little parts that work with and within it to do their job and not challenge their authority.
In totalitarian regimes this happens in not so subtle ways.
In the developed world it is often more hidden but still ever present.
~ So what can we do about it? ~
It doesn't matter what has happened in our lives. No matter what our current situation there are always immense gains to be made from challenging the fake pretenders on the throne ruling as our internal authority figures.
It is the most direct route into starting to protect ourselves better from relationships with people or organisations that want to take control of us. We put ourselves back into a position of choice and find it easier to say no in a way that serves us.
It helps us find the areas of untapped potential that are often walled away behind these unconscious patterns. It never ceases to amaze me at the riches that clients uncover that are hidden in plain sight- but just shut away.
And best of all it releases the energy that is bound up within these habitual patterns. We can use this energy to create what we really want.
For me (probably because it is the work that I do) this is the most exciting journey we can embark on and the only one that places us squarely in the middle of our own power.