How to Handle a Power Tripper

by Ashley on August 30, 2012

Here’s a baffling question: What is it about power that makes some people giddy?

“It is less mortifying to believe oneself unpopular than insignificant.”
– Edith Wharton, American author

Ms. Wharton might have something there.

According to her, it’s lack of self-worth, not authority, that affects behavior. Instead of focusing on earning respect, some people would rather exert their power. They don’t mind trading respect (popularity) for self-confidence (significance).

I’ve run into several people who need to remind those around them – frequently – about their control or position. (I almost wrote “who enjoy reminding” right there. For some it does occasionally appear to be enjoyable, but it always comes across as a need.)

When reminding others of their power (or perceived power, as the case may be), the person builds him/herself up by attempting to make the remindee feel less significant. It’s an effort to dispel their own insecurities.

Almost Just like a bully.

And just like a middle schooler doesn’t understand why he’s so mean to other kids, I think these “power trippers” don’t understand (or want to admit) why they behave this way. But more important, they don’t understand the power of choice.

Attempting the Impossible

Two truths we must recognize:

  1. It’s impossible to force loyalty on others. In fact, the stronger the attempt, the more fleeting loyalty becomes.
  2. It’s impossible to force respect from others. A person may be required to treat another with respect, but that in no way obligates that person to actually respect the other.

Figures of authority who attempt the impossible are desperate to lord it over others around them.

What’s ironic is that the LORD, the all-powerful creator, does not lord it over anyone. He gave us free will to love him or not, to respect him or not, to obey him or not. It’s our choice. He won’t force us into anything.

Know why?

Because he is all-powerful. Because he has the final say in everything. He knows his power is unsurpassed. He doesn’t lack self-worth. So there’s no need to force his authority on anyone.

Your Responsibility

Not only do we have choice when it comes to our response to God, we also have a choice in how we respond to others.

People on the receiving end of a power trip have a couple of options. They can:

  • Feel sorry for themselves
  • Feel sorry for the power tripper

Everyone must take responsibility for their own emotions. You can choose to feel sad or self-righteous, but who does that hurt? (Here’s a clue: It’s not the power tripper.)

I’ve changed my emotional response when I’m on the receiving end of a power trip. Now I feel pity, not anger, because the ’tripper feels something inside that creates the need to behave badly. My attitude has become one of embarrassment. For the other person.

As for my own behavior, I will focus my effort on earning respect rather than forcing my opinions/thoughts/feelings on someone else. I’ve been guilty of a power trip or two. But bullying other people into agreeing with me won’t make them change their minds. They might agree just to shut me up. But they’ll have no respect for me.

I’d rather earn respect than exert power. Because, ultimately, respect is power.

Which would you rather have?

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
– attributed to Margaret Thatcher


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