The Pursuit of Power

the pursuit of power

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Inherent in human nature is an aggressive egocentric need to attain power and control. Throughout history, imperialist pursuits have been accompanied by genocide, slavery and eugenics. The current abuse of power on a global scale is all too evident in the free license afforded to mega corporations to recklessly plunder and pillage.

Politicians are grafters in collusion with foreign nationals perpetrating crimes against humanity. Torture and drone murder is touted as necessary vehicles towards peace. Financial criminals are bailed out.  Coups are engineered like theater. Accordingly, the rampant historical recurrence of abuse of power supports Lord Acton’s maxim, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Effectively managing the raw potential of power frequently presents itself in psychotherapy sessions. Ambitions to succeed, acquire wealth, status, admiration and even the acquisition of love reveals whether we lean towards aggression or balance in pursuit of what is desired.

Since “human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive” (Margaret Mead), harnessing one’s authority and strength can either destructively conflict or constructively converge with ethical tendencies.

Driving Forces

Depending on the driving forces fueling one’s appetite, the stimulus to power can span a wide spectrum from the quest for fame, amoral control, recognition and limitless greed to wanting nothing more than to retreat to a haven of safety and predictability devoid of any risk or challenge.

Somewhere in the middle of this vast panorama resides a balanced perspective, yet typically what is most prevalent is an indecisive struggle with this polarized mindset.

For adult survivors of child abuse, the identification with aggressive maneuvering or self effacing passivity and the abdication of power is an ongoing struggle. Often this vacillation from aggressive maneuvering to patterns of victim posturing can occur within the same individual. What ensues is an insidious manifestation of ruthless acquisition and self imposed sabotage.

This pattern is most starkly evidenced in adults who were habitually treated as narcissistic extensions by their disordered parent.

Specifically, the narcissist parent devoid of empathy is malevolently driven to annihilate the child’s sense of self by tyrannically objectifying and reducing the child to narcissistic supply. The insatiable parental narcissist is seeking adulation, fear and intractable control. Consequentially, the children of such parents may become adults who either deny their personal power so as to cater to the emotional needs of others, or act out their narcissistic wounding by perpetrating others in the same way they experienced.

Psychologist and author Alice Miller wrote:

“All the childhood histories of serial killers and dictators (Hitler, Stalin, Mao) I have examined showed them without exception to have been the victims of extreme cruelty, although they themselves steadfastly denied this.”

As Miller contends, whether it be a psychopathic leader, a serial killer, or a trauma survivor, the compulsion to repeat traumatic violence involves behavioral enactment as either victim or victimizer. This compulsive pathological fixation on blame of self or blame of other defines and informs the individual’s pursuit of power.

Repairing Brokenness

For those whose lives have been beset by abuse and exploitation, repairing one’s brokenness so as to reclaim one’s genuine power requires a brave excavation of heinous memories.

Carl Jung remarked: “here is no rebirth of consciousness without pain.”

Psychologically, the essence of the self emerges when one is willing to undergo a terrifying primordial process, which brings one’s shadow into conscious awareness for the purpose of integration. Bringing the Shadow out of exile allows for an unearthing of vital aspects of the concealed self, in which mysterious gifts and talents and sources of creative potential seeks realization.

We meet our darkness and it humanizes us and allows us to actualize our buried potentials. Remembering and connecting to one’s intrinsic worth is the trajectory to true power.

To have one’s Self precipitates an expanded sense of consciousness offering efficacy and agency, wherein the ego is ready to attach to the abstract plane beyond the sensory world. From this place one’s sense of identity is raised to a higher level and the Spirit hidden in matter reveals itself.

The heroic warrior, Christ led a spiritual battle to courageously prove his worth by improving the world. As the ethical hero warrior he used his disciplined aggression to actualize his full power. Paradoxically this meant humbly accepting his human fallibility and woundedness, thus showing us that it is our realness that aligns us with the source of our greatest power–Love.


The Pursuit of Power

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2016). The Pursuit of Power. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 May 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 May 2016
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