Written by Shai Tubali
Here is a true story:
a forty-year-old man had secretly made up his mind to separate from his spouse after eight and a half years. For months he had been planning his “escape” from the marriage, and he had planned it in a way that would enable him not only to separate abruptly but also to revengefully rob his spouse of all possessions and money.
So one night he just said “goodnight” to his partner, followed this with the traditional kiss and hug and went to sleep downstairs in the guest room, claiming that because of work he needed to wake up very early. In the morning his spouse woke up and found out, with utmost shock, that the husband was gone, and took with him the partner’s passport, credit cards, and all the cash money in the house. After few hours another shock followed: a letter from the bank reported that unfortunately, the bank transference that the husband had attempted to make of all their savings from their shared bank account failed due to a tiny technical error.
Though utterly devastated from this sharp turn of events – the spouse had been certain that they had shared a successful marriage all along – the spouse was of course also relieved. Some possession, after all, failed to escape with the husband, who was now abiding in his homeland. But after the two skyped three days later, and the spouse reported to him what he still didn’t know – that the bank transfer had failed – he had to face a new reality in which he was now left with practically nothing. So guess what he did – he then started to shift his presentation from a powerful avenger to a miserable and poor guy who was robbed of all possessions by his spouse! He even sent many mails to his ex-partner furiously demanding compassion, since now he was left with nothing, and needed to travel by bus, to look for humiliating jobs and to start a life without the foundation his ex-spouse now safely enjoyed.
This may strike you as an odd and extreme kind of story. It may even make you laugh. Nonetheless, I meet daily people who do precisely the same thing – which in power psychology is called “diversion” – in my own private work as a therapist, and these are not exceptional people. These people, just like you and I sometimes, use a simple tactic whenever their will-driven acts fail: as soon as they realize that their will has failed to achieve its explicit or secret goal, they quickly make themselves victims of reality. They immediately shift everyone’s attention to their frustration of will, as if nothing preceded that, and turn this frustration into the drama of the “poor me”.
Power psychology is simple.
It states that the greatest pretence of us, human beings, is that we are not driven by strong wills but are rather victims of others’ strong wills. In this fake drama, we are the poor victims standing in the middle of a world of aggressors. And because we are victims, we are also “good”. However, I have developed power psychology to tackle a most difficult therapeutic reality that arises from this fake self-perception: while it is my firm conviction that only a psychology of maximal self-responsibility can liberate from suffering, with this pretence people come to therapy vehemently clinging to the claim of minimal self-responsibility. They could never be the ones creating their own suffering; it’s always someone – a parent, a spouse, an authoritative figure, an abusive stranger – who monitors behind the scenes their levels of happiness and suffering.
The most crucial missing link for the success of a therapeutic process
This is for me the most crucial missing link for either the failure or success of a therapeutic process: by reclaiming one’s own will, which has participated all along in life’s game of wills, one can also track the true origin of one’s frustrations in life. But this can take place only if someone admitted fully and wholeheartedly that one was driven by will. We wanted some things; these things were not given to us, and then we make this frustration our very identity, our very experience of self versus life. The victim is only an imposter, the façade we put on as soon as our will is thwarted. With the example above this is of course very clear, but can you see now that if you’re experiencing some frustration, it is only because your will didn’t happen to win in the game of life? And can you see that you don’t like the power struggles of life only when you happen to find yourself on the losing side?
In my mind, a major role of therapy is overturning the victim identity and leading the person to recognize, probably for the first time in their life, that they are will-full; that essentially we, humans, are driven by will. People who come to therapy represent the majority of population which firmly believes that “I am the good guy” – the one who wants minimally and tenderly – while the others are the “bad guys” – those who want explicitly and unashamedly. This is not a coincidence that when most of us watch a movie, we automatically identify with the “good hero”, the one who has to protect himself, who doesn’t really want and who is often the bad guys’ innocent victim. This identification occurs so automatically because this is the way we perceive ourselves all the time – as innocent, which means essentially free from a will of our own.
This may be a great tactic and it may even work most of the time. Think how many countries and politicians, even in their most aggressive moments, use this tactic! But even if it works, it’s not healthy psychologically. It minimizes the possibility of true self-responsibility which is the only force there is that can fully put an end to human suffering. It hinders one’s ability to psychologically mature by recognizing the otherwise obvious chain of will and frustration.
But there is even a graver, and perhaps much more ironic, problem with this tactic: it distances us from our sources of power. Admitting my will implies recognizing that I am equipped with a healthy ability to participate in the game of life. That is why I believe that overly “compassionate” therapists not only mislead their patients when they focus on their times of victimhood but also weaken them in the long run. Taking care of people as if they were innocent victims of others’ brutality is a very limiting approach, and it can never truly empower a person.
A successful therapy, in my view, is helping a person realize that he is perfectly capable of fully participating in life’s drama, because he is essentially made of the same stuff that the whole of life is made of – will. It is will that is running the show, and embracing it as a force within us rather than something we need to deny in order to put on the “poor-me” mask, is actually the one factor that can make us feel powerful. And isn’t the sense of inner power, healthy power, what people unconsciously seek as they approach therapy? Are they not driven in the first place by the tormenting feeling that they lack the power to master life’s challenges and hold the reins of their own fate?
A successful therapy should lead a person to recognize that one’s injuries and wounds are part of the game, and never a fixed identity in which one can afford to get stuck in forever. If one’s psyche is bruised, this is only because one hasn’t properly learned how to deal with the frustrations caused by power-relations with the world. Shaking off one’s will and claiming one is helpless is definitely not a way to mental and emotional health. Indeed, it is the other way around: by accepting will as one’s core identity, one can re-enter the game, consciously, maturely, and powerfully.