Power, Control and Evil

    Around 1985, I read a book by M. Scott Peck, M.D. called People of the Lie. Peck was a highly credentialed psychiatrist with somewhat Christian leanings. An earlier book, The Road Less Traveled, was a blockbuster best seller and was about his personal search for meaning. It was an uplifting book.

    But People of the Lie was about evil. Peck noted that there were seemingly “evil” people who did not fit any known psychiatric diagnosis. They were beyond being sociopaths or personality disorders—they were simply evil. In this book he gave a definition of evil that stuck with me and which I’ve written about in several of my books. He defined it as controlling others for our own selfish and nefarious needs. The evil twin of control is always power, and I believe that having an inordinate need for power and control is the great corrupter of all relationships. 

Most of us have had friends, bosses, spouses and co-workers described as “control freaks.” Perhaps, that term has been used to describe us as well. Almost none of us are completely innocent when it comes to using noxious strategies to gain power and control in a situation. The term “control freak” has become ubiquitous in the past decade, and it would be a rare individual who has not felt the icy grip of a control freak on the nape of their neck at one time or another.

    Most would likely view the murder of another human being as the most serious crime or sin one could imagine. The deliberate murder of another is also the ultimate act of control. But short of murder, there remain hundreds of acts of control committed in all of our lives daily—sometimes the victim but sometimes we are the perpetrator. Infancy and early childhood are all about control. Good parents attempt to control the impulses of their children to keep them from getting hurt. Bad parents exert their power to compensate for their own inadequacies or to dump their anger. Children learn all sorts of control techniques by simply imitating their parents. The developmental stage known as the “terrible twos” is all about children trying to shift the locus of control from their parents to themselves. They want to rule supreme in their own little world and along the way they discover the power of “no.” Our unconscious (with a little help from the enemy) tells us that we are only safe when we are in control.

    Some control is achieved via brute force, but more often than not in our “civilized” society adults gain control thru manipulation, bribery, feigned helplessness and guilt. Some women whine their way to power and control. Most of us encounter unrighteous use of power in marriage and the work place. Power is an aphrodisiac for many and some people are so perverse that they will exert control simply because they are addicted to it. A friend of mine’s boss made him rearrange the furniture in his office for no really good reason. He is a compliant person, and she was his boss, and so he did what she asked. The ultimate consequence was that he felt powerless and demeaned and she felt powerful.

    It is difficult to not be a victim at one time or another of someone else’s power trip. That’s just life and about the best we can really do is to look out for these people and learn to manage them–and learn to forgive them.  I cannot with any great certainty tell you how not to be a victim. In a sense, Jesus was a victim, and we will be also if we live our lives with integrity.  However, I can tell you how not to be a perpetrator of evil acts of power and control. Christians can look to Jesus in learning how to handle those needs. In Luke 4, Satan presents Jesus with three temptations during His 40-day fast in the wilderness. As I see it, the second temptation is about power and control. From a high mountain Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and states that all their power and splendor can all be his if He will just worship him. In His response Jesus quotes scripture and states, “get thee behind me Satan,” for it is written “thou shall worship God and serve him only.” Our focus should always be on how Jesus lived his life. He was obedient to the Father’s command to love and serve Him and Him only. He answered Satan from scripture. He always deferred to His Father’s will. He had no selfish ego needs for power and control.

    We have to love others in a way that allows them the same free will that we are given by the Father.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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3 Responses to Power, Control and Evil

  1. I’ve encountered this kind of control. I think being a victim is submitting out of weakness. The kind of submission Jesus had to others was out of strength.

    I am hoping to read your books in the next few months. I love your writing.

    • diospsytrek says:

      very good point about submission out of strength vs. weakness – the evil inherent in control/power is my great insight about human behavior – actually it was scott peck’s idea – one friend objected to labeling control freaks as necessarily “evil” – we certainly all have that tendency to varying degrees – its the need to feel “safe” instead of having “trust” in God – needing to control others does not seem to be one of my major sins but then i’m likely blind to my own shortcomings – perhaps sometime i will talk to the singles meeting about control
      very glad you like my writing – sometimes i even like it myself and then at other times i’m overwhelmed by my own awful syntax – three of my four books are in the northland bookstore – i often wonder why i wrote them when i dont seem to have the ability to adequately promote them.

  2. Pamela Johnson says:

    Heather has a good point about submission being a weakness. The problem however, is that in many of the control cases, the victim may have something to lose–something desperately needed. And the control freak knows it. There are so many examples to be used here that I hardly know where to begin.

    But I’ll give the example of Grace. Grace was a neighbor of ours when I was a teen-ager in the 50’s. At that time most husbands worked, and the wife remained at home to care for the children. It was not a stigma at that time to be a housewife. Indeed, it was in many cases a source of pride; as foolish as it may now seem, neighborhood women gossiped about who kept the cleanest, most efficient house.

    The winner “hands down” would have been Grace. She had the cleanest bathroom that my mother had ever seen. She had the cleanest house anyone had ever seen. Elaborate meals and homemade desserts awaited her husband when he came home from work. (For you younger people out there, Hamburger Helper, boxed mashed potatoes, and other pre-packaged meals could not be found on grocery shelves.) Everything was made from scratch. She made all her children’s clothes, saving her husband tons of money. She was the quintessional Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart, and Adelle Davis, all rolled up into one. That is, until one day when Grace fell from grace. Her husband came home and found a dirty teacup in the sink. He ranted and raved about this sloppy oversight, enough so that gossips knew that trouble was brewing in the marriage.

    Even at age 13, I had a sense of proportion. I knew I could never love a man like that. How Grace handled this, I don’t know. She was assertive enough to stand up for herself. She may have thrown the dirty teacup at him, for all I know. But regardless of her action, the control would inevitably escalated to a higher level, up to and including physical abuse. Why?

    The playing field was unequeal. The husband brought home the bacon and had employment skills. Grace did not. Inevitable the choice was to continue with the program or get a divorce. Now I’m not going to go into all the difficulties she would have encountered in that day and age for a woman in moving out on her own. You know them. Upsetting the apple cart, even in modern times, is almost always traumatic for the children and at least one of the spouses.

    In many/most control cases, there is an unequal playing field. The victim has much to lose and the control freak knows it. Inherent in this one factor alone is where the evil lies. One human being creates soul murder at the expense of another person. And Heather, this occurs whether the victim submits to the control freak or not. Yes, solutions are available for the victim; she doesn’t have to live in perpetual misery. But getting out of such a relationship takes a heavy emotional toil on the victim and those dependent upon her.

    It just isn’t always that easy.

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