We all know about the obvious substance addictions: alcohol, food, tobacco and drugs (both legal and illegal). There is also an addiction to a person or relationship—sometimes called codependency. Then there are somewhat subtler addictions, such as an addiction to approval, compliments or praise. Some folks can’t get thru the day without fishing for an “attaboy” or a compliment–some little morsel that says they were noticed and approved. They want to hear the “good job” or “you look nice” that they never received from some hypercritical parent or spouse.
Another subtle addiction is to adrenalin. It’s why some folks take crazy risks racing motorcycles or climbing the highest peaks in the Himalayas. There are also addictions to emotional states like anger or infatuation. I was married to a women who got high on anger. Her anger was a frightening thing to behold. When launched into a tirade all of her endorphins and neurotransmitters ran amok. Not only did she get high but she almost always got her way.
There are the addictions slightly more adaptive, like to work or compulsive exercising. But most addictions are not a bit adaptive. They are based in fear and/or emotional hunger and are destructive to varying degrees. They ultimately lead folks to a skewed, out-of-control life centered around their problem.
However, I tend to believe that the most subtle and destructive addiction is to power and control. We all come by it naturally. When we are kids we figure out strategies to control the big people in our lives. It all has to do with wanting to live in a safe, predictable environment. We learn strategies to get our needs met when we are little and powerless because it’s the big people who hit us, criticize us and abandon us. We learn to manipulate. And as we get older we too learn that we can exercise power over others. Maybe we learn that if we whimper and roll over we wont get hurt. Maybe we become people-pleasers and codependent. Maybe we learn to trade in flirtation or physical love. However, some learn that they don’t have to manipulate so much; they can just be brutes if it suites their needs. Who hasn’t faced a bully at one time or another–or perhaps been one?
We all like to feel safe, and part of feeling safe is feeling in control. We learn when we are kids that being in control of our own behavior is safer and more adaptive. But then we start to think we can enhance that safety by controlling those around us. Generally speaking, other people’s behavior is the most dicey thing in our lives. Our unconscious, with a little help from the enemy, tells us that we will be “safe” if we can just control everybody else.
A few years back my eyes were opened to the power/control paradigm and now I see it everywhere. I see it in history and in politics. I see it in my clients and my associates. I even see it in addiction to substances. Part of the allure of alcohol or drugs is that they give the illusion of control. I see people hanging on with every fiber of their being–telling themselves the satanic lie that everything will be okay if only everyone in their life will behave just as they want them to. Every time a controller gets their way over another there’s a neural event as certain as a hit of nicotine releasing dopamine that reinforces the behavior—and assures that it will continue.
Some of the biggest abusers of power/control are narcissists—but not all. Sadly, I see this misuse of power in some of the most “Christian” people I know. They may try to convince themselves that they are exercising power out of love, but they’re really doing it out of fear. They don’t trust God, but they will likely use His scriptures to try to exert their control. Consciously, or unconsciously, they feel like God has anointed them to help Him run His universe. It is a sad thing to observe in those we care about and its sadder still to be on the receiving end of a controller’s machinations. I have many faults but I thank God that a need to control others is not one of them.
But what did Jesus do? Didn’t he use His supernatural power to control those around Him? Didn’t he order Mary to anoint his feet with oil, and didn’t He have the disciples wait on Him hand and foot at the meal the night when He was betrayed? Didn’t He order people to love Him? No, not so much. But he did say, “Follow me.” I think that meant do as I do. What He did was love people, serve people and teach people. He affirmed people and he spoke grace into lives–like the little weasel Zacchaeus hiding in a tree, the woman at the well, or the adulterous woman about to be stoned.
In John 5:19-20 Jesus states that he is only doing the Father’s will—what He sees His Father doing—“For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.” If you believe Jesus, it kind of follows that God really isn’t the controlling tyrant that some would have us believe. Presumably, when God gave us free will as well, it was another act of love. We would do well to show others that same grace.