The Power-Control Dynamic and Abusive Anger

April 16, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

The power-control dynamic exists in all relationships, but it is destructive in abusive relationships. Learn how the power-control dynamic works. Read this.

Kristen read the post comments for Abuse Victims and Abusive Anger and asked "How do you prevent creating friendships based on a power-control dynamic and how do you escape the anger that fuels them?"

Wow. Kristen is headed for success in her relationships because she is asking great questions.

What is the Power-Control Dynamic?

In an abusive relationship, the power-control dynamic is out of scale with other relationship dynamics (trust and intimacy are the other two, according to Millar and Rogers). This makes sense to me because if there is a struggle for power, then trust and intimacy are unattainable.

The power-control dynamic takes a dominant role in an abusive relationship. The abuser overtly attempts to control and assert their perceived power entitlement by any means necessary (physical, mental and emotional abuse are tools to accomplish their goal).

However, the victim also seeks power and control. Because the victim feels forced into the abuser's definition of submission, their use of power and control is covert (co-dependence).

Healthy Power-Control Dynamic

In a healthy relationship, you will also find elements of the power-control dynamic. However, the healthy relationship is a balanced one. Healthy relationships include trust and intimacy.

  • Trusting and feeling trusted by your partner allow both people to assert their strengths when it is the best interest of the "team".
  • Intimacy allows each partner to know and appreciate their partner's strengths (and weaknesses).

Trust and intimacy together allow power and control to balance out across the relationship in different situations, depending on who is best suited to take the lead at that time.

The Abusive Power-Control Dynamic Doesn't Have to Control Your Anger

Kristen noted in her comment that she lost a wonderful friend because she abused him similarly to how she was abused during her marriage. The fact that Kristen recognizes that her behavior was inappropriate and wants to prevent it from reoccurring leads me to believe she is not the abuser we typically discuss on this blog.

Like Kristen, I also heard myself say things that I thought I'd never say. I witnessed myself act out angrily in embarrassing and hurtful ways during and after my marriage. My abusive anger never once helped my marriage, and it holds the potential to ruin any healthy relationship I ever have.

Let's just say that I learned how to be an abuser from an excellent teacher and could continue that pattern in my life if I chose to do so. Like Kristen, I choose not to use those abusive tools any longer because I am not interested in hurting other people so I can retain/gain power or control.

The problem was that I knew two ways to behave: I could abuse or submit. I did not have any other tools in my toolbox. It's like trying to build a house with only a screwdriver and an adjustable wrench. Both tools will work, but there are so many other tools that would make the job smoother!

With only abuse and codependency in my relationship toolbox, I am going to experience frustration and lots of anger! Before I know it, I could abuse people horribly because I do not have the most effective relationship toolbox. I need to add tools to my toolbox in order to build the relationship of my dreams.

Balancing Power-Control Dynamics In Relationships

There is a reason people coming out of abusive relationships have trust and intimacy issues: we have not had a safe environment in which to practice those skills. In my abusive relationship, my ex used any intimacies I shared with him against me. He told me to trust him (be a good wife!), but I couldn't really trust him at all.

Trust and intimacy are foreign to abusive relationships, so they are the dynamics previous abuse victims must reacquaint themselves with as soon as possible. Additionally, previous victims must address their anger stemming from the crazed power-control dynamic of the abusive relationship by addressing their anger directly and learning to use trust and intimacy as counter-balances.

To make matters more difficult, intrusive memories and thoughts related to the prior abuse can slow a survivor's ability to acquire the healthy behaviors we desire. It is difficult for me to imagine a glowing future with part of my mind mired in remembered abuse.

In the next few posts, I'll write about trust, intimacy, and relief from abusive anger in more depth. Until then, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, April 16). The Power-Control Dynamic and Abusive Anger, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

June, 9 2012 at 9:52 am

I was in an unhealthy power-control relationship with a narcissist and reading this I realise I was fighting back to keep myself from becoming a victim of his desire of power & control over me (making me into his ideal/good wife) and so I became co-dependent and did not have the right tools either. All I expected/wanted was the healthy power-control relationship but married to a narcissist it is a pipe dream (i.e. will never truly happen) I know the only relationship that lasts with a narcissist is the one where the partner (man/woman) submits (i.e. gives up their own identity, power & control) to the abuser. I feel sorry for the next woman he is currently seeking to marry but he will as is normal of him Lie and put all blame on me for our unsuccessful (abusive) marriage.

December, 22 2012 at 10:12 am

"The problem was that I knew two ways to behave: I could abuse or submit. I did not have any other tools in my toolbox." ~This statement resonated with me. I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused throughout my childhood and into my early adult (20's) years by my parents. It's interesting to me how it doesn't seem to matter as much who the abuser is, the same damage occurs. As an adult now, I struggle finding the right tools to use in relationships. It's been better since I've been to counseling and obtained the correct tools but still difficult applying them.

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