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The Role of Self-Esteem and Well-Being
Life Traps continuing education psychology CEUs

Section 5
Perceptions of Low Power (Part 1)

CEU Question 5 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track we discussed Three-Tiered Affirmations.

On this track we'll talk about power imbalances that result in your clients feeling they're unlovable.

As you know, a power imbalance occurs when one person has more influence, power, and/or privilege in the relationship than the other.

Christy, a 19 year old student, had been in a relationship for a year and a half with Jason. Here's how she described the imbalance in her relationship with Jason, "I just feel like I've never been good enough for someone to love. I was afraid that Jason would leave me. I was always asking Jason if he really did love me. Jason would either just roll his eyes or say, 'Are you on that kick again? Constantly complaining? Are you going to pout now?'" Christy stated, "Jason's anger got worse, and I would never talk back to him."

Think of your "Christy" who feels that she's unlovable and is currently involved in a relationship where there's a power or emotional imbalance and your client doesn't feel equal. What are you going to do in your next session with that client?

4 Power-Imbalance Questions
As I read these four power-imbalance questions, see if you agree that these questions can act as a springboard to reduce a client's fear, anxiety and negative thought processes which fuel the lifetrap of "I'm Unlovable."

The four power-imbalance questions deal with:
1 - meta-messages,
2 - cause and effect logic,
3 - feelings of responsibility and
4 - symbiosis vs. independence in relationships.

Question #1 - Meta-Messages
The first Power-Imbalance Question relates to meta-messages. As you know, a meta-message is communication that extends beyond explicit verbalization and the information that's being transmitted.

To explore the meta-communicated message Christy was conveying to Jason that created a power imbalance, I asked Christy, "What's the real underlying message you're communicating when you repeatedly asked Jason if he really loves you? A message of Fear? Perhaps, anxiety?"

After some thought, Christy stated, "I thought all along I was showing Jason how much I loved him - by asking if he loved me. I guess I was hoping he would love me more and not leave. But instead, I guess I really came across as being afraid that he was lying and didn't really love me at all." As we discussed Christy's feelings of being unlovable she stated, "It's like my Mom and Dad planted these ideas a long time ago that have made me not feel good about myself. I feel so stupid. I hate them for making me this way, and driving Jason away."

I explained to Christy, "As children, many of us learned to be aware of the meaning behind words. We watched our parents' faces or listened to their footsteps in order to gauge their mood. It's as if we suddenly developed a highly refined intuitive sense about our parents." Christy stated, "Yeah, I remember sometimes it meant I should stay out of their way if they were in a bad mood. Sometimes I'd guess what my parents needed, or try figure out how I should act so I wouldn't make them angry."

I said to Christy, "As adults we come to expect that the people who care about us will be able to understand our unspoken messages and take care of our needs. After all, we made it our job to read our parents' minds when we were little. But we're not little anymore, and the world no longer operates by magical thinking." Christy answered, "So, I guess I shouldn't have expected Jason to understand my every thought and feeling."

So what was the result of my meta-message question, "What is the real underlying message you are communicating when you repeatedly asked Jason if he really loves you?" By exploring the meta-message, Christy realized that she was sending a different message to Jason than the one she thought she was communicating. Christy also started to get derailed in a common client sidetrack. As you can see by Christy's earlier statement, "I hate my parents for making me this way," Christy was getting sidetracked into blaming her parents for her current behavior. This common client blaming mode of thinking leads me to power-imbalance question 2, Establishing a Cause and Effect Logic.

Question #2 - Cause and Effect Logic
After exploring the meta-message Christy was communicating to Jason, we addressed a second Power-Imbalance Question. This question deals with the effects that the underlying meta-messages have on relationships. I asked Christy, "What's the result of continually asking Jason if he loves you?" Christy tearfully stated, "He would slam the door, walk away, or just rolls his eyes!" I asked Christy how this made her feel.

Christy stated, "It makes me feel like I'm not important. I feel that he has the right to walk away, but I just have to sit around and wait until he comes back. Or wait until he decides he isn't ever going to come back. It makes me feel so powerless, because I don't know what I would do if he didn't come back." This exercise in asking Christy what was the result or the effect of continually asking Jason if he loves her, showed Christy how she was giving away her power in the relationship as the result or effect of her meta-messages to Jason.

Think of a client you're currently treating. Would power-imbalance question #2, that is looking at the result that their behavior has upon their significant other, be beneficial in your session? Do you have a client like Christy who is constantly looking for reinforcement and reassurance? Would cause and effect logic be beneficial in your next session?

The next track will contain the final two power imbalance questions of Responsibility and Symbiosis vs. Independence in Relationships.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cross, E. J., Overall, N. C., Low, R. S. T., & McNulty, J. K. (2019). An interdependence account of sexism and power: Men’s hostile sexism, biased perceptions of low power, and relationship aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(2), 338–363.

Overall, N. C., Hammond, M. D., McNulty, J. K., & Finkel, E. J. (2016). When power shapes interpersonal behavior: Low relationship power predicts men’s aggressive responses to low situational power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(2), 195–217.

Schmid, P. C. (2018). Less power, greater conflict: Low power increases the experience of conflict in multiple goal settings. Social Psychology, 49(1), 47–62. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 5
What question can be asked to help your client explore the meta-message communicated? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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