Becoming a Powerful Person: Part Two – Spotting Powerless Relational Dynamics

Danny Silk

This is part 2 of a 4 part series on how to become powerful people. In part 1, we discussed 4 ways to spot powerlessness in our own lives. If you missed it you can you read it here.

Today, let’s go beyond qualities of powerlessness and explore relational dynamics that are typically in play when we give our power away.

Namely, triangulation.

When you give your power away, you subconsciously grow to believe that other people are scary, unsafe, and more powerful than you. and therefore, you need to CONTROL THEM TO get them to meet your needs.

When this is your belief,  you have three possible roles you get to play in relationships:

1) The Victim.

If you’re the victim, you’re looking for a rescuer to make you feel safe and happy.

2) The Bad Guy.

If you’re the bad guy, you are using control and intimidation to protect yourself or get someone to meet your needs.

3) The Rescuer.

 If you’re a rescuer, you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s life in an attempt to feel powerful. Powerless people will switch in and out of these roles in relational interactions.

The subconscious fears driving the triangulation dynamic in victims, bad guys, and rescuers go something like this:

I live in a perpetual state of anxiety because I feel out of control. In adding you to my life, I have increased my anxiety because I can’t control you either. I’m threatened by everything you do that I didn’t decide for you. Until you let me control you, I don’t feel safe in this relationship. Unless you let me control you, you don’t love me.

In order to stay in relationship, powerless people make an agreement to exercise mutual control over each other. The unspoken pact between them is,

“It’s my job to make you happy, and your job to make me happy. And the best way to get you to work on my life is to act miserable. The more miserable I am, the more you will have to try to make me feel better.”

Powerless people use various tactics, such as getting upset, withdrawing, nagging, ridiculing, pouting, crying, or getting angry, to pressure, manipulate, and punish one another into keeping this pact. However, this ongoing power play does nothing to make them happy and mitigate their anxiety in the long term. In fact, their anxiety only escalates by continually affirming that they are not actually powerful. Any sense of love and safety they feel by gaining or surrendering control is tenuous and fleeting.

A relational bond built on mutual control simply cannot produce anything remotely like safety, love, or trust.

In fact, it can only produce more fear, pain, distrust, punishment, and misery.

I saw this dynamic in the most dramatic ways possible  for six years when I taught programs for men and women convicted of domestic violence. The fear most of my  students brought into the room was intense. Some of them had been in relationships for twenty- five years with unending cycles of abuse.

One man I worked with had been arrested because he had hit his wife.  It was a serious offense.  But before that incident, she had knocked him unconscious on two occasions—once with a frying pan and once with a gun. So when she came at him the third time, he took the first punch and knocked her down. The cops took him away because she had a black eye when they showed up and he didn’t.

That’s the kind of relationship they’d shared for over two decades. They called it love. But it was really two powerless people who had agreed to engage in a lifelong battle for control.

Don’t let these patterns,  regardless of how extreme or not,  be your story!

In the next blog, we will be talking about  practical ways to become a powerful person yourself.  But today, I’d love to hear  if   you’ve experienced some of these dynamics in your relationships  and perhaps, how you’ve overcome them in your life. Comment below!

PS)  One of the quickest  ways to break triangulation   is to learn how to forgive quickly.  I recently   recorded a class on ‘how to forgive and the life-changing power of overcoming hurt.’ Feel free to  watch it here, now!

Leave a Reply to Danny Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I can identify with this.Feeling like crying.I grew up controlled and I realize I have controlled others.I can now identify the sense of powerlessness I have felt many times.I just did not know how to describe it.Certainly powerlessness is not humility.Thank you so much Pastor Danny

  2. I’m a bit confused by the idea of triangulation in a couple. There are three roles, but a couple is two people. How does that work?

    Also, can the bad guy be disguised as a good guy? Someone who is just so worried about you that she is not giving you any freedom?

  3. I am going through a very similar dynamic in my current relationship. My significant other and I, at some point, took a very destructive path where in a sense of powerlessness was driving our love, or lack thereof. I believe we had the mentality of "it’s my job to make you happy, and your job to make me happy" mentality. I was certainly the powerless party who used pressure, anger, and manipulation in situations where I felt I had no control. If she made a choice that I didn’t have part in, or a decision wherein she didn’t let me take part in making, I would get very anxious. I would punish her by withdrawing and then getting angry when she approached me about it. I spent a lot of time telling her what was wrong with her and why she wasn’t making me happy. In turn – she would get angry and defensive which eventually drove us to the point now where she felt she needed a break in the relationship to figure things out. Unfortunately, before embarking on this journey to discover the root of the problem, I did not know the terms "powerful" and "powerless". After reading your book, Keep Your Love On, taking copious amounts of notes, swallowing a lot a pride, and beginning the transformation from a powerless person, to a powerful person, I am beginning to see the fruits of my labor in the way that I view myself and my own self worth. I feel extremely positive in how understanding the link between powerlessness and lack of connection will not only give me the opportunity to pursue my relationship(s), in a healthy manner, with my significant other (because I choose to do so), but also allows me to understand how to deal with the things that threaten my connection to her.

  4. My husband and I have been married 24 yrs. and have just gone through some counseling that he would finally agree to. We found out many things of which some has been applied. We have struggled with our ability to both lead whether in business or ministry. Our giftings are very different and truly if we could learn to both be powerful people together greater things can be accomplished. We are working on that, He is very administrative and I am visionary and hospitality. I’m finding my place and I see that it isn’t always going to be right next to him (which would be his preference and what I’ve always believed). I’m figuring out that we can be powerful together and a part, when we are a part we need to support and encourage the other one. We are a blended family so I think that plays a role in this and my husband is not a huge fan of seeking help or counsel. It’s a slow moving train but we are closer today then in the past. I love you books and teaching packages of which I have all of and given out many. Thank you for helping women find their strength and voice and for teaching us all to love healthy and well❤️

  5. I am struggling because I feel that my sweet husband constantly questions everything I do and tries to control me by telling me what and how to do things. This is especially difficult because I am 54 years old and was single for 13 years before we married 2 1/2 years ago. At first I just went along with what he wanted, eager to love him, but after a while I began to feel like I was loosing myself. Everything I did was to please him… but what happened to my desires and dreams? I was feeling depressed. I began to call him out when he does this, but he says I am too sensitive. He is used to being a single Father, and I feel tries to control me like I am his child. At my age, it is difficult for me to not call him out on this, and ask him to please stop questioning me and telling me how to do stuff I have been doing for 30+ years. We have gone through your Keep Your Love On book many times, but for some reason we can’t seem to remember what to do and fall into old patterns of communication an control. I have asked God to help me and I keep coming back to fear and communication. My husband feels like if he questions me and tells me how to do things ‘politely’ that I should accept that. If he just said it once, I think I could, but he keeps going on and on as to why his way is the right way and I need to do it that way. Ugh! I understand forgiveness and am forgiving him every time, which does keep us connected. Although, I am beginning to find myself separating myself and wanting to do things without him, because I do feel more and more frustrated and filled with anxiety not wanting to do things around him because he will start trying to control me. Help!

    1. Debra,
      I wonder if you are an Affirmation Love language person. If so, you’ll need to know that his explanation style of communication is coming across like criticism. When you feel criticized you end up feeling hurt and rejected rather than helped. Let him know that and help him see that you want to hear him, but you also need to keep the connection through the interaction.

  6. Thank you for sharing this.
    I recently have withdrawn from a very unhealthy friendship and this has helped me immensely in overcoming the "rescuer" mentality in which I was very much entwined in.
    I thought it was my job as a christian to help make her life and her family better, but I ended up enabling toxic behavior. I pray that as I have walked through forgiveness with this situation that I can learn to spot it so that it doesn’t happen again!

  7. Hi Danny,
    My first experience with triangulation was between my ex-fiancé, his mother and myself. He was a puppet and she held the strings. Their enmeshed relationship, though not initially obvious, was what brought an abrupt end to our engagement. I refused to allow her to control "our" choices and she made him chose. This type of covert incest (mother enmeshment) isn’t an issue that’s discussed often, but effects so many marriage relationships today. Thank you for shedding light upon these familiar, yet horribly destructive relational dynamics.

  8. Just on our way home from a family gathering where a lot of these dynamics were in the mix. The anxiety level was high because of many unspoken expectations.
    I won’t say we’ve figured out how to overcome all of that, but your blog helped us identify the dynamics involved. At least we’ve gotten that far!
    As a pastor I sometimes experience "strangeness" in how people deal with things in and outside of the church/community context. This blog is also helpful for that.
    Thanks.

  9. I love this series. I grew up in a powerless family who used all of the powerless weapons described above, but particularly control, intimidation and violence. My husband and I did what we needed to do to learn to be powerful people.T o raise our kids as powerful, and it resulted in a joyful, calm, communicative and empowering home. We have taught LOP in our church many times. One thing that is interesting is that as we became powerful our extended family had a bad reaction. They increased their control and threats to try and get us to interact with them in their disfunction. Then they withdrew to punish us when we would not play. It is very funny to visit them. They try to control the situation and the conversation completely through expressing strong opinions on politics and other ideas they have. They don’t know how to listen or interact in a vulnerable way at all. They never ask about our lives. The visits are short and exhausting and sadly we have to keep them at arms length as they do not know how to be close in relationship without triangulation. Visiting them is like being able to see back into the past so clearly as to what we have been delivered from and how truly dysfunctional it is. We have learned to laugh about it and love them in their journey… from the other side that is! And we are never going back there! Thanks Danny for all you teach! It is transforming!

  10. What a pitty… i find myself in each of the 3 roles.
    Great to hear about it now, so i hope it will be broken soon!

  11. This is so interesting to read. I am nearly 60 years old and did not fully realize the power of manipulation that my older sister used on me until she died of cancer last year. I spent 2 years caring for her in my home and it was not fun. If she felt out of control, which she hated but denied that she felt that at any time, she would use varying forms of manipulation to gain back what she thought was control. I am sorry this happened because by the time she died we were so glad to be released from her. My daughter lived with me and my sister did not like her because she could not control her and I think she felt it threatened the relationship between us. I hate that I felt so glad to see her go, or that our whole life as sisters was ruined by this. I knew what she was like but not to what extent. It caused so much hurt to me and my family. The guilt about my feelings was unbearable and I could not grieve the loss until I dealt with that and the anger. It took months of prayer and crying out to the Lord for help Also helped tremendously to join a grief support group. They offered me so much insight. I became very depressed and kept the world at bay as much as I could for the entire winter. It was impossible to look at people so I walked with my head down at all times, I am a social person but would not answer my phone and avoided going out or seeing anyone. It was just too hard to listen to someone talk at me. My health suffered greatly but I am gaining strength and happiness again. I feel like I can now grieve but I have to say I do not miss her. So very, very sad. I once loved her very, very much but was oblivious to what she really was. Hard to overcome. Hard to not feel that I did not love her enough.

  12. Hi Danny. I get that it is good to forgive and I have no problem with that but I would like some answers on the linguring hurt that with some people it never goes away even after you have confesses to God that you forgive someone.

    1. Lori,
      The pain is real and it heals. If it doesn’t heal then it’s infected. Check a couple things:
      1. Am I able and willing to bless this person?
      2. Do I pray for God to bless them?
      3. Do I speak favorably of this person around others?

      These will give you some context for the healing process in your forgiveness.

  13. Hi Danny. Just to add to that. Everyone talks about forgiveness but no one ever talks about the hurt that never seems to go away. I can only confess with my mouth I really don’t know what else to do.

  14. Dear Danny Silk,
    Thank you for this powerful teaching on building love and healthy relationships. I was in a dating relationship with a guy who often spoke negatively of his own life experience, sought comfort and encouragement from me, and at times would be irrational, rude or belittling. At other times, he tried to be the rescuer, telling me how I should improve my life or appearance. I was honest with him when his words hurt me, but God taught me the power of forgiveness. We are no longer in a relationship, because it became abusive and I felt released by God, but I saw everything you have talked about. I saw the ways I was being loving despite his powerless attitude/behavior, and you described a powerless person as if you had seen what he was like. Again, thank you so much. People need to know there is hope and they are not alone.

  15. I love this series. I grew up in a powerless family who used all of the powerless weapons described above, but particularly control, intimidation and violence. My husband and I did what we needed to do to learn to be powerful people.T o raise our kids as powerful, and it resulted in a joyful, calm, communicative and empowering home. We have taught LOP in our church many times. One thing that is interesting is that as we became powerful our extended family had a bad reaction. They increased their control and threats to try and get us to interact with them in their disfunction. Then they withdrew to punish us when we would not play. It is very funny to visit them. They try to control the situation and the conversation completely through expressing strong opinions on politics and other ideas they have. They don’t know how to listen or interact in a vulnerable way at all. They never ask about our lives. The visits are short and exhausting and sadly we have to keep them at arms length as they do not know how to be close in relationship without triangulation. Visiting them is like being able to see back into the past so clearly as to what we have been delivered from and how truly dysfunctional it is. We have learned to laugh about it and love them in their journey… from the other side that is! And we are never going back there! Thanks Danny for all you teach! It is transforming!

  16. Dear Danny, I’ve been learning to take back the control in my life to position Yahwahs border around me. I heard FATHER say to me one day when I was struggling, ‘How can you give your life over to Me when it is scAttered in the hands of others.’ So I began to gather it back in just like at harvest time and I am now slowly handing it over bit by bit and as I do ABBA is healing those areas showing me where and how to change. I lived a life in abusive situations from childhood to adult hood. I would encourage anyone to not give up seek The Father and He will bring you to complete healing. He is a still working on me and my desire is that HE always will.

  17. I have read part one and two. Your insight is amazing. I just can’t figure out when my wife and 8 met you that you could write so accurately about us. I was starting to see the issues in our marriage and am now living without her and my four children. Please bring on part 3 and four.

  18. Hi Danny, I find what you wrote very interesting. I’m not a victim of abuse but just discovered my husband’s infidelity and that’s partly the reason I started reading your blog. I feel it can help, but maybe you could share your thoughts as well

  19. Hi Danny, I was in an abusive marriage for 36 years. Two months in the threat of leaving started and continued (along with other negative behaviour). When I became menopausal, I started reflecting on what I wanted the remainder of my life to look like; much to my husbands chagrin. He decided that I was not the woman he married, and I wasn’t, and commanded that I get ‘fixed’. Soooo, I downloaded all the Sozo teaching and all of your teaching. Wow. What a ride I went on! 🙃 But healing just flooded my soul, and for the first time in my life I saw I was worth something! I started applying your principals to my life. Asking questions, waiting for answers, expecting good decisions in our relationship. Through this process I began to see that he suffers from multiple personality disorder. When he saw that instead of my becoming more submissive to his demands, I was becoming stronger and better able to expect a mutually respectful relationship, he decided to announce that he was leaving, via the phone, while on a business trip. You know, it finally hit me, that I couldn’t ‘make’ him love me, want to be married, or desire intimacy in relationship. I just released him. Told him the above, and said if you don’t want to be here, I finally understand that is is your desire, and I release you. A messy divorce ensued, BUT I am free of living with that constant fear. I am free of living with someone who was moonlighting me and you are so right, the peace that comes from living in freedom and a place of knowing your worth and that you are powerful…almost indescribable.
    There’s come deep healing with my adult children, (the stuff they endured that I had no idea was going on was horrific) and being able to walk through repentance and forgiveness with them, has created a beautiful cohesiveness, not just with me, but with them too. This teaching, if applied, changes lives! The bondage of fear, shame and condemnation gets broken and liberty is poured in it’s place.
    Whenever I get stuck in a relationship I pull out the CULTURE OF HONOR and brush up on my love learning. I love reading your blog and keeping this focus in front of my eyes…at 64 there have been some old habits that have been needed to be broken, and this teaching keeps me aware and concious of being the powerful loving person Jesus wants me to be.
    Thank you for this teaching on forgiveness. It is a great ‘thermometer’ for my heart. Right now my 2nd child is going through some stuff, rattling moms’ emotional chains. I am grateful for this video. I have had to exercise some boundaries since some disrespectful behaviour has surfaced and some daddy hurts need to get addressed. I am waiting quietly for her to sort them out, and I know she will, she’s made an appointment with a counsellor, since the entire family has been effected by the prior life of dysfunction. Sorta like the proverbial onion…
    Thanks again, this teaching has blessed and positively changed my life!!!
    Donna

  20. Hi Danny, thank you for this. I have just separated from my husband due to a violent encounter which left me having to deal with a court case after my husband got in my face and grabbed at me when I attempted to push him away. I have gone through your relationship training and will keep coming back to it and need to finish KYLO. It’s amazing that during a time that should be the hardest, I have had such an AMAZINGLY PEACEFUL time. I sleep better, I rest, I feel like your female friend (client) that blossomed when her and her husband separated. I do realize that through my 9 yr marriage, I lost control. I don’t think it started out that way but not having the ability to keep my love on even after making my request known and a lack of response drove me to a place where I no longer recognized myself. When I analyze the situation, the fact of the matter is that I no longer want to be married to this man. I guess what I need from you is whether this decision should be made only after fully considering some other things and what would those things to consider be? Thank you

  21. Danny, thanks so much for this teaching! I have adopted a passel of amazing children! Your books, including Loving Your Kids on Purpose, have been an immense help. I am changing the way I perceive our whole family! Thank you!

  22. My heart feels laid bare. I realized that my parents’ unequal power relationship had deeply impacted me, and I had lacked the ability to draw healthy boundaries. Except for a number of close friends and mentors, it was really hard to build mutually powerful relationship with colleagues, peers, and significant other.

    Learning to forgive, not judge, nor wish punishment, was huge in learning to trust my Father and Saviour and Helper.
    Learning to die, in a sense that I’m willing to be disliked and even rejected by people I like, was huge in gaining the courage to speak the truth and hear the truth.
    Learning to die, in a sense that I accepted my failure and was ready to let go of a relationship I idolized, was huge in the way I took a step back, and allowed patience and trust to the process. I did not want to hurt others anymore by just announcing an end of a relationship, but rather I wanted to do my part, and allow the other person to prove my fears wrong. If that didn’t happen, I want my actions to prove my fears wrong.

    I didn’t know that this humbling process would be what shows the light of Christ. His forgiveness in the forgiveness I give and receive. Wow. I thought I had to be perfect and all-bearing to show the light of Christ – but my striving and fake strengths only left everyone disillusioned. It is in my weakness that God is graciously healing my relationships with others… Thank you, Danny, for providing that liberating truth perspective, and for adding courage to my struggles to leave my old patterns and walk out my identity in God.

  23. I’m late to the party, but want to express an issue my wife and I deal with, and desperately trying to get out of. I’ll keep it short and hit important points. We have a senior leader, who my wife works for, that is extremely controlling and manipulative.i volunteer my time there, where my wife is paid.
    He’s basically attempted to tell us what we can do, not do, say, not say, be a part of, not be a part. We are not allowed to disagree because that means rebellion and we have a Jezebel spirit. He also threatens to fire her if we aren’t obedient. We are trying to leave, but we get a housing allowance and without it we can’t afford to live there on my salary alone. No other jobs are available that would allow us to get the income we need.
    We have been looking and praying for a long time. It’s not easy to just sell our home because we also have a baby.

    All that to ask, knowing that we are waiting for doors to open, what’s the best way to handle someone like this and how to encourage my wife as well?

Related Resources

Stay Connected

Receive free resources, stay up to date, and join this community of people on a journey of learning to love, work, and parent with purpose.