A reader asked:
How do you know if you have power over someone? There are times when it’s obvious, of course, like if you’re someone’s employer or teacher or caretaker. But if you don’t have any power over them in any official capacity, you can still have power over them in other ways that are less obvious. But sometimes I find it hard to tell if someone thinks of themselves as my equal or not, when I don’t have official power over them. Sorry, I know this is probably a stupid question.
This isn’t a stupid question. It’s complicated. There’s no simple way to be sure. Power is something you have to always be noticing.
Some situations in which you have power (not exhaustive; but some things I know about):
- Someone is financially dependent on you
- (Including situations in which you’re letting a friend stay with you because they have no other place to go)
- Someone has been socialized to never say no, and wants to please you
- Someone you know damaging secrets about, especially if they don’t know any of yours
- When you’re a senior member of a profession and they’re new
- You’re interacting with someone who has been socialized not to be able to say no to you
- You’re much older than the other person, but still young enough to have social power
- The person you are interacting with lives in a nursing home
- You are a mental health professional who is likely to be believed if you say someone is suicidal or otherwise in need of coerced treatment (especially if you are that person’s doctor or therapist, but even if you’re not)
- You’re clergy or have a related kind of religious status
- You’re bigger and stronger than the other person