What Constitutes Abuse of Power?

Having intellectual, monetary, political, social, familial or elected power has caused some individuals to act with unbridled superiority that has enabled them to use authority, status and power to control others by the mere virtue of their position. An elevated self-view has freed some powerful individuals from societal norms of morality, decency, compassion or empathy for others. This abuse of power is a legal, moral, ethical and humane violation. How can it be curtailed?

Lord Acton, considered the nineteenth century’s “most learned Englishman of his time” made liberty his life’s work. He stated, “Power tends to corrupt” and sought the foundation of a humane and virtuous society through the pursuit of economic liberty, human dignity and the search for truth and faith as the healthy paths to a humane society.

POWER AND CONTROL, The Domestic Abuse and Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota listed ten major categories of abuse: “Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Isolation, Abuse of Others, Minimization, Denial and Blame, Threats and Intimidation, Male Privilege, Economic Abuse, Emotional abuse and Sexual Abuse.” The common denominator of all these behaviors is a sense of superiority over others that entitles abusers to inflict physical, emotional, psychological, or financial harm on those whom they regard as inferior.

Psychologically, the abuse of others affords the abuser a sense of power, superiority, mastery over the victim that he/she lacks. Dominating another’s thoughts, feelings, actions and body, enables the abuser to feel superior, important, powerful and of greater value than his/her victim. Subjugating another actually spirits, as it confirms his/her desirability, power and irresistibility during and after getting his/her way with the victim. In fact, the more resistance or suffering the victim exhibits, the greater the pleasure the abuser attains. This behavior is pathological and regrettably, untreatable with medication or therapy since it is an innate character defect.

Socially, some individuals who have been raised by abusive parents have been programmed to believe that these behaviors are normal and signs of maturity and power. Thus, they may repeat it in their own lives as a mantle of worthiness as they dominate and shame others.

Additional causes of abuse of power are drug or alcohol abuse, a shame based self-view or revenge for having endured such treatment in childhood. None of the above reasons justify inflicting harm upon others in any capacity.

Abuse of power may also exhibit itself through entitlement in gaining greater benefits, financial compensation, favors or self-proclaimed gifts that one has not ethically earned.

Regardless of the etiology of one’s abusive behavior, it should NEVER be allowed, condoned, overlooked or excused!

Deal with abuse of power,

  • Identify the behavior of abusers of power as weakness and ineptness – not a conduct to adulate or emulate.
  • Report your observations to superiors and protect the abused individual.
  • Do not excuse this behavior. It needs to be disclosed and strongly disavowed in order to reduce the frequency of its occurrence.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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