Why is power so attractive? Why do we have the Monica Lewinskys and the Rielle Hunters, and all of those women who had an affairs with Tiger Woods? What is it about power that is so attractive to us? Why was John F. Kennedy able to get away with having so many sexual liaisons and/or affairs? Henry Kissinger told us that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac, but what he didn’t tell us was why.
What is first apparent in the above paragraph, a fact that makes me a bit squeamish, is that all of the person’s so attracted to powerful figures mentioned therein, were women. But men are very much drawn to power too—usually in other men, however. Elsewise, we would not have gangs. Or wars. Men following powerful men has its own mythology, for loyalty to a system in which men follow their powerful leaders into hell is the penultimate in manhood—or so it would seem.
So, regardless of whether or not the attraction to power ends up in a sexual encounter, power still has an amazing draw. Why is that so?
It is so because power and powerlessness define us.
As children we grew up knowing that some people had power and others didn’t. Those who had a knack for getting us to behave had power and those who didn’t didn’t. Those who spoke with a certain authority were believed, while those who said the same words, yet without that authority just didn’t have the same power. And as we watched and looked at these people as mirrors we either identified with power, powerlessness or some gradation in between. We began to see ourselves relative to power.
So, what is this authority? It is a figure.
All authority is figured, ergo the oxymoronish phrase authority figure. We put those two words together because somewhere deep in our psyches we know that authority belongs to the individual. We project our power onto others, and then we call them authority figures. Actually, there is no authority except choice. So, even if Obama came into my living room and gave me a direct order, I’d still have a choice about what I was going to do with that order. Of course, there might be consequences to choosing to disobey and rewards for choosing to obey. But those consequences and rewards are likely to be quickly configured into my decision-making. And so it is that we are constantly choosing to either own our own power or project onto others.
But that is not what we believe. We believe that there are some people who have power and others who don’t. And it’s apparent that we wish to continue to believe that, because we still arrange our entire political, legal, social, religious and cultural systems according to that belief.
But it’s all projection. No one has power to control you. There is always choice. And we always have the option to activate it.
However, because we have all options immediately at our disposal at any given moment, we could also choose to believe we have no choice. I hear people say it all the time, “I had no choice!” And my response is always going to be, “Of course you had a choice, so let’s talk about what you chose and why.”
But because we believe that we have no choice, those who activate choice as a constant in their lives are either very threatening to us, or very attractive to us. And those who are attracted to those powerful people, are quite often people who believe that by being close to the powerful person, they will somehow absorb that power so that they will, albeit secretly, attain that same power. And having sex with a powerful person is tantamount to vampiring the power itself.
If we owned our own power, we would no longer be attracted to powerful persons. We would know that they are just people, just like us, who have the same complexes, psycho-spiritual issues, and the same biological, mental, emotional needs as the rest of us.
So, if that’s true, how did they get so much power over others? A bunch of us decided to allow them to carry our power for us. They basically campaign to us in order to solicit the use of our power. And once we’ve given them that power, then we can be either very attracted to it, repulsed by it, or critical of it. Either way, they only have the power that we’ve projected onto them. You know how projection works: We repress some aspect of ourselves, housing it in the unconscious and then when the time, place and person seems just right to the unconscious urges wandering around inside of us, we project them outward. Once they are visible in the external world, we can do whatever we want with them. But activating them internally is just way too scary. So, we repress and project instead.
Thereby, if I project my power onto you then I can admire it from afar, or I can try to get in bed with it. If I get in bed with it—most often in secret—I’ll have a secret way of owning my own power without having to take responsibility for it. If it ever gets exposed, then I’ll carry that power with me into the external world. Neat trick, huh.
So, why is it that powerful people have such a hard time saying “no” to people who want to vampire their power? Next blog. Wait for it.