The Addict in Us: Power and Control

Theres-An-Addict-In-All-Of-Us-2We all think we are in control of our own lives, and when we realize we’re not we still want to be. We think that we should be able to control our world, even other people, and that our abilities are far more limitless than is actually true. Our desires for control and power, and the destruction pursuing them leads to, can be part of the pathway to addiction. The presence of these desires in all of us reminds us that none of us is so far removed from that pathway.

The pursuit of power and control has found an answer in addictive substances. It’s amazing to some how infinite they feel when they use, how powerful, how strong. Some drugs, like meth, can actually enable a person to go hard for hours and hours without needing any rest. Meth has a half-life of 12 hours, meaning it won’t peak to 12 hours after injection. Users report being able to have sex for hours, work for hours without needing a single break, and drink without seemingly ever getting drunk. There is a real feeling of invincibility, of power and control. In their book Will Power is Not Enough Arnold Washton and Donna Boundy describe how the pursuit of power drove Steve to his own sexual addictions. We read:

This drive for control catapults people into addiction because the most popular mood-changers today create the illusion of power and competence, of being “in control.” Steve, the sex addict mentioned earlier, cruised the streets for prostitutes whenever he was feeling not sufficiently “in control” in other areas of his life. When he had an argument with his wife, for instance, or was put down by his boss at work, the appeal of the “hunt” became irresistible. “While I was in the trance I felt a tremendous adrenaline rush—not so much from any sexual excitement but from the feeling that I was in control, unlike in my real life. That feeling was the bigger part of what I wanted—not the sexual stimulation.”

The pursuit of power and control can be an incredible motivator. It will drive some to abuse drugs and others to abuse sex. It will drive all of us to destructive behaviors.

At the heart of domestic abuse is this same desire for power and control. Men who seek to control their wives use all sorts of means to do so, not just violence. Some will isolate her, taking car keys, phones, computers, and money from her. Chris Moles, a batterer interventionist, has keenly observed this desire for control at work. In his book The Heart of Domestic Abuse, he writes:

Abusive men desire control above everything else. They attempt to dominate and control their partner, and the circumstances enlisting support from any means possible. I cannot overstate this point enough: abusive men want control and will go to extraordinary lengths to gain and maintain control over their partners. The consequences of these desires, especially if they feel they are losing control, can be devastating. (37)

In some ways, abusive men may have an addiction to power and control, and they are not the only ones.

We all want to be in control, and when we are not various sinful responses become desirable options. Anxiety has long been observed to be a response to lack of control. William Berry, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, writes:

The use of control is paradoxical: we believe taking control will bring us security and happiness, yet its overuse causes unhappiness, anxiety, and malaise. In the treatment of clients with addiction problems,depression, marital issues, anxiety, and anger issues a common thread is control.

He adds:

Behavioral psychology purports that every behavior or action has a reward. In the case of worrying, the reward is to foresee a problem and take action. Unfortunately worrying continues when no action is possible. Worry then becomes an attempt to control, or a wish to control, what is uncontrollable” (“Let Go, Be Happy” in Psychology Today)

You may not be a drug addict, but how you respond to feelings of powerlessness, of being out of control, may reveal more similarities with the addict than you realize. Anxiety, anger, manipulation, all these destructive responses, and more, are just as sinful and just as selfish. They reveal the solidarity we have with the addict.

We all want to control our world. God refuses, of course, to let us have that kind of power. He calls for us to trust Him, to depend upon Him, to let Him be God. He is, after all, better at being God than we are. The responses of faith and humility help us to turn away from the desire for power and control. If we don’t we may not become a full-blown drug addict, but we will develop equally sinful responses. We are not that different from our addicted brothers and sisters, and how we respond to powerlessness reveals it.

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