I recently heard the term “power struggle” described as an emotional tug-of-war. I like to refer to it as a lose/lose situation.
Power struggles are not enjoyable – when two people or parties are competing for control or influence, it makes for a very uncomfortable and frustrating experience. I’ve had my fair share of power struggles with both youth and adults as a professional working in child and family services. I’d like to share some strategies that have helped me avoid power struggles in the past:
Four Strategies To Avoid Power Struggles
- Look inward. It may not always be easy to look at your behaviors, but it’s important. Explore what makes you tick. What brings you joy or sadness? What makes you angry, fearful, or calm? Once you understand your own emotional and mental well-being, you will have an increased ability to be more mindful of your behavior. When we are not in tune with ourselves, we are vulnerable to getting sucked into conflict and unintentionally pouring gasoline on the fire instead of putting it out.
- Focus on yourself. Some people seem to thrive off conflict, and these people are often who inevitably pull us into power struggles. Some do so as a learned behavior, some for attention, and some simply because they lack the skills to communicate appropriately. Regardless of the reason, what you need to remember is the only person you have control over is yourself.
- Recognize the signs. Identify when you’re at risk for entering a power struggle. Can you feel your face getting red? Is your heart starting to pump faster? Is your voice tight or tense? Knowing when you’re about to enter a power struggle is the best way to get out. Once you realize that you are headed in the wrong direction, acknowledge what you are experiencing and plan a way out of it.
- Leave the situation. It is natural to get angry, sad, or frustrated at some point or another. The key to navigating those feelings, especially during power struggles when our emotions are heightened, is to step back, name what you are experiencing, and simply remove yourself from the situation.
If you find yourself in a power struggle with a child, it is okay to walk away. What is important is that you model appropriate behavior for the child and finish the conversation when it is a more appropriate time to discuss the issue, preferably when you are both calm. For example, you press pause by saying: “I can see that you are very upset about this and I want to be able to give you a fair and clear answer, but right now I am not in the right place/space to do that. I am going to take some time for myself and I will revisit this with you later.” Be sure to follow up with them when you are in a better frame of mind to discuss the situation.
The more we can self-regulate the better we will be at dealing with difficult situations. Ways to gain better self-awareness and self-regulation are through meditation, deep breathing, relaxation exercises, drawing, positive self-talk, sports or physical activity, walking, listening to music, or talking to whomever you comfortably receive feedback from. Be mindful of your emotions and behaviors during difficult conversations and be prepared to step away if you feel things going in a negative direction. It’s okay to press pause.
This blog article was contributed by Jennifer Hinze, Foster Care Director for Nexus-PATH Family Healing, an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.