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Power vs. Force: The Nuclear Option for Healing … well … Just About Anything

Simple kindness to one’s self and all that lives is the most powerful transformational force of all.
David Hawkins

The term “nuclear option” refers, in modern lingo, to the most drastic or extreme response possible to a particular situation. When you’ve suffered a lifetime (or even a couple of days) of depression or anxiety or relationship issues, you might feel ready to consider something like this, if you only knew how. Well, I invite you to consider that maybe we do know-how. I propose that this option involves knowing the difference between what psychiatrist (but don’t hold that against him) David Hawkins* calls “power” as opposed to “force.” While these words seem synonymous, the way Hawkins uses them makes all the difference and, if you’re like me, can save your life. Are you ready for the launch codes to the nuclear option?

Let’s look at “force” first, since that’s easier to describe. As the word implies, force involves some effort, whether physical or verbal or otherwise, directed against a perceived “opponent” (possibly even yourself). This destructive act often invokes an “equal and opposite” reaction coming back at you. The following words apply in thinking about force: reaction, defensiveness, anger, fear, guilt, shame, pride (yes, pride), desire (yes, desire), closed, exclusive, taking the “low road,” dishonesty, hate, and so on.

One historical example of force involves the British efforts many years ago to colonize various lands such as India or what is now the original thirteen of the United States. At the time, the Brits had the largest, most forceful military in the world. At first, they easily took over many other countries or lands and claimed them as colonies. After a while the conquered residents got tired of having to speak with a British accent (or various other complaints) and decided to try and get rid of these interlopers. What did they do? They met the British forces with “power.”

In the case of India, Mahatma Gandhi developed the fine art of doing absolutely nothing. Well, doing absolutely nothing right in front of where the British wanted to go. So, the British had to use more force against the Indian non-effort. To make a long story short, you may recall that India is no longer a British colony. Power won over force, although admittedly it took a while. In the case of the United States, dedication to the concepts of freedom and democracy (definitely powerful) was enough to triumph over the mighty and forceful British troops. Crazy, huh?

By now, you might have a flavor of what “power” means. It involves very little or no effort, rarely invokes any long-term backlash like force does, and is always constructive. The following words apply in thinking about power: respond, agree, allow, integrity, humility, love, courage, joy, peace, reason, acceptance, tolerance, openness, inclusive, taking the “high road,” honesty, compassion, and so on. Buddhism has a concept that applies here called “unilateral virtue,” where, regardless of what another person does or says, you respond in a “virtuous” manner. Kill ‘em with kindness, in other words.

So, how does all this work as a nuclear option to blast away depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and virtually anything else that ails you? Try taking these steps:

  • Fake it ‘til you make it. Be kind, compassionate, understanding, caring, loving, considerate, and so on toward everyone you meet, especially those who bug you the most (essentially the same as unilateral virtue, as described above.) Then, see what happens after a while. If nothing else, it will drive them crazy (joke). Most likely, you’ll experience a slow shift away from “force” coming at you and toward, well, less force or maybe even something more in the “power” arena.
  • Be your own best friend. Take all that stuff you did in the first step and apply it double to yourself, whether or not you believe you deserve it. Then, see what happens after a while. Most likely, you’ll acquire a new best friend, one who has been with you since birth and will be with you until you are no longer here (maybe longer). I put this step second, even though you might think it should go first, to give you practice with easier partners (others) rather than your most fierce opponent (yourself; at least until now).
  • To thine own self be true. The first two steps, especially the first one, may seem like I’m asking you to turn yourself (back?) into a doormat. Not so. While you apply “power” within any relationship, including strangers, you actually affect the situation toward your advantage (although that’s a “force” way of looking at it). After a while, you will find yourself naturally being “power” (not a typo) instead of “force,” so you will remain true to yourself. Also, when the other person continues to do something you’d prefer them not to do, simply exit the scene without any drama (even the mellow kind). Smile and say “No, thank you” when that’s what you mean. Don’t invite them in for tea or a beer or whatever. You don’t need to “force” your “power” on anyone.
  • Don’t get rid of the button pushers, get rid of the buttons. Imagine who you would be with no buttons to push. Some of you might say that would be boring. Regardless, I urge you to try it and see. You’ll be amazed. Easier said than done? Of course, but you’ve got the best teachers, those rascally button pushers. Any time you find someone pushing your buttons, realize that they are doing you the favor of directing your attention to something about you that needs addressing. Forget about what they’re doing, since that’s their problem. Focus on what they teach you about yourself and work to dissolve it by applying power (see above) to it.

OK, you probably have the idea by now. So, go out there (or, better yet, in there) and apply the nuclear option of power to whatever ails you.

*Concepts borrowed heavily from David Hawkins’ book, “Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior.”

Copyright 2015 Daniel J. Metevier

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Dr. Dan is no longer taking new clients, but remains available to current and former clients.

To find a therapist with openings in their schedule, you may wish to search the Psychology Today Therapist Directory. It enables you to search for people who take your insurance, have relevant specialties, and more.