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What Is the Power Process?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

The power process is defined as someone's human need to have control and power over the course of his or her own life. This does not necessarily include a desire to wield power over others, but this process has been known to manifest in this way as well. Many psychologists believe that the power process is the reason humans struggle for things like financial freedom, rights under governmental rule, and tolerance of differences. The ultimate goal of this internal narration is usually freedom from obligations and authority, though not necessarily responsibility.

For most people, the three steps of the power process include deciding on a goal, making an effort toward that goal, and accomplishing it. In a child, this might be something as simple as getting a cookie from the cookie jar. The child may first ask his or her parent. If the parent says no, the child may still put effort toward accomplishing the goal. This may involve using a chair and very quietly and quickly sneaking a cookie from the jar when the parents are absent.


In the above example, the child’s power process is very linear. In other words, the child wants, the child seeks, the child attains, even at the cost of disobedience. According to psychologists, such a youngster isn’t necessarily being willfully disobedient or trying to be bad. He or she is simply seeking a goal and wants the freedom to make decisions autonomously, or without the opinions or restrictions of others.

The driving force behind the power process is that individuals supposedly know what is best for them and can make their own decisions. In the case of the above-described child, this theory doesn’t necessarily hold up. What the example does show is that power process is evident in humans from a very young age and doesn’t usually go away over a lifetime. In fact, it often gets stronger as people age and their goals become larger and more complicated.

Frustration, discontent, and a sense of helplessness often manifest when those seeking goals cannot meet them. For instance, if the child above had been caught by a parent, he or she would not have gotten the cookie. This may have resulted in the child crying in frustration because someone else is exerting power over him or her. Humans, by nature, don’t usually enjoy having authority exerted over them, though they do sometimes enjoy wielding it.

Different aspects of the power process can be seen when societies are examined as a whole. For instance, if a dictator rises to power and manifests his personal power process by ruling over others, the society under him or her typically feels repressed and frustrated. Such a populace then generally and eventually rebels and creates a goal of attaining freedom through resistance. The numerous resistance teams that formed during World War II are only one example of this process, since, as Hitler exerted his power over the world, a variety of people in many locations fought back against it.

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