In our initial interactions with someone new, we are, on some level, attempting to decipher whether they are safe. Dr. Bruce D. Perry explains in his bestselling book with Oprah, What Happened To You? (Bluebird/Pan Macmillan), that we pick up on power differentials. “We are equal: I don’t feel threatened. I am dominant: I am safe. They are dominant: I am vulnerable. If we feel vulnerable, there will be a state-dependent shift in our stress response systems and therefore in how we feel, think, and interpret the interaction.” I would add here that which state we associate with romantic attraction and trust, even if misplaced, also influences who we see as dating and relationship material and who we don’t.
Pay attention to the role power differentials play in your relationships.
We are equal: I don’t feel threatened, so I’m also uninterested. Or We are equal: I don’t feel threatened, and I am curious about this person.
I am dominant: I am safe. I want to pursue a relationship with this person. This type of relationship feels good to me. OR I am dominant: I am safe. I also feel uncomfortable with this relationship’s dynamics and boundaries.
They are dominant: I am vulnerable, so I feel very drawn/attracted to this person and compelled to be compliant. I am also anxious, even if I don’t acknowledge it. OR They are dominant: I am vulnerable and will proceed with caution and/or steer clear. I need to be aware of my boundaries.
If you treat power differentials as an indicator of safety or attractiveness, check in with yourself.
Ask What’s the baggage behind it? You will quickly be able to identify why these power differentials have been a relationship pothole. It shows you where and why you’ve marked certain people as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ when they weren’t. You may have gone toward, instead of away from, danger or conflated stable with dull. The newfound self-awareness gives you a jump-off point for healing.
When our interactions with someone destabilise us, often through intensity and moving too fast, or they rely on someone having more power than the other, it can only lead to problems. Healthy, intimate relationships are equitable, mutual and safe.
Step into a new chapter of love and self-awareness with the ‘Break The Cycle’ ecourse.