Feeling Strong
Ethel S. Person
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Feeling Strong: The Achievement of Authentic Power* online

Feeling Strong: The Achievement of Authentic Power

Ethel S. Person
William Morrow
432 pages
October 2002
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Feeling Strong is a study of the various subtle and not-so-subtle manifestations of power. Using literarture, history, and psychological studies and observations, author Ethel S. Person, MD, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University, shows that power comes in many forms: True Power, manipulation, compensatory power. Depending on social, personal and other factors, it also has different tactics of control. Power can also be further divided into the powers of the strong which

"exert implicit and explicit threats, compensatory power exerted through the offer of compensation or advantages, conditioned power exerted by traditional authority and beliefs, and charismatic power, manipulation and the powers of the weak, which are submissiveness and dependence, ingratiation, manipulation, the use of vicarious power, and flattery."
Power plays appear in all spheres of life: the sexual and intimate there are large chapters on sex, gender, and sado-masochism the workplace, and society at large. Obviously, authentic power is something to be aimed for. True power helps the individual emerge from childhood dependency to become a real person who stands on her own two feet. But with so many counterfeits, the problem, according to Person, is to know and achieve true power. In addition, since the birth of psychoanalysis and an ancient split between Freud and Adler, who wrote the Will to Power, psychoanalysts have not put enough importance on an individual's need to feel powerful in life.

But recognition of one's worth, Person argues, is a basic human need. Recognition is a "confirmation and validation" of our skills and worth and "assuages self-doubts." The need for recognition is common in all countries, self-decoration, status symbols, symbolic possessions such as cars helping humans to declare who they are. "Different symbols confirm our place in the world." Person examines the high-blown recognition known as fame and celebrity and also comments on the false power that comes to hangers-ons and those involved in hero-worship. There is a wonderful chapter on creativity in which she argues that true creative power has much to do with overcoming inner conflicts, emotional makeup, and is a victory against the powerful inner critics of society and powerful others. It is the self's willingness to take a gamble against all the fears, shoulds, nays and threats of the intellectual, emotional, psychological and social powers that be.

Person ends the book with two chapters about God, the Godfather of fantasy, spiritual faith, self-reliance and the acknowledgment that although there are moments when we are powerless in the world. But the book ends in a plea to other psychoanalysts to understand the power of submission and dominance and hierarchies and how they work in psychiatric disturbances. The last chapter is interesting but took this reader aback somewhat. The first part of the book feels like a book for everyman but ends with a plea to colleagues of the mental health community. Nevertheless, Feeling Strong is a good read for both laymen and therapists. I highly recommend it. Dr. Person has authored or edited ten books and lectures frequently across the world. Her writing style is conversational, honest and clear.

© 2003 by Carole McDonnell for Curled Up With a Good Book

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