Defiant vs. Overruled in Dysfunctional Families and Dysfunctional Governments. How Language Affects Our Understanding of Power and Selfhood

et’s look at the difference between defiant and overruled. When we talk about children going against their parents, we often use the words “defiant, disobedient,” and “rebel.” We don’t use words such as “overrule, revoke, nullify, override,” or “recall.” And we SHOULD. There’s a fine distinction between the two camps.

Defiance or rebel implies that power and authority is outside of oneself. That one is going against something that has power over oneself. Words such as overrule, revoke, or nullify implies that power and authority is within oneself. That one has the ability to take back power if the other party abuses or misuse their power. It gives children authority over themselves rather than under the authority of someone else. If we say a child has “overruled her parent’s decision,” it has a completely different meaning than “she’s rebelling against her parents.” She’s not going against anyone. She has the right to choose for herself, and she’s the ultimate judge in her own life. It implies that the power to choose is within herself, not outside of herself.

This vocabulary difference is extremely important in abusive and dysfunctional families, where parents refuse to give or pass on power to their children, even when they come of age.

Next time we describe a child rebelling against his or her parents, maybe we should question if the parent ever had a right to have jurisdiction or authority over the child in that way. And whether the parent has been oppressing the child. That the child, in action, is actually over ruling their parent’s decision and that a child has a right to overrule a parent’s decision if that decision is unfair or unjust. Ultimately, a child has authority over his or her own life and has the power to take back that authority at any time. In this way, we see that a parent has been given power by their subject rather than absolute and monolithic power just because they birthed that child. By changing our language, we can recognize that power and authority is shared between parent and child, and not unidirectional. That the child is placing as much faith and trust in the parent as much as the parent has to learn to have faith and trust in the child.

A large part of growing up is recognizing what is within and not within our power or control. Toxic people (parents included) have a propensity to gerrymander your life the same way that politicians gerrymander district lines — without authority, without consent, and without understanding what’s yours and what’s theirs.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Protest vs. Rally

In nation states, including the United States, where the definition of democracy is “For the people, by the people,” we use words for demonstrations such as “protest” and “outcry.” These words imply that power is outside of ourselves, that we are protesting a power greater than us. We often forget that the government is in power because we give them power and that at any time, we can take that power away. That authority lies within us, as a collective, not the other way around. Perhaps we can coin new words that places power in the authority of the protestors. Instead of a protest, we are “recalling” and “revoking” the power that we have given to the people whose job is to protect and help us. But words like recall and revoke in the context of political movements have a tendency to frighten and scare. It makes us think of revolutions and uprisings. Perhaps words such as “rally,” or “recover” could work.

Language plays a big part in our life in and in our culture. If we use more empowered and more accurate words, then perhaps we can have a more peaceful society.

It’s important for human life to have a balance of power within and outside of ourselves. To have checks and balances within ourselves and to have checks and balances outside of ourselves.

Historically, we have placed power mostly outside of ourselves — in oracles, in parents, in bosses, in leaders, in politicians, in groups, in religions, in institutions, and in governments.

We have given our power away because we don’t trust ourselves.

The balance of power is especially important in parent to child relationships. Children, by virtue of their size, and emotional and cognitive capabilities, cannot hold an adult responsible. They cannot hold someone accountable in the way that two adults can hold each other accountable. What’s more, there’s little to zero oversight. Parents and family members will have to hold themselves accountable, and it’s through this relationship that a person’s character is truly tested. The parent to child relationship and the family system as a whole sets up the foundation for power dynamics in nation-states.

My private diaries. I write about mental health, childhood trauma & dysfunctional family systems. Show your support:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store