Why Teachers Disempower You (Teacher-Pupil Frames)

teacher stick figure in front of class

Teacher-pupil frames refer to intellectual power dynamics where the teacher self-frames as higher-power by virtue of his explaining and the pupil is framed as lower-power by virtue is lack of knowledge, expertise, or competence

In simpler words: he explains to you, so he slots himself as “above you” -smarter, more knowledgeable, more worldly, more effective, etc. etc-.
We may also refer to these as “teacher-learner”.

teacher stick figure in front of class


Teachers are always higher value than learners.

Teachers are associated with expertise, knowledge, and value-transfer (a value transfer they have the power to bestow upon you).
Learners are associated with lack, low-value in most social exchanges, and the “need to learn” to “become better” -at least in their field of learning and, potentially more, as people as well as some learners may also not be “good enough”-.

That teachers are higher value should be simple logic, but if you need a concrete example, think of any teacher-pupil dynamic that include actual money exchanges.

Money is a proxy for value and power, and in all teacher-pupil exchanges, the pupil pays the teacher.

Money is of course only a part of the exchange, and when money is not there, the payment still happens in different currencies.
Teachers are higher status, sought-after, and get more promotions, dates, higher-value friends and allies.

Even mentally, the teacher tends to be higher confidence and higher self-esteem, while the pupil tends to be lower confidence and self-esteem -especially if he feels he needs to learn and will never become an expert-.

In brief: teachers get the most out of life and pupils get what’s left.

This is why, generally speaking, you want to be careful about who you allow being your teacher.

Power Dynamics Explanation

First of all:

Notice that it’s the explaining that sets the power dynamics, and not necessarily the knowledge differential.

And that makes it a potentially harmful power move.

That means that simply by acting like a teacher one becomes your teacher, and you become their pupil.
The teacher may be a worthy explainer who knows what he’s talking about, but he may also be a clueless idiot, or a conman looking to swindle you by pretending to be full of wisdom (see the guru-marketers phenomenon).

For many guys, these potentially disempowering dynamics set in automatically.

In simpler words it means simply by accepting that someone is teaching you, you lose.
It’s a case of “do something, or pay the price”.

Guru-Disciple Frames

The extreme forms of teacher-pupil frames are with guru-disciples.

Gurus tend to:

  • Speak as dispensers of ultimate truths
  • Share “laws and rules” without exceptions
  • Speak with charisma and full conviction
  • Speak with a “God on mount Sinai” attitude
  • Soapbox during group discussions, sometimes literally taking the higher spot or the stage
  • Talk down on disciples

The worst for personal empowerment is when you help a guru set up those dynamics.

Because, remember: teachers and gurus need your help to accept the pupil and disciple role.

At the lower level, it starts with physical cues of “pedestalization”.
For example:

Even more important with gurus and charlatans is the mental subjugation.

It’s when you look up at the guru as if he’s:

  • Above you as a person
  • A stage that you can never reach
  • Higher value by virtue of his knowledge/status

Then you may as well have a new God, rather than a mentor or teacher.

These dynamics apply remotely.
Even if you’re only watching a YouTube video, you end up mentally disempowered if you think of yourself as below and less valuable than the guru.

We highly recommend this article:

Enlightened Self-Interest: Making of The Ubermensch

Similar to

  • Psychologizing, or analyzing your personality, traits, and possible issues
  • Therapist frames, or analyzing what and why you do or believe, what you’re going through, or what you should be doing

Both psychologizing and therapist frames are strong power-position over you.
With the added risk that they can have gaslighting and crazymaking effects.

  • Growth mindset: if you overdo the “growth mindset” in the wrong contexts you can end up in the pupil role and disempower yourself. Both mentally, and practically.
    You can lose status, dating opportunities, and be passed up for promotions by folks who display less drive/need for learning, and more expertise
  • Social climbing, since the teacher/pupil frame power move frame is often an attempt at social climbing you
  • Guru / disciple frames, which is the extreme form of teacher’s frame

Also see:

  • Judge power dynamics, since sometimes the pupil may seek the emotional validation of the teacher 9and the teacher will often gladly encourage that)
  • Covert power moves, since the disempowerment of the teacher frame can be masked by the apparently nice gesture of “helping you with their teaching”
  • Frames 101

When It’s Fair / Unfair

As for everything:

Context and balance.

Some people miss the nasty power move the teacher frame can be because, many times, a teacher frame can be fair.

If someone is a teacher, if you’re learning from them, and if they don’t overplay their hand, then everything’s good.

If you’re actually learning a lot and if the teacher even takes steps to power protect you, the pupil is even gaining hugely, with little to no loss of status.

Teachers Disempowering With Their Attitude

Actual teachers can also be disempowering if they “overplay their hands”.

For example:

  • Social climb on his students or even customers
  • Patronize / talk down on students rather than treating them as empowered men in the making
  • Brag, posture, or puff his chest about “how much more advanced he is”
  • Diminish or demand his students for their lack of knowledge, lack of fast progress, or supposed inferiority

Power-aware people have a good sense for disempowering teachers, and we usually refer to them as “patronizing”.
Feminists even coined a term for it with “mansplaining” (albeit they may misapply it to an actually knowledgeable person simply because he’s a man, but let’s not digress).

You may still want to stick with them if their knowledge makes it worth it, but you want to end the relationship as soon as you don’t need them anymore.

Her: (tapping her hand on his head) good boy, make mama proud

That’s a patronizing attitude, plus a judge power move.

Teachers Keeping You Stuck To Feed Their Ego

Some teachers aren’t just not helping on you.

Some teacher are actually harming you because they’re feeding on you.

So remember this:

People who play the teacher role don’t want you to grow.

Being your teachers serves to feed their own ego and feel good about themselves.
If you grow, they don’t get to play teacher and feel good anymore.

So they’ll always be happy when you have problems, and they see it as a threat when you grow -sometimes they don’t even realize this themselves-.
Even their advice tends to be “feel-good advice”, “naive self-help advice“, or “high-level self-development without any practical steps“.

So you never move forward!

Therapy-Playing Teachers

Bad and disempowering teachers love the therapy-style of “support”.

The type of therapy that talks about problems, but never addresses them.

These teachers will never tell you things like “go do the sh*t” brother because then, you may solve your problems.
Instead, they’d rather talk about the problems.

You don’t need any of that.


See Power University and Ultimate Power.

The former for the strategies and techniques, and the latter for the mindsets.


Generally speaking:

In life it’s best to become an expert and you want to shorten and limit your learner stage as much as possible.

Publicly, even if you’re a pupil and learning, you also want to display some personal power, both in the way you approach the teachings and the teacher.
You want to keep a high opinion of yourself, knowing that you’re learning know, but you have it in you to become an expert.
And you want to respect the teacher for his knowledge or skills, but you don’t want to look to him as a person just because he’s in a teacher role -you may look up to him, but he must deserve and earn that-.

That’s your way of saying, both publicly and internally: “yes, I’m learning and lower power, but I ain’t no worthless dummy”.

Real-Life Tips

  • Focus on becoming an expert in life, learn as much as you can, never stop learning, but remember that the end goal is to become a “learning expert”, not an “eternal pupil”
  • Learn while still maintaining & displaying personal power
    • Critical thinking skills & logic: they limit power of the teacher over you because, in a way, you’re still assessing his worth as a teacher based on the content of his teaching -rather, than, say his charisma-.
    • Pose questions: to publicly display your critical thinking skills and your drive to learn, rather than, say’ Pend time with the teacher you look up to”
    • Assess the teacher’s character: which is a duty of any empowered man as either a disciple or a learner
  • Make mentors or work sponsors feel like invaluable teachers: especially if they are helpful.
    You don’t want to disempower helpful teachers and/or people who can do a lot of good for you. Instead, accept your learner’s role, and credit them with part of your successes. That way, they feel good and are happy to give more and help you more, and you both develop win-win friends and alliances, which is good for both.
  • Put teachings above teacher unless the person is truly a role model -or else you risk a mindless cult member-
  • Play it Machiavellian with disempowering teachers: or they’ll sap your confidence and self-esteem. To be Machiavellian: make them feel like you’re close and respect them, but never be close and drop them as soon as you learned all there is to learn
  • Reject gurus that overplay their hand as “teachers”, they tend to be charlatans who are playing the charisma game and heavily disempower their followers (exceptions may apply and it’s fairer to say “look with suspicion at” rather than “reject”. But we went fro the shorter format just to hopefully wake up more folks who follow for the guru game)
  • Make sure you can teach, before you teach. Starting from knowledge and expertise, but also:
    • Make sure people want to learn from you, otherwise you’re just throwing your “teacher’s weight” around, annoying people, and destroying social capital
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