In this article I discuss emotional “energy leaks,” which arise from unconscious psychological processes that leave us feeling oddly drained, stagnant, irritable, reactive, etc.. I offer common examples, ways to identify emotional energy leaks, and practical tools for more productive and connective use of emotional energy.
An Example of an Emotional Energy Leak
There once was a middle aged man who traveled back to his childhood home to visit his mother. “When I began my journey,” the man reflected, “I was 40 years old. About halfway there I was 30. When I pulled into the driveway I was 20. When I knocked on the front door I was 18, and when my mother opened the door, I was 14.”
Even without the context, this is what an emotional energy leak is like. The 40 year old unconsciously laid down his identity as a middle aged adult in exchange for a previous role as an adolescent child. Though not caused by the mother, her impact and gravitational pull was quite potent, and more importantly, unconscious to the man. When energy leaks remain unconscious they typically manifest through unproductive relational and personal tension. In this example, energy is likely wasted upholding an outdated family system, disabling the relationship from growing deeper, as both individuals experience energy depletion.
Other Examples of Emotional Energy Leaks
- I have a difficult conversation with my boss next week. My mind is constantly playing out the outcome, and it’s affecting my sleep, productivity, and work satisfaction.
- I had a weird interaction with an acquaintance at the park. I can’t stop ruminating on something they said. I feel off balance and unsure of myself.
- I visited my family for the holidays, and now I feel wiped out, and a shell of a person.
- Every time I drive somewhere I feel combative on the road. I’m constantly on guard and hypervigilant.
- I can’t motivate to do anything. I don’t know why, but I simply can’t muster the energy to move forward.
When finding ourselves in similar situations, our work is neither simply to avoid energy usage, nor to pour ourselves out through control and over involvement. Our work is to build stable circuits (boundaries) to manage the flow of energy so we can live conscious and whole lives.
Shadow Work: Relationship with Our Hidden Self
Energy leaks are complex processes, and a variety of tools are available to address them. I offer shadow work as one possibility. Shadow work enables us to peek behind the internal curtain to see the origin of triggers, rageful outbursts, and repulsions to certain individuals. Shadow work begins with encountering our hidden self and continues by cultivating a relationship with what we find.
We Need Our Anger
When restoring an energy leak, anger helps us find the leak and activates us toward a solution. Anger alerts us to boundary violations, though rage, violence, and toxic aggression . Anger defends and enables us to strive toward what we love and value. Unfortunately, many of us are either disconnected from our anger or our anger easily overruns us, so energy leaks flood our inner landscape, and damage relationships as we frantically attempt to patch the leaks.
Here is a practical shadow work process for identifying and addressing energy leaks.
- Notice symptoms: Just as a water leak can be detected by water damage, lower water pressure, or through the smell of mold, energy leaks show up as symptoms in the body such as neck and back pain, stomach issues, migraines, shortness of breath, etc;. Of course, a verity of factors contribute to our body’s experience, but its wisdom guides us in the right direction. Also, take note of how you’re exerting or not exerting energy. Emotional energy leaks it usually results in activity that is either frenetic and anxious, or lethargic and numbing. Pause and become conscious of how you’re exerting or not exerting your energy.
- Identify the source: To identify a source ask yourself, “Is there something/someone upon which I’m ruminating or disproportionately focused?” Jot down what you discover.
- Identify the message: Internalized messages/dialogs, which play on repeat subconsciously, perpetuate energy leaks. Write down any messages that surface. You may have to workshop the message, but the process itself is clarifying. Messages come in different forms, but they typically a) begin with “I” statements, and b) are concise and direct. For example, if the source of an energy leak is an upcoming conversation with a boss, a potential internalized message may be, “I disappoint people who rely on me.” It may take time to get to the core message, but be patient with yourself.
- Take action: An emotional energy leak can result from a boundary violation, or because we need to transgress a false boundary that is constricting the flow of energy. Action can be subtle or drastic, but you can trust your anger to guide you toward the right next step.
If you’re interested in shadow work, and exploring emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, start by registering for my upcoming course: Companioning Our Shadow: Welcoming Emotions.