Emotional "energy leaks" arise from unconscious psychological processes that leave us feeling oddly drained, stagnant, irritable, reactive, etc. This post offers 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
Once there 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 man 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 were 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 In this example, they are wasting energy by upholding an outdated family system, disabling the relationship from growing deeper as both individuals experience energy depletion.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 after that time.
Every time I drive somewhere, I feel combative on the road. I'm constantly on guard and hypervigilant about being hurt or someone taking advantage of me.
I can't get motivated to do anything. I don't know why, but I can't muster the energy to move forward.
When finding ourselves in similar situations, our work is neither to avoid energy usage nor to pour ourselves out through control and over-involvement. Our work is to build stable circuits (boundaries) to manage energy flow so we can live conscious and whole lives.
Shadow Work: Relationship with Our Hidden Self
Energy leaks are complex processes, and we can deal with them through various tools and disciplines. 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 selves and continues by cultivating a relationship with what we find.
We Need Our Anger
Anger is often characterized as rage, violence, and toxic aggression, but at its core, anger is what we feel when a boundary is crossed and when it needs restoration. Anger defends and enables us to strive toward what we love and value. When restoring an energy leak, anger is the emotion that helps us find the leak and activates us toward a solution. Unfortunately, many of us are either disconnected from our anger or easily overrun by it, so energy leaks continue flooding our inner landscape and damaging 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 can show up as symptoms in the body, such as neck and back pain, stomach issues, migraines, shortness of breath, etc. Of course, such issues can be caused by various things, but your body's wisdom will guide you in the right direction. Also, take note of how you're exerting or not exerting energy. When we experience an emotional energy leak, it usually results in either frenetic and anxious activity or lethargy 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: Energy leaks are often perpetuated by internalized messages/dialogs that subconsciously play on repeat. 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 constricting the flow of energy. Action may be subtle or drastic, and you can trust your embodied anger to guide you toward the right next step.
If you’re interested in shadow work and exploring emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, you’re invited to explore this further with me by attending my upcoming course: Companioning Our Shadow: Welcoming Emotions. We will be meeting virtually on Friday, February 3rd from 9-11am PT.
Michael is a spiritual director, shadow work facilitator, and writer. He is ordained in the Free Methodist Church, and holds a Doctor of Leadership from Portland Seminary. If you’d like to connect with Michael for spiritual direction or shadow work, visit Innerworkcommunity.org, or email him at [email protected]. You can also check out his Patheos.com column, Transgressive Spirituality: Life Through the Lens of Jungian Psychology. Be sure to check out his latest work and upcoming courses here.