April 15, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
As a marriage and family therapist I often talk with people about toxic emotions and the destructive effect they can have on individuals, couples and families. Some of the most common toxic emotions are rage, shame, hate, hopelessness, greed, self-righteousness, jealousy, helplessness, and chronic negativity. When these emotions are present in a relational system for any length of time, they will always produce destructive effects on anyone in the system.
With all the concern about the toxic fallout from the damaged nuclear power in Fukushima, Japan I got to thinking about this whole idea of toxic emotions in a new way.
One way to think about emotions as a whole, is that emotions are the energy that you and I radiate to the people around us. In a sense, each of us are our own kind of power plant. We can’t help but radiate emotional energy. The question is, what kind of emotional energy are we radiating? Are we radiating life-giving, healthy emotional energy, or are we radiating toxic, negative emotional energy?
We all know what it is like to be in the presence of others who are radiating positive emotional energy. When we interact with such people, our spirits are lifted. We feel energized by such people because they have an optimistic, “half-full” attitude about life and they have a sense of faith and hope in the future. We have just the opposite experience when we interact with people who are radiating toxic emotions. When we interact with these people we feel drained and depleted. If we are not careful, their “half-empty” attitude about life can infect us and we can find ourselves becoming negative and cynical. It turns out that the emotional energy of people around us, whether that energy be positive or toxic, is often contagious.
Toxic energy is currently leaking from the nuclear power in plant in Japan because it was damaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami. I find a parallel here to when you or I are most likely to leak toxic emotional energy. When we find ourselves in the midst of a major storm or major shift in our lives, we, like the power plant, are more vulnerable to radiating toxic emotional energy. Chronic stress, unresolved hurt, and/or unresolved loss are the major causes of toxic emotional energy. When our lives feel out of control is when our emotions are most likely to be out of control.
I’d like to return to the question I asked above and invite each of us to do our own personal energy audit by asking ourselves, “What kind of emotional energy am I radiating right now in my life?” Be honest with yourself. Ask others who are close to you about what kind of emotional energy they think you are radiating. An accurate self-assessment is always the first step towards growth and change. If you observe the presence of toxic emotional energy in yourself, reflect on whether there is a storm or shift in your life that may be the cause of these emotions. If so, commit yourself to dealing with that storm or shift proactively, instead of reactively. Ask others for help and support, including professional help if needed.
Each of us truly is our own emotional and spiritual power plant. The amount and the type of the energy we radiate makes a significant difference in the our world, and especially in the lives of those with whom we are most closely connected. Do yourself aand everyone around you a huge favor and do all that you can to keep that energy positive and life-giving.