Psychological Energy

The sources of energy are numerous and include nuclear energy, fossil fuel energy, and renewable energy, such as the ecologically acceptable electricity generated by windmills. Energy is a physical property, as in "E=mc²" in physics, or in the release of energy when an atom is bombarded. The first splitting of atoms to develop nuclear energy took place under a derelict football stadium in Chicago and Enrico Fermi offered no guarantee that the entire city would not be destroyed during this test. In my first year at the University of Chicago, the curriculum included an overview of physics, including Einstein's theory of light. Amazingly, many of my well-prepared peers actually understood the theory, while my greatest comprehension of physics came decades later, with Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

Anyone living in contemporary times knows that energy is one of the most advertised subjects in the print and electronic media. I hear that I will gain energy by ingesting one or another herb, compound, or pharmaceutical; incredibly fit-looking men and women appear happy using various pieces of exercise equipment; and a man throws a football through a tire as symbolic of enhanced sexual energy and capacity -- look at that smile! Wow! This energy must be something!

My primary concern, however, is the energy of those humans I am honored to accompany on their path to .greater psychological well-being. What is this energy? Is it what Freud theorized when he spoke of "drives?" Does it exist in the real world or is it one more wonderfully interesting construct allowing us to believe that we know more than we do? We are faced with the reality that such a thing as psychic energy can not be demonstrated to exist. But then neither can the atom, nor most of the bases of physical scientific research.

Psychotherapists postulate that psychological energy exists because of what we observe in our practices, and what we feel as fellow humans. A person in a manic state might be thought to have high energy, but that is not usually regarded as a healthy mental state and, therefore, such energy might be compared to some sort of psychological carcinoma. You may note that I said it is not usually healthy. If being mentally balanced is seen as a state in which one is productive in personal and vocational efforts, then some folks who have bipolar disorder may be seen as balanced. Most, however, suffer greatly from the disorder as well as from the treatment.

Psychological energy, as used here, refers to that sense of well-being we have when our bodies and minds are in harmony, and we are not at odds with the world. Some of us are considered "high energy people;" we can go longer and do more than others can. Other folks never seem to get out of first gear in any endeavor. Mostly we fluctuate, to a certain extent, in our sense of well-being and in our energy. The key consideration is that each person has a different physical and psychological energy level -- we have a baseline which defines our unique optimal level of functioning. By self awareness we can learn just What this state is. You can not expect yourself to match up to someone else's harmonic convergence, because they are different from you.

There are many things you may do, however, to increase your energy levels. Is that a contradiction? Having said that we each have our own baseline, can we actually change it? If change were not possible, then psychotherapists would have no reason to believe in our brands of helping. Many people are in mental and physical states of disharmony and subsequent unhappiness. Mostly these are triggered by external events and will dissipate over a relatively brief period of time. The shamans of old would offer up a powder or talisman to people in psychological distress. Some Native American tribal groups developed rituals to cleanse the death of others from their clientele. Belief is the key to all of these activities, the catalyst which brings about a curative result.

There are also many people who suffer a loss of psychological energy because of events in their childhood or post-traumatic stress. This loss of energy can be a long term problem for them. At times they are like the hamster on the treadmill -- chasing after the wholeness they are missing by using mind-altering drugs, by sexual acting out, or by antisocial activities, to name a few. Some become involved in alternative treatments or lifestyles and achieve positive results.

Many, however, experience a chronic loss of psychological energy, with its subsequent negativity, and eventually find themselves so accustomed to that state that they become draining to those around them. They exhibit a form of psychosocial vampirism, sucking the energy from others, simply in order to exist -- the operative term is exist. And they wonder why people avoid them after a while. They may seek out the help of psychotherapists when some new stressor, such as avoidance by others, combines with the accumulation of old injuries, resulting in an even more disharmonious state of being.

If a problem is deep-seated, going back to childhood experiences, it may be necessary to enter the time machine called "the life review" and vicariously experience those events with one's adult strengths and with the aid or a therapist who acts as a safety net. In seeking the root causes of psychosocial dysfunctions, a person's development of newer coping methods can unleash energy for enjoying life instead of simply existing.

Generating energy in the physical world keeps the lights on and our cars running. Releasing psychological energy can lift us to a new level of well-being and optimal functioning. Neither type of energy is visible... but we definitely notice when they're not working.


By Charles Larsen

Charles Larsen, L.C.S.W. has been practicing psychotherapy and hypnosis for over thirty years. St. Petersburg. (727) 894-3088.

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