I’ve written extensively how unconscious shame inhibits us emotionally, causing significant reductions in our quality of life. Yet that isn’t the full extent of damage that it causes. Here I describe how shame literally sucks life energy out of us.
This begs a question—what is life energy?
What is life energy?
Basically, we don’t know. Wikipedia says that, “There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of life.”
One person who tried to answer this question was Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). He left behind a body of work, including The Function of the Orgasm, which significantly advances our understanding of life energy and how it relates to sexual shame. The journey out of shame leaves no doubt that Reich knew his stuff.
Reich demonstrated in clinical experiments that human skin conducts electricity, and that the body’s erogenous zones conduct the most electricity. Furthermore, when aroused, the electric charge increased significantly.
Reich argued that life energy is bioelectric in nature, and that life energy and sexual energy are identical. This seems like common sense when you consider that life is conceived through sex and birthed through the sexual organs.
What Reich discovered in his Viennese psychoanalytic practice was that every patient adhered to two fundamental rules: there can be no neurosis without a sexual neurosis (what I term ‘sexual shame’), and “there cannot be a neurotic symptom without a disturbance of the character as a whole.”
By “the character as a whole,” Reich meant that he never encountered a patient who had an emotional or sexual neurosis but was otherwise well—in terms of good breathing, good posture, good eating and sleeping habits, a healthy ability to work and socialise. Many, if not all, character aspects were impacted.
Reich noted that the more neurotic his patients were, the more they displayed the symptoms of what he termed ‘character armouring’: a physical, emotional and sexual rigidity that prevented people from fully participating in life.
The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture, is typified by… armouring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This… armouring is the basis of isolation… fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness… It is not found in the stages of human history prior to the development of patriarchy.
The key phrase here is “armouring against his inner nature.”
Reich’s century-old observations are borne out by contemporary neuroscience. In Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, Dr Candace Pert writes: “Repressed traumas caused by overwhelming emotion can be stored in a body part, thereafter affecting our ability to feel that part or even move it.”
The ‘sexual-spiritual split’
Reich found that the collision between innate human sexual instincts and anti-sexual patriarchal morality created a split in the psyche—the same split that Michael Picucci, PhD, later termed the ‘sexual-spiritual split’.
In The Journey toward Complete Recovery, Picucci describes the sexual-spiritual split as “a deep psychic schism within almost everyone in our culture which prohibits enduring, loving relationships to form, which at the same time can remain sexually alive and growing.”
Picucci gives the origin of this split as “early religious and cultural training, which teaches that God, love, and family are good while sex is dirty, bad and perverse.”
Picucci’s description entirely aligns with Reich’s findings. Yet Reich went further. He found that not only did this split produce emotional and sexual disturbances but the underlying shame also sapped his patients’ life energy.
Life energy binding
Reich’s understanding of “the identity between bioelectric and sexual energy” led him to represent this dynamic in the following diagram.
The solid circle at the bottom of the diagram represents the whole, holistic life force energy entering the human organism. My sense is this energy must be both feminine and masculine in nature, because sexual energy creates and animates life while masculine energy gives shape and purpose to feminine energy.
This incoming energy hits the sexual-spiritual-split—the internalised moral inhibitions of patriarchal society. Primary among these is sexual shame.
The sexual-spiritual split effectively functions as what’s known in aeronautical engineering as a ‘splitter plate’—a device that fragments incoming airflow in jet engines. Life force energy fragments into socially acceptable masculine energy and socially shameful feminine energy.
The splitting happens in the psyche, but the fragmented energy then branches out and impacts both psyche and soma (body).
It’s important to understand the function of the sexual-spiritual split. It’s a defence mechanism to keep us alive in patriarchal societies by repressing our socially dangerous emotional and sexual impulses.
The need to protect the organism from itself determines the course of action.
Socially acceptable masculine energy is diverted away from productive work capacity and enjoyable social activity. Instead it’s used to suffocate or stymy the unacceptable, shameful feminine energies.
In psychoanalytical parlance, this is termed ‘bound’ energy. Reich notes with some bitterness that, “Genital energy was bound, concealed, and disguised in many places and in myriad ways. The official world had banned this subject.”
The result is twofold. Firstly, the emotional, sexual and physical rigidity Reich identified. The physical rigidity is maintained through tension in the muscular structure. This tension quickly becomes repressed; the individual can’t feel that they’re consuming physical energy to rigidify their own body.
Secondly, the collision between the masculine and feminine energies creates an energetic stasis, like two rivers flowing head-on into each other. This can cause low- or no-energy and apathy. Reich observes that a “damming-up of biological energy occurs and becomes the source of irrational actions.”
In my experience, this dammed-up energy is also the source of long-term depression.
Anxiety triggered by sexual shame causes a damming-up of life energy. This in turn causes low- or no-energy and depression.
Liberating life energy
Reich believed that anxiety triggered by sexual shame caused this damming-up of life energy. “When frustrated, genital energies become destructive.”
Personally, I believe Reich’s gaze was too narrow. In patriarchies, everything feminine causes anxiety—emotions and body shame as well as sexual urges.
This should be taken into account when interpreting the following statement of Reich’s: “Making the patient conscious of his or her sexual impulses guarantees cure when this also eliminates the energy source of the neurosis, i.e., the sexual stasis.”
In other words, when the entire character structure has been impacted, releasing unconscious shame isn’t enough. As well as clearing the sexual and emotional inhibitions we must also clear the physical ones.
In Solve problems at their source – mental, emotional or sexual I describe the principle that only logic problems can be solved from within the ivory tower of the intellect.
Feel into the body
The same applies to the bound energy issues of depression and low- or no-energy. The cause is stuck energy; the solution is physical movement. Once enough of the emotional armouring has been released, physical exercise can loosen the bound energy and restore wellbeing.
The trick here is to exercise then, once your body and breathing has opened up, feel into your body. If enough armouring has been released, you will feel the pain trapped in your body.
Keep repeating this. After a few days—it took me a week—you’ll become aware of a whole network of muscular tension stretching across your body that’s been bound and unconscious from early childhood. As you feel into the pain behind the bound energy, the muscular tension releases.
Trauma Release Exercises(TRE), also known as ‘shaking’, are a low-impact way to get the body to release not only trauma but bound energy as well. Once again, do the shaking then feel into the body so see what’s ready to be released.
The insidious impact of patriarchy pervades every aspect of our lives. It must be uncompromisingly rooted out to restore human wellbeing and appetite for life.