When I was in the fifth grade, the science teacher showed us a video about parasites.
The video showed how an innocent little snail moving along the limb of a tree unknowingly ate a parasite, and progressed to show footage of the parasite slowly taking over the snail’s body. In the final stages before the parasite killed its host, the snail–usually your average, everyday brownish looking little guy–was actually pulsating this weird striped white, yellow, and black color.
I could hardly look at the screen. Everything in me felt empathy for that poor snail who had simply been going along, minding its business–and then a parasite had taken over its body.
It has taken some teasing out for me to understand that there is such a thing as “parasitic energy,” energy that can seemingly live and grow and start to spread throughout its host, until it becomes all-consuming. The difference between parasitic energy and “being in the flow” is that nothing good is coming of parasitic energy–in fact, there will be a net deficit in terms of available energy or ability to see alternatives or solutions.
This is something different than so-called “energy vampires,” which I don’t actually believe in (throwing around that language is really just a way for the accuser to absolve themselves of taking responsibility for their lives, who they hang out with, and their available choices in response to the behavior of others–after all, nothing can be your “fault” if the “energy vampire” did it “to” you).
Instead, I’m talking about something that might seem a bit strange and amorphous, yet nevertheless is real–that there is a way in which energy, the energy exchanged between us and the energy that is unseen yet all around us–can have a parasitic quality to it, in which it takes us over and then begins to consume its host.
But this isn’t a victim thing. Unlike the snail, we have a lot of choices as to how we will proceed.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Choice #1: Noticing what it feels like when parasitic energy has taken over.
I recently found myself triggered as all get out. I suddenly found myself:
- wanting to make demands,
- feeling as if someone “owed” me,
- mentally re-running scenarios that had already played themselves out, as well as mentally running through future scenarios and what I’d say and how I’d say it and what I’d say if they said that…
- combined with making mental notes pre-determining my Stories about the situation (“If he says X, then it’ll mean he thinks Y about me. But if he says A, then it’ll mean he really thinks B about me.”)
- I was in a space of defending my actions and defending my limitations.
- I was ruling out all other options than silent resentment or aggressive confrontation.
Sound familiar? It’s through a combination of hard work, slowing down in my life, meditation practice, and a willingness to take on the practice of “watching the watcher” that I was able to have enough presence to notice that I was a.) feeling like crap, and b.) needed to observe exactly what was going on.
Once you observe exactly what is going on, you’ll see whether or not the energy is all-consuming and it’s building you up, or tearing you down.
Choice #2: Unpack the Stories. Particularly insidious in the example above were my Stories about what it meant if the subject of my discontent chose Door A or Door B. I was making it “mean something” when it didn’t need to mean anything. I was telling a Story of limited options, all involving some level of discontent (resentment, confrontation) that wouldn’t really help the challenge.
Choice #3: Look a few layers underneath the presenting Stories. What was presenting on the surface was all about reaction, manipulation, and control. So what was underneath that? A great question to ask to get to that is this one: “What’s driving this Story?”
Perhaps the answer to that question will be something like, “I’m afraid of not having enough money.” But what’s underneath that, even? Is it a fear of a lack of safety? A fear of being left out? Rejection? Loneliness and isolation? Having no one to turn to?
I often say to coaching clients as we unpack Stories, “What’s the Story underneath that Story?” Usually what presents on the surface is just a little bread crumb that leads the way to an entirely different door that leads to an entirely different room.
The surface layer Story usually involves a ton of work to wade through, which can be very appealing if one likes drama. This is where self-help so often gets itself into trouble; dealing with surface-level issues can be exciting, until people get sick of being on a hamster wheel.
The Story underneath the Story, however? That’s just the only work that we ever need to do in our lives: Acceptance. Compassion. Forgiveness.
–and, of course, the courage it takes to work with all three.
Parasitic energy can, and will, destroy its host. It took two entire days of my life–literally!–where I was not present, irritable, crabby, obsessed with the replay of real and imagined events.
But after noticing, unpacking, and looking deeply at what was really happening, it occurred to me that I had another choice:
Choice #4: Choose a course of action that is the antithesis of your Story, and see if that creates movement.
In my case, I decided that as much as I wanted to get upset and tell this person how wrong I felt they were, what I really wanted–more than anything–was communication and collaboration and good old-fashioned hippy-dippy woo-woo…love. Just love. Acceptance of their behavior, and forgiveness, and compassion, and all of the things that love asks of us.
Choice Five: Ask yourself: “What would acceptance do? What would forgiveness do? What would compassion do in this situation?”
The parasitic energy feeds on “being right.” Asking what the choices of acceptance, forgiveness, or compassion would bring is a way of getting out of “being right” and into being…sane. The parasitic energy lifted, and I had officially come back to myself, again, and with gratitude, and alive in my life. Welcome home.