When most people talk about detox, they’re referring to the process of removing toxic chemicals from their body. Your body has a powerful filtration system for that, as long as you avoid toxins to begin with.
However, there’s another type of toxin that isn’t found in your cleaning products or food packaging. It’s toxic energy from other people, and it’s one of the biggest drains on your well-being. This toxicity leads to trauma that stays in your body, bringing you out of balance and causing illness.
Detoxing the spirit is a bit challenging, but it can be done. Here’s how to rewire your spiritual self and start thriving.
The Psychological Effects of Toxicity
Negative energy can impair your immunity, hormones, and mood as much as toxic chemicals. Humans have a complex form of cognition in which both our physiological symptoms and psychological state impact our health. For example, clinical depression, which is caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance, has well-documented physical effects, including fatigue, weekend immunity, and high blood pressure.
However, you don’t require a diagnosed mental disorder to experience psychological toxins. Persistent exposure to negative events can disrupt your sense of safety, identity, and motivation, eventually causing effects similar to those of PTSD. In short, your energy is distorted by frequent, overlapping encounters with negativity — and much of that comes from other people.
Humans don’t live in a vacuum. As highly social creatures, even our basic, Maslow’s Hierarchy needs are entwined with other people’s actions. If you’re surrounded by negative people who exhibit disruptive behaviors, you’ll eventually experience a disruption in your energy levels as well.
We call those people “energy vampires.”
Energy Vampires Suck
An energy vampire is someone whose behavior, speech, and demeanor causes toxic effects in others. Like the vampires of myth, they drain others’ life-force — except that life-force comprises mental wellness. When mental health declines, so does physiological health, including the body’s natural defenses against microbes and harmful chemicals! In short, energy vampires are toxic in more ways than one.
Energy vampires may be your traditional school or workplace bullies, or they may be more serious abusers. They can also be your classic “Debbie Downer” (someone whose constant pessimism and complaints impact social events) or “mooch” (someone who regularly takes advantage of others’ kindness).
In any case, these people force us to face adverse behavior that upsets our sense of safety — triggering an ancient physiological response.
To promote survival after a significant threat, our ancestors developed a coping mechanism called the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA). By temporarily lowering our defenses and increasing inflammation, we were better able to flee a predator. So if they were attacked by a saber-toothed tiger, early humans’ CTRA would kick in so they could run away and heal quickly.
Our complex brains, wrought by millions of years of evolution, intuitively perceive energy vampires as threats. And they’re right. We’re not meant to be surrounded by saber-toothed tigers every day.
But if you’re in a toxic relationship or workplace, that’s exactly what’s happening.
the health effects of toxicity
Workplace bullies, abusive partners and friends, and general exposure to negative social environments all impair our mental and physiological health. One study in the Journal of Occupational Health found that workplaces with high levels of incivility (passive-aggressive behavior, mocking and belittling, etc.) contributed to increased insomnia among workers. Bullying has far-reaching effects on mental and physical health, including stress-related conditions such as ulcers, eczema, and poor cardiovascular health. Victims of toxic behavior are also prone to “learned helplessness,” in which they finally grow weary of defending themselves and simply accept the toxicity as normal. This leads to feelings of depression, emptiness, and isolations.
These are all signs of spiritual-psychological toxification. Many people who are continually exposed to toxicity eventually learn to de-prioritize their physical and mental needs. Instead, they devote all their energy to appeasing the energy vampires to avoid further trauma and threats. People with high empathy are especially vulnerable to energy vampires, as they tend to internalize and mirror others’ behavior. This makes it even hard to “un-learn” that helplessness.
So, in more ways than one, trauma stays in the body and continues to have destructive health effects.
To detox the spirit and restore our positive energy, we must first find the source of the toxins and remove it (or them). Then, we can begin the healing process.
Identifying Your Spiritual Toxins
Energy vampires may exist in any aspect of your life, from your workplace or school to your friend circle or dating life. It can be difficult to identify these toxic situations, especially if you’ve been in them for a long time, because our brains have accepted the threat as normal.
The easiest way to start rewiring your energy is to know the red flags of energy vampires. Bullies, users, and abusers will often engage in the following behaviors:
- Gaslighting, i.e. pretending a situation is different than what it really is and belittling those who don’t conform to that false narrative
- Toxic positivity, such as minimizing others’ feelings in favor of empty encouragement (e.g. “It’s not that bad! Chin up.”) or telling you not to feel sad or angry (which is often an abuser’s tactic to shift the focus to themselves)
- “Negging,” i.e. subtly insulting someone under the guise of complimenting them
- Playing the victim
- Making everything a competition, e.g. one-upping, minimizing others’ accomplishments, or comparing trauma (e.g. “You have COVID? That’s nothing, I have cancer”)
- Conditional love and affection
Our brains (rightfully) perceive all these behaviors as threats to our sense of safety and well-being. With constant exposure, you’ll eventually feel the effects of perpetual stress and CTRA activation. This drains and disrupts our energy, making us more likely to feel unfulfilled, unhappy, and (literally) unwell.
The best way to detox from energy vampires is the same as removing the effects of phthalates or pesticides — cut them out of your life. It’s never toxic or selfish to protect yourself from toxic people.
Let the Healing Journey Begin
Once you’ve removed your energy vampires, it’s time to restore your energy and rewrite your mind and body. The best way to do that is to nourish the parts of yourself that were damaged. Here are some wonderful green-living ways to detox both psychologically and physiologically:
- Practice yoga and meditation. Spend time honoring your body, focusing on your breath, and emptying your mind of negative thoughts.
- Make friends through shared interests. Cultivate a social circle around a hobby or activity that brings you joy. The relationships you form in such situations tend to be more reciprocal and balanced, and you may also find a mentor who inspires you in your endeavors.
- Take a break from social media. There’s nothing like a constant feed of complaints and troll comments to make you feel bad. Consider whether social media is really providing you value, and consider taking a long break or leaving it altogether.
- Set boundaries. You are never obligated to spend time on something that hurts you, witness upsetting events, listen to negative comments about yourself, or accept physical or emotional harm. If you have a friend, coworker, boss, or partner who asks these things of you, it’s time to seek help in leaving the situation.
As humans, our existence is a complicated web of ancient triggers, memories, social information, and cognitive processes, all of which form our physiological and mental energy. We must protect ourselves from toxins, whether they stem from synthetic chemicals or from other people. Only then can we thrive in a state of total wellness.
This article is inspired by an interview with Diane Stoke, a certified holistic health and life coach, licensed and certified trauma informed yoga and bodywork therapist and energy healing practitioner.