Are We Making Each Other Sick?: On Emotional Contagion, The Collective Unconscious & Health
Updated: Apr 6
In their seminal work, "Connected", Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler document findings of their sociological research into the multi-generational Framingham heart study. Using this data created for a completely different purpose, they were able to convincingly demonstrate the spread through social networks of obesity, smoking and happiness (and in later studies suicide, sex practices and politics) to as many as three degrees. That is to say, my contact with you, should you have a friend that smokes, even if you do not smoke, increases my chances of smoking and also increases my friend's chances of smoking (where my friend is not known to anyone else in the chain). Relative to behaviors such as over-eating and smoking, one explanation for the spread is peer pressure or social normalization. Relative to the spread of emotions such as happiness and anger, emotional contagion, a phenomenon identified in the nineties, is cited as an explanation for the spread.
Emotional contagion is a neat label, conveying the idea that we can spread our mood from one person to another. And the idea that emotions can spread between people even indirectly through digital means, is now quite widely accepted. Mirror neurons might adequately be invoked to explain the physiological mechanism of contagion. However, I find both this label and the mechanism, somewhat inadequate to understanding the three degrees of influence that Christakis and Fowler document.
To understand this, my view is that one has to understand the idea of energetic transference - or in what may seem like something from a sci-fi novel, the idea that with our thoughts and emotions, particularly repetitive ones, we actually can create energetic form which has the potential to influence and be transferred to other people. So my increased propensity to smoke even though I haven't met your friend who smokes, may relate to the transference of some an energetic form or pattern which is a specific driver behind the desire to smoke (and possibly other unhealthy addictions). This form is just one of an an infinite variety of energetic form which reside in the collective unconscious and may be generated and/or fed by our shadow selves.
The Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung is credited with coining the term collective unconscious as referring to the shared unconscious mind of a species which houses instincts and archetypes that members of the species will live out. The collective unconscious might also be thought to refer to emotions, trauma, repetitive negative behavioral patterns and everything which the metaphysical term "shadow self" refers. Jung believed that we are all born into the collective unconscious and it is my belief that we all house some part of it that we have taken birth in order to work through and release. That is, much of our raison d'etre is to help release part of the collective shadow through releasing our own shadow.
This selected excerpt from Aarvindha Himadra's book, "Immortal Self: A Journey to the Himalayan Valley of the Amartya Masters", (pages 108-110) helpfully highlights the connection between the individual and the collective unconscious. In the style of a conversation, and quoting first Master Amir, he writes,
"In love, right knowledge and action are the same. A person who believes his or her individuation is law is bound to endless uncertainty and the haunting darkness of death. Such a heart is perpetually guarded; the mind is then faulted by the consequence of those laws. Thinking this way, the person tends to obey only the rules of his or personal knowledge. He or she is then governed by desire, established habits and mental predispositions. The person lives in a whirlpool of emotion - a whirling eddy - fully unaware of the global tide of our greater existence. Thoughts become dark and quarrelsome. Those whose hearts are sleeping seldom recognize the spreading effect of those thoughts..."
"The thoughts may change, but their effects remain...Those effects are recorded in the jagadakash where they are bound to a divine edict that demands their resolution. Truth is the light and the sword of the divine Self. It has no tolerance for illusion..."
(Himadra): "So the jagadakash is our world's unconscious...where our collective illusions are stored."
"Yes, the samtanomaya, the shared unconscious. Akash is its vessel. Everyone is to some measure affected by what it bears. This is what you felt affecting you in your environment as a child."
(Himadra): "...Are you saying I felt the world's unresolved issues, its karma, floating in the ethers of the collective unconscious?"
"Yes, Aaravindha, I believe so"
"...A single drop of water generates very little influence on our skies. Just as a sole negative thought has very little effect on our shared unconscious. But when they have amassed in great numbers, a potential storm emerges. They join with other seeds [of unresolved karma, or denied truth] to form a mayanabhas, storm clouds built of humanity's denied perceptions which are ready to rain down a torrent of emotion and discord upon its creators."
(Himadra): "In other words, the collective unconscious seeks a release through some kind of liberating event or even a possible disaster. Like a pressure cooker that has reached its limit."
Similar to the storm in the world referenced in this passage, when our individual beings hold too much of the collective unconscious, it will impede our ability to create health, and manifest healthy relationships as well as our true life path. In my several year long quest to understand why I was a sponge for the negative energy of the world (what some call being an empath), I now realize that like the author, I was acutely aware and sensitive to the collective unconscious. Indeed, it may be that people who suffer from empathic overwhelm are more sensitive than others to the collective unconscious and have as a non-negotiable aspect of their soul's mission to rise above it. I have come to view my healing practice now as an embodiment and a technique to help others release their shadow selves and rise above the collective unconscious and collective ego.
Rising Above the Collective Unconscious
In addition to releasing the energy of past trauma and the energy of prior experiences which may underlie unhelpful mental, emotional, or behavioral patterns, we must also examine in the course of our healing sessions, negative energetic transfers in our relationships, as well as patterns of social conditioning, family conditioning and human conditioning, all of which comprise the collective unconscious.
If you are suffering or have suffered from a chronic illness or even if you have minor health issues that are not being resolved through allopathy, diet, exercise, and otherwise taking care of yourself, you would do well to examine, with the help of an energy healing practitioner, a therapist or other wellness practitioner, the quality of the relationships that you are routinely exposed to at work, at home, or in any other sphere of your life. Equally, if you are trying to give birth to an idea/business or are engaged in a course of study or career path and are experiencing unexpected difficulties, a session with an understanding professional may be helpful to uncover any negative relationship influences.
Indeed, my suggestion is that our relationships are one of the first areas that we should examine when we are experiencing ill-health or a lack of professional progress, in addition to what we ourselves are harboring which may be contributing to the situation. So for example, Louise Hay whose work comes out of the New Thought movement of the 1980s, notes that cancer may be connected with thought patterns of deep hurt, longstanding resentment, a deep secret or grief eating away at the self, the carrying of hatreds, or repetitively asking oneself, "what's the use" (You Can Heal Your Life, page 158). In a healing session, these emotions, feelings and habits of the mind will come up organically but it is also useful to ask whether the client is on the receiving end of the same and determine who this negative feed might be coming from. The idea that we might be projecting our emotions or insecurities onto others is not new and some psychologists would also agree that what we may think and feel as our own thought or emotion, is actually a projection from another.
Often, it is our social, family and human conditioning which prevents us from analyzing dispassionately the effect of these relationships on ourselves and particularly on our personal power. Through the use of the Emotional Freedom Techniques and some dialogue, we will aim to make cognitive shifts which will assist you in taking any external action necessary to compassionately free yourself of negative relationship influences, including any negative relationship to yourself. One common theme in my healing sessions is how deeply conditioned we are to hold the darkness of others. Sometimes this conditioning is subconscious or even unconscious but perhaps most harmfully, sometimes it is conscious and we proceed to do it anyway as a way to be validated by the other and feel worthy in the world. Here, one might usefully be aided by a spiritual or life philosophy anchored in a belief that each soul is evolving towards wholeness but must itself work through life lessons. Sometimes other people's pain and "stuff" cannot be harmlessly "held" by anyone else but rather needs to be worked through with the help of professionals, healers and spiritual counselors. Indeed, in a passage just preceding the one cited above (page 108), Master Amir elucidates the true understanding of love which is helpful to making the (cognitive) shifts required to heal fully:
Amir added, "Love is seldom understood. Most believe it's an emotion when in fact, emotions arise when love is lost. Love is a state of limitless presence, a free availability to the high Will. It's a common mistake to define love as kindness or as caring for others. While those may be benevolent intentions, love is not an act. Love achieves nothing in itself. It is a medium, a sacred passage through which the high and pure creative intellect takes birth. [Referring to a past scene in which Master Amir facilitates a healing]: Back at the village, when the woman let go, when her attachment fell away, her emotions also fell away. She found her love not through mental reflection and not as an act but through her resulting presence."
My experience is that we can more easily inhabit love, in the sense understood above, when we have fully inhabited our true power. And fully inhabiting our truest power, is a natural effect of releasing our shadow selves and rising above the collective unconscious.
The Interrelation of Our Health and Wellness to Others
I am known to repeat the mantra that the greatest gift that we can give another is to engage in our own personal shadow work. It stands to reason that if we are all connected not just as one human family but on the level of the collective unconscious, then improvement in one leads to improvement in the whole. My strong belief that our collective survival depends on us each doing the work to live in alignment with our higher selves has led me to take a hiatus from my previous profession as a lawyer, to focus my efforts where I believe the greatest potential for change lies.
Each of us, whatever our age, has the potential to come into further alignment with the highest self and energy healing is one of several means to this alignment. In striving to deliver streamlined, effective and sustained healing, I have had to dispassionately consider all the elements which contribute to and take away from whole health and wellness. The deeper I progress into my healing practice, the more evident it is that we have heretofore underestimated the effect that the internal emotional lives of others, as well as their previous traumas, may be having on us. Once we are able to acknowledge the truth of the potential factors that may be holding us back, we can begin to thoroughly release those obstacles and make ourselves more resilient to them. We are then able to fully step into our birthright of love, freedom and joy.