In a shamanic culture, care of the soul is part of daily existence. I believe that is why these cultures are notably contented, happy, and crime-free. People who are whole or feel good about themselves handle the ups and downs of life in a wholesome way. When people feel fearful, threatened, or fragmented, their responses to life are extremely different from those who feel trustful, optimistic, whole, and complete. In our culture, we have very little experience with sustaining trust and optimism. Our cultural system is based on a win-lose hierarchy. Someone is always gaining while another is losing. In shamanic cultures this win/lose phenomenon is seen as soul stealing, or stealing away someone’s personal power.
Many people purposely steal personal power from others. A person can be the victim of this theft at any stage of life, but it often happens to children, especially if they are raised with authoritarian, controlling, or needy parents. The parents actually steal power away from their children. If a person is abused in any way, emotionally, physically, sexually, or mentally, there is a resultant exchange of power. The overpowered loses energy to the abuser. Children are easy targets to control and extremely vulnerable to soul stealing. The resultant soul loss leaves a void that is filled by negative energy (usually feelings of unworthiness) and the individual carries this energy for a lifetime, or until the lost soul parts can be retrieved.3 If there is no care of the soul built into the culture’s system, the result is a society of wounded people. Feelings of unworthiness can lead to all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes that predominate in society. These feelings of lack can take generations to heal, but once the patterns are recognized efforts can be made toward healing. I have found in my own research that the core counseling issue for most people is the issue of unworthiness. People need to be genuinely loved and connected to a higher power. Once soul theft occurs, an effort must be made to recover it.
People also give away their power trying to find love or acceptance. Women have been taught to give away their personal power to the male gender. Cultural and family mores often create hierarchical gender structures, which establish male dominance. The result is socially reinforced losses of personal power for a false sense of social order. A country-western song like “Stand by Your Man” is an example of a gender-based system of control that suggests “appropriate” positions of power in relationships. Other examples of this belief system abound in our culture, but in true love and acceptance one does not give away one’s soul. The void caused by engaging in this behavior can have extremely adverse effects.
Another form of soul loss happens in relationships built on codependency, in which one person bases his or her worth in another person rather than in self. “To rescue another person or to collude in abusive patterns is to give away one’s soul in an attempt to hold onto the relationship” (Soul Retrieval, Ingerman, p.112). This is a false love that can create soul loss on both sides. True love augments the soul and is most present when the soul is whole.