Emotional plague is characterized by infectious, destructive emotional reactions, and like other plagues may be crippling and
The emotional plague is driven by an intolerance of spontaneous life, emotions, and pleasure. Wilhelm Reich’s colleague, Dr. Elsworth Baker, stated, “We can say that to the degree that an individual tries to tear down other people or control their lives, he is functioning as a plague character”. Someone afflicted with the emotional plague just cannot leave someone else alone.
Gossip Girls
Where does the energy for this reaction come from?
  • This destructive behavior starts with just one person who is a catalyst.
  • That afflicted individual is compelled to stifle or destroy those people or things in the environment that stir up unbearable feelings.
  • These feelings include unfulfilled longings and desires that in turn result in intolerable anxiety, frustration and eventually murderous rage toward those who stir them up.
  • This compulsion to destroy,serving as an emotional defense for that individual, is the essence of the emotional plague.
When one person’s irrational intolerance and destructiveness incite others to act destructively, we know for certain we are dealing with the emotional plague. Unfortunately, the potential for that destructive tendency is almost universal among humans because almost all people have armor that prevents them from fully discharging their energy in a satisfying way. It may seem so obvious that it does not need to be restated, but the basis of health is genuine satisfaction. Genuine satisfaction is the basis of healthy social interactions as well. This observation is the basis of one of Reich’s early discoveries which he formulated as part of the concept of the function of the orgasm. It is not merely sexual activity that determines health but whether it is satisfactory and satisfying sexual activity.
If someone is genuinely satisfied, does he or she care about what someone else is doing? If they are happy and satisfied themselves, they will feel pleasure to see another person happy to the extent that person matters to them. They certainly would not be disturbed by their happiness. On the other hand, the unsatisfied person feels something different when in contact with a happy, satisfied person. They may feel emotions such as longing to have the same happiness, sadness at their own inability to have the same, envy, jealousy,frustration at not having it, anger, resentment, and anxiety from the excitation stirred up in them.
There are three basic ways  that someone can handle feelings in the presence of another who is happy and satisfied when they do not have these feelings themselves. In any particular situation we can see a mix of them:
1. Healthy reaction: Strive for satisfaction oneself and overcome whatever is preventing one from having that satisfaction.
2. Neurotic reaction: Stifle or prevent one’s own anxiety by clamping down on oneself to prevent that intolerable anxiety; i.e., armor to block the intolerable feelings.
3. Emotional plague reaction: Attempt to destroy and kill anything outside oneself that stirs up intolerable feelings; i.e., to destroy the source of the intolerable excitation.
The fear of and intolerance of healthy emotions can be handled in one of two ways:
  • The neurotic reaction is to turn against oneself, stifling and deadening anxiety and with it deeper emotions and longings. In effect, the person kills the life within themselves and suffers with an inhibited, constricted existence. This is seen, for example, when someone tolerates unhappy or superficial relationships or settles for empty, joyless work.
  • In contrast, the emotional plague reaction is when the person is compelled to stifle, kill, or destroy anyone or anything outside themselves that stirs up intolerable, spontaneous feelings. Thus, any free and spontaneous ideas, emotions, work, and expansive feelings most epitomized by genuine love and sweet, healthy sexuality cause anxiety and become the object of hatred.
Cases of the emotional plague can range from such common, minor incidents as petty jealousy, gossip and slander which are self-limited, to lethal outbreaks that may be local such as the genocide in Bosnia or Rwanda, or widespread such as Nazism and Communism, as well as the serious, acute and large-scale outbreak among Islamic fundamentalist fanatics in the Middle East. It is important to remember that the emotional plague can and has occurred throughout the world and throughout history.
Most individuals handle their anxiety with typical neurotic defensive reactions such as various inhibitions, compulsions, phobias, and depression, with only occasional or rare emotional plague reactions. Some, on the other hand, handle their anxiety consistently and predominately with the emotional plague defense and can rightfully be called “emotional plague characters.” Fortunately, emotional plague characters are rare. But unfortunately, they have had a disproportionate and tragic influence in human history.
It only takes one such highly energetic, clever person to tap into, bring out and organize the repressed rage and destructiveness in the masses of neurotic people, to infect a larger group. Hitler did it in Germany; Stalin in Russia; Mao Tse-Tung in China; Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran; Khadafy in Libya; Saddam Hussein in Iraq; Milosevic in Serbia; Yasser Arafat in Palestine; and Osama bin Laden along with Taliban leaders in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan; and we can go on and on with many examples. Also, it is important to remember that a dictator cannot take power without the support of the masses of people, either through their active assent or their passivity, dependency and silent helplessness.
A key feature of the emotional plague, whether in an individual or as a group phenomenon, is that it rationalizes its destructive motives and actions. Explanations range from saying that the actions are good for the morals of the people, for the glory of God, for the fatherland, for the benefit of the common man, etc., etc. One striking example: Osama bin Laden justified the attack on the World Trade Center by saying that those who died were not civilians because they were working for the American system and this was war.
These rationalizations are genuinely believed by the person afflicted with the emotional plague because their true motives of pure destructiveness driven by an intolerance of life and genuine natural pleasure are unconscious and unknown to them. One of the most difficult things for people to grasp is that those with an emotional plague reaction believe they are doing the right thing. The intention to attack may be conscious but the true motives are not. The behavior and thinking are irrational and driven, therefore the individual is not open to discussion or reasoning at the time they are afflicted. This is true for everyday examples as well as the extreme ones.
  • Organizations with positions of public influence such as political parties, religious organizations, educational institutions, and news media are more likely than other organizations to become infected and to attract people with emotional plague tendencies and outright emotional plague characters.
  • These individuals are instinctively drawn to positions of influence out of their strong drive and compulsion to control others and the social environment.
  • They also inherently have a high energy charge and are drawn to areas where there is intense emotional excitement.
  • They just cannot leave others alone. Therefore, political parties and religious organizations where there is intense emotional excitement are particularly susceptible.


Also, social structures that allow a significant concentration of power and influence with one individual or small group of individuals are more at risk for emotional plague reactions taking hold.
Baby Chief bw
 The basic solution as described by Reich that we must raise children to be able to grow up with the capacity to have satisfying love, emotional and work lives from the very beginning of their lives. This will eliminate the source of undischarged energy that can turn destructive.
We must educate many more people about the essential role of natural, healthy satisfaction in their emotional, love/sexual, and work lives. We must educate parents about how to support the healthy development of th eir children right from the start.
* Juicey bits from:
What is the Emotional Plague? A Brief Introduction by Peter A . Crist, M.D.