How The Ancient Chinese Viewed the Emotions
In Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM, the seven emotions commonly cited are:
If they are in excess, these psychological factors can lead to ill-health and disease.
Too much shock or grief is related to the Lungs. Severe shock affects the entire body since the Lungs are in charge of the flow of Qi.
Symptoms of grief include the ones associated with the Western notions of shock. These include a sense of suffocation in the chest, breathing problems and pallor as well as urinary problems, constipation, and loss of appetite.
The Kidneys and Fear are closely linked to each other. Too much fear can reverse the upward, normal movement of Kidney Qi. Symptoms such as a desire for solitude, urinary problems, lower back pain, and listlessness can occur. Children who wet their bed can be explained in this type of condition, with shyness and timidity often being related symptoms. Fear can damage the Kidney in women, which can lead to irregular menstrual flow.
The Lungs and Sorrow are intimately connected to each other. Sorrow, in excess, can lead to the depletion of Lung Qi which can result in respiratory problems and blood and energy stagnation. Following the 5 element relationship, Lung Qi depletion can affect the function of the related organs.
It is quite common to see the Lungs affected by sadness and it may manifest as bronchitis and asthma problems and other respiratory conditions. These illnesses seem to commonly follow bereavement, while those chesty coughs are commonly experienced by people who are unhappy.
When we concentrate so hard for too long or dwell too long on a particular problem, what we do is we worry.
Spleen Qi stagnation is the outcome of this worry. In Chinese medicine, this results in menstrual irregularities in women, a bloated stomach, weakened limbs, poor appetite, anxiety, and depression.
The Heart is where pensiveness is believed to originate; therefore, too much pensiveness or worry can damage the Qi of the Heart. The syndrome “depressed Heat in the Heart and Spleen” is a common occurrence related to too much worry and can lead to symptoms like constipation, palpitations, and insomnia.
Anger is associated with the Liver organ system, according to Chinese medicine teachings. The Liver Qi will rise if a person is with too much anger. This will lead to symptoms such as red eyes, dizziness, a flushed face, and headaches.
The liver, in the Western tradition is related to the strong emotions of bravery and love. A lot of people living in the West have imbibed a few of the Chinese imagery for these two emotions which can be seen in their use of the word gung-ho. Westerners associate this term to military aggression and excess activity. This word is believed to be derived from the Chinese words Gan (Liver) and Huo (Fire) or “Liver Fire.”
Sudden fear or panic due to a dramatic external event can also be linked to the Heart.
This connection can be readily comprehended in Western societies in what is known as a “panic attack.” With associated symptoms such as cold sweats, mental restlessness, and palpitations. Fright in the context of Chinese medicine is believed to cause the Heart Qi “to wander about, adhering to nothing.” This causes the heart to race and hence increase the heart’s burden even more.
The Heart is inextricably linked to Joy.
In the West, joy is an emotion considered as something positive and cheerful that is almost impossible to be seen as damaging. There are certainly benefits one can derive from the positive side of Joy.
The Chinese society of yore was deeply conservative and excessively hierarchical. They therefore considered Joy to be damaging as it was seen in terms of inappropriate behavior and over-exuberance. Talk about being “killjoys”. In China, there is an expression which goes like this: “Sorrow is borne out of too much joy.”
In the Chinese sense of the word, Joy can be a metaphor for a group of excited and rowdy teens noisily shouting in the street and angering elderly people passing by, instead of light-heartedness and a happy sense of contentment.
Joy’s negative aspect is its “inappropriateness” and excessive amounts of it can damage the Heart and the Lungs both of which are which are located near the Upper fiao.
A damaged Heart Qi associated with excessive Joy can result in an inability to concentrate, while some forms of mental disorder can be associated with some sort of hysterical laughter which the Chinese also blame on a damaged Heart Qi caused by Joy.
Steven Goldfarb, L.Ac. is a board certified and licensed acupuncturist in West Orange, NJ and the founder of Goldfarb Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center.