Traditional Chinese medicine takes into account both external and internal factors in the creation of an individual’s diagnosis. The current emotional state of the patient is one internal factor that traditional Chinese medicine believes to be very important. In fact, emotions are believed to directly correlate to specific organs and their states of being. Traditional Chinese medical theory believes the body is in the control of the Five Elements: Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, and Metal. Each element corresponds to a specific organ as well as a specific emotion. The emotions are not believed to always be the direct cause of an ailment, but have an undeniable connection with the progress and condition of the problem.
The Suwen, or Book of Plain Questions states “The five yin-organs of the human body produce five kinds of essential qi, which bring forth joy, anger, grief, worry, and fear.” According to the Five-Element school of thought, anger is associated with Wood; joy is associated with Fire, pensiveness with Earth, grief with Metal, and fear with Water. The liver is associated with Wood and therefore with anger, the heart with Fire and joy, the spleen with Earth and pensiveness, the lung with Metal, and grief and the kidney with Water and fear. This is not to say that to experience any of these emotions means that the related organ is out of balance but, rather, that any extreme case or fluctuation of these emotions may be related to a problem with that organ.
Emotions in TCM have slightly different meanings than their Western interpretations. In TCM joy, for example, refers to a state of agitation or over-excitement, rather than elation. Related to the heart, this emotion is correlated with heart palpitations, repeated agitation, and insomnia. Anger in TCM is considered to represent resentment, frustration, and irritability. An excess of rich blood is believed to make one prone to anger, and can affect the liver, causing this organ’s energy to rise to the head and result in headaches or dizziness. Pensiveness is thought to be an excess of mental stimulation that can affect the spleen (which rules over vital energy). This can result in fatigue, lethargy, and difficulty concentrating. Lungs are associated with the feeling of grief. Unresolved grief can lead to problems with general energy and one’s qi (life force) because the lungs are thought to distribute this throughout the body. Like the other emotions, fear is considered a normal and at times, inevitabe e emotion. However, if it becomes chronic, or settles as a deep anxiety, the kidneys can be affected. The kidney’s ability to hold qi may be impaired, and involuntary urination can also occur.
Traditional Chinese medicine is unique in its belief that cause and effect are not linear, but circular. This means that the cause of an ailment may be an emotion, but also that an ailment can lead to an emotion. By striving to balance the organ related to the person’s emotional state, the emotion can be balanced as well, and visa versa. Acupuncture is one way to accomplish this re-alignment. Acupuncture is the practice of gently inserting needles into specific points on the body to benefit a person’s qi, or life force. There are certain points used in acupuncture that accord with specific organs, and treating these points is how feelings and acupuncture can interplay.
Emotions are considered to be normal and healthy, it is only when they become extreme or uncontrollable that they can open the door to disease. TCM believes them to be the major internal cause of disease within the body, but also the most easily influenced – meaning, that with the right attention and treatment, emotions and their corresponding ailments can change.