EMOTIONS AND TCM
Traditional Chinese Medical Theory recognizes control of our body by Five Elements: Earth">
EMOTIONS AND TCM
Traditional Chinese Medical Theory recognizes control of our body by Five Elements: Earth, Wood, Fire, Water and Metal. Each of the Five Elements is associated with a particular organ. The Ancients related a variety of different characteristics with each element and therefore with each organ. Traditional Chinese Medical practitioners use such characteristics to help diagnose patients and to understand the etiology of the symptoms. This is why it can appear that TCM practitioners have a crystal ball when they are asking questions about your condition. Once we believe that you may be suffering from an imbalance in one of your organs, we can confirm quickly by asking questions related to the Five Elements. For example, if a patient's symptoms lead us to believe that a Liver imbalance is present, we will suspect that waking between 1 and 3 am occurs, that there may be changes in vision and perhaps stiffness in the joints. If we suspect a kidney imbalance, we will suspect extreme tiredness between 5 and 7 PM changes in hearing and perhaps changes in the bones and teeth. We have other symptoms that we look for as well to confirm what kind of imbalance is present. One of the most important symptoms is emotional change. Each of the Five Elements is associated with an emotion. It is important to remember that cause and effect in TCM is not linear but circular. Usually we think that something is the cause of an effect we see, for example: we stay up all night and then the next day we are tired. Being tired was the effect, staying up all night the cause of the being tired the next day. That is linear thinking. In TCM, linear cause and effect does occur where symptoms are present; External Pathogens can produce Internal symptoms such as Catching the Wind. If you are exposed to the external pathogen the Wind and you might experience such symptoms as a stiff neck, chills and fever, sore throat, a Cold or Flu. The symptoms are an effect from the Wind, which was the cause. However, in some cases, the symptoms are not a result of such straightforward reasoning, especially when we are dealing with emotions.
From a Western Science point of view, emotions arise from complex chemical reactions deep inside our brain. We actually have different classes of emotions that arise from different brain areas. We have ancient, primitive emotions that we share with all animals that have brains. These emotions are very powerful and drive what we think of as instinctual behavior. These emotions are feelings such as Lust, Joy, Anger, and Fear. A mother bear protecting her cubs against an adult male 200 lbs. bigger than she is driven by a strong primitive emotion. Most humans are able to control their behavior when experiencing these emotions so we don't usually associate such strong emotions anymore with human behavior. However, I believe such behavior, as mob violence is an example of our primitive emotions at work. Also the extraordinary strength that some people display under extreme stress (a 90 lb. mother lifting a car bumper off her child) might also be an example. Children can experience strong emotional responses such as Fear and Rage, which might also be linked to these more primitive centers of the brain. Emotions such as Compassion, Contentment, Love are usually associated with areas in the newer Cerebral Cortex of the brain. Not all animals have these developed areas of the brain. We can understand a snake experiencing Fear or Anger, but not Compassion. Because of the belief by Western Science Practitioners that all emotions come from the brain, when patients suffer from disturbances in their emotions, Chemicals that mimic Brain Neurotransmitters are given to correct these mental disturbances.
TCM practitioners believe that emotions are associated with the Five Elements. We believe that balancing the Organ associated with the emotion will balance the emotion. Sometimes the Organ is out of balance and produces the emotional imbalance. But sometimes the emotion imbalance can produce an Organ imbalance. The difference to the practitioner is important only in preventing a reoccurrence of the problem. An example follows:
A patient comes to us with extreme fits of anger, problems with sleeping, and changes in vision and constipation. We immediately suspect the Liver as being out of balance. We can help the patient achieve balance with his Liver through Herbs and Acupuncture. As the Liver returns to balance, the vision improves, as does the sleeping and bowel movements. However, if the patient is in a job he hates, working with people that make him angry, his fits of anger will remain and the Liver will go out of balance again. Another patient with the same symptoms can also have the Liver Imbalance corrected and symptoms improved. If the Liver Imbalance occurred from a flu that went deep into the liver, or from excessive toxins from Chemicals, then once the Imbalance is corrected, the symptoms should not return. In the first case, the anger caused the imbalance and in the second case, the imbalance caused the anger. We find this to be the case with most emotional distrubances. The primary organ is out of balance either producing the associated emotion or the imbalance is produced by the associated emotion.
According to the Five-Element tradition, 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. A patient can experience imbalance in more than one organ and therefore have more complicated emotional disturbances. If a patient is experiencing extreme mood swings between Joy (Mania) and Fear (depression), one would expect an imbalance between the Heart and Kidney (Fire and Water imbalance). We would expect symptoms such as insomnia, disturbed dreaming, heart palpitations, and temperature changes. If a patient is experiencing violent mood swings between Anger and Grief (remorse), an imbalance between Liver and Lung would be expected with other symptoms involving breathing, bowel movement, waking between 1 and 5 am. Some emotional changes such as depression may seem the same emotion, but in TCM the organ involved can be different. If the depression is actually anger turned inward as the case with many women, the Liver may be out of balance. We would look for PMS symptoms, problems with cramping during the period, waking between 1 and 3 am. If obsessive thinking (Pensiveness) characterizes the depression, we would suspect the Spleen and look for other symptoms such as decreased appetite, diarrhea, and heavy bleeding with the period. Sometimes the depression is associated with Panic attacks (Fear). We would suspect the Kidney is out of balance. We would look for changes in urination (usually frequency is increased, lower back pain is present, and a ringing in the ears may be heard). There can actually be many causes of changes in emotional balance. It is important is recognize that the cause may be organic i.e. an organ is out of balance. But lifestyle may also be a contributing factor. A trained TCM practitioner can help diagnose where the imbalance is located and through the use of herbs and acupuncture help correct the imbalance. It is important to remember however that the cause of the imbalance may be occurring from events in your life. We don't have a needle for a bad boss. We can help you deal with the stress in your life that can contribute to organ imbalance but we can't remove the stress, only you can do that. Sometimes the stress goes with the job and you don't want to change jobs. Proper diet and exercise can mitigate stress and help you remain in balance. Proper diet involves the incorporation of the Five Flavors (Sweet, Bitter, Spicy, Salty and Sour) and Five Colors (Black, Red, White, Yellow and Green) into every meal. Proper exercise involves breathing techniques that move the Qi such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, or Yoga. Aerobic exercise is not enough to keep in balance.
If you are experiencing emotional changes, we advise you to seek a trained TCM practitioner that understands the Five Element Theory to help you regain your emotional balance. If you have any questions or would like to comment on these ideas, you can contact us at this site or at firstname.lastname@example.org.