Understanding Chronic Emotional States and Unconscious Behavior through Chinese Medicine
“Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How Ridiculous!…I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.” Dao De Jing, Chapter 20.
Worry, anxiety, resentment and fear are draining. We all feel this. Physiologically, the emotions create internal heat and consume the blood of the body. Many of us are literally “bleeding ourselves to death” through our emotions. To some of us, our emotional dispositions are so ingrained and unconscious, we’re often unaware of the pain, suffering and weakness we’re creating. The emotions may manifest as unconscious behaviors which disrupt our relationships, creating chaos, confusion and misunderstanding that complicate our lives.
One of the strengths of Acupuncture is bringing consciousness to unconscious, habitual patterns. Through awareness, we can begin to transform and let go of patterns that are harmful to us.
Chinese Medicine is thousands of years old. Throughout its history, the great scholars and doctors of the past have linked the body and mind quite extensively. Emotional and mental disturbances are described physiologically, relating to imbalances within the blood, fluids or energy systems of the body. “Moving the blood,” “discharging fluids,” or “moving energy” are common strategies to treat problems of the mind and emotions. To the Chinese, it is not enough to “change the thoughts” through talk therapy; one must also change the physiology of the body. Mind and body are linked. To Classical Chinese Medicine, there is no separation between the two.
The mind and emotions circulate through the blood within Chinese Medical thought. Therefore, mental, emotional and behavioral imbalances are often due to disturbances within the blood. The blood can become disturbed through the influence of heat, cold or phlegm. To change the mind, effect the emotions and behavior, one must work with the blood, fluids and energy of the body: by working on the physical, the acupuncturist is able to effect the non-physical.
Chinese Medicine views worry as a problem associated with the Stomach and Spleen, with involvement of the Lungs. There is a fear of loss within worry: a premonition of grief; fear of something painful occurring. Whereas anxiety (often confused with worry) can be seen as more free-floating: there is discomfort around the unpredictability of the future, whether it be a positive or negative result. Anxiety can often be about something exciting or positive happening. Both emotions create taxation on the blood and energy of the body through generating heat or phlegm which “harass the Heart” (the organ which “houses” the spirit: responsible for the circulation of blood).
The Dao De Jing advises us to “stop thinking,” promising our problems will be ended if we are able to achieve this. But how do we do this? It is easier said than done.
The classical texts of Chinese Medicine say, “worry binds” the energy of the body; anxiety and excess joy “scatter” the energy; fear “suspends” it; grief “depletes”; anger “ascends” the energy; and shock makes it “chaotic.”
The emotions are seen as natural occurrences, only becoming problematic when they are unable to be expressed and discharged, or when they are overwhelmingly strong.
The primal of emotions of fear, joy/anxiety, anger, grief, worry/obsession and shock are associated with the body’s viscera: Kidneys, Heart, Liver, Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys respectively. Whereas, chronic unprocessed emotions are associated with the bowels: resentment with the Gallbladder, jealousy with the Small Intestine, vengeance with the Stomach, spite/retribution with the Large Intestine and guilt/shame with the Bladder.
The viscera are seen as solid organs which store the “Jing Shen,” or “spirit-essences” of life. The various attributes of the spirit, as well as “the virtues” are stored in the solid organs.
The bowels are hollow, governing movement and transportation. The Large Intestine governs the movement of the exocrine fluids: sweat and the fluids that lubricate the sense organs; the Small Intestine governs the endocrine or hormonal fluids which lubricate and nourish the viscera, brain, bones and marrow. The Stomach governs the blood, seen as the medium by which the mind and spirit circulate. The Gallbladder governs the marrow, seen as accumulated experiences which are housed in the brain. The Bladder governs the muscles, the instruments of movement. The Triple Heater (no Western organ equivalent) governs the qi, or energy of the body, which creates relationship.
Chronic unresolved emotional states are related to stagnation within the hollow organs. Stagnation affects the “humors” (fluids, blood, energy) the governed by the bowels.
Chronic emotional states are like seasonal allergies, which are often due to stagnation of the exocrine fluids. The stagnant exocrine fluid traps the allergen in the senses or the skin, preventing full release and resolution of the condition. Therefore it continues to reoccur and cause symptoms. The symptoms are often in the form of excessive, drawn-out attempts of the body to “release” the allergen via tearing, running nose, sneezing. The fluids become stuck, blocking full resolution from occurring.
Longterm mental-emotional disturbances are often the result of stagnation in the blood or fluids. For example, obsessive thinking, which often accompanies worry, is a disturbance of the Spleen. However if the worry lingers and becomes stuck, it could effect the Stomach, disrupting the production and circulation of blood, eventually transforming into vengeance. Obsession that is strong and lingering often has the more violent quality of “wanting to get even”; wanting to do something drastic to stop the unproductive, pestering thoughts of obsessive worry. The Stomach can easily become exuberant, manifesting as impulsive manic behavior.
To release the stagnation causing behavior, one must “unblock” the bowels to restore movement, creating an opening for stagnant blood and fluids to be discharged.
The bowels are outlets for the viscera. This is also acknowledged in Western Medicine: it is through the Large Intestine that the Liver is detoxed. Toxicity is drained via the bowels.
Discharge of the primary emotions occurs through the bowels. The chronic emotional-behavioral state is an indication that the bowels have become blocked. Therefore, the primary emotions are unable to find passage out of the body-mind. Behavior is therefore a symptom which can be relieved through “opening” the bowels.
Guilt and shame, for example, can be seen as a chronic emotional state, which may manifest through unconscious behavior known as “Fei Yang.” “Fei Yang” is translated as “flying away”: a type of “fight or flight” behavioral disposition, manifesting as panic attacks, or going beyond the body’s natural limits in work or play. A person manifesting “Fei Yang” will often appear to be moving very fast, highly reactive: almost in a state of desperation. They are unconscious of what they are running from, yet may feel they have to achieve a great deal in a short time; that there’s no time to rest; sometimes pushing themselves to the point of adrenal exhaustion. This is a symptom that the Bladder has become blocked. The underlying “root” emotion to “Fei Yang” is fear. The Bladder is the bowel associated with the Kidneys, which stores the virtue of faith, the spirit attribute of the will, and allows the emotion of fear to be felt and expressed.
Unblocking the Bladder will address the behavioral aspect of the “Fei Yang.” It will also give the Kidneys an opening to discharge the chronic fear which is the root of the condition.
The “empty mind” the Dao De Jing says is the key to “ending our problems” could be re-worded as “the empty bowels.” When the bowels are open, nothing gets stuck. The emotions are able to be felt and discharged. Nothing lingers.
Like a healthy river, the water of the body must continually flow. When it becomes stagnant, disease manifests. To eliminate the process by which we consume ourselves, we must therefore purge our constipation: open up and let go. Health is allowing our body’s water to move unimpeded; eliminating anything that blocks the flow.