The Seven Deadly Emotions
Toxic emotions and health
Traditional Chinese medicine has acknowledged the role of emotions in health and well-being for over 2000 years. Increasingly, scientific studies are backing up the ideas that negative emotions can cause serious health issues.
Certain parallels can be drawn between the Seven Deadly Emotions of Chinese medicine and the Seven Deadly Sins - anger features in both, and is particularly destructive to others and to self.
The internal emotional landscape
What are the negative emotions to avoid?
The disease-causing emotions in Chinese medicine are:
Anger and rage
The cause of Liver disharmonies
unresolved anger causes flaring up of the liver fire and can lead to hypertension and stroke
Anger makes the energy - or qi - rise. In the context of traditional Chinese medicine, anger includes other emotional traits such as resentment, frustration, irritability and explosive rage.
This emotion is possibly the worst of all, as it can adversely affect the person who harbors it, and all those around him. Physically, it can manifest itself in violence and fighting, in rows, and in the breakdown of relationships.
As with all things, there is a positive side to anger, when expressed healthily and to a resolution. For example, anger can propel people to stand up for themselves or others in the face of abuse. It is the quick expression of anger which renders it positive. If left to fester without expression, it causes problems of physical ill-health, but can also transform emotionally into depression. So it is long-term and unresolved feelings of anger and resentment that are poisonous to well-being causing ill-health.
Adverse health effects of being angry
Headaches, hypertension and stroke
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), anger causes the qi to rise. This can cause headaches, a flushed face, red bloodshot eyes (according to TCM, the eyes are associated with the liver channel), ringing in the ears, chest congestion and a bitter taste in the mouth.
Studies in the USA and Japan have demonstrated that people who cannot express their anger or resolve frustration are far more likely to suffer from headaches. And rather worryingly, they are at a substantially higher risk of suffering from high blood pressure.
Although TCM agrees with general western opinion that high blood pressure can be alleviated by the sufferer relaxing more, TCM places far more emphasis on successfully resolving anger issues.
Herbal decoctions are prescribed for hypertension - often called flaring up of the liver fire - and acupuncture is used to reverse the direction of the liver qi. Since the emotions are all connected, sadness is the emotion which controls anger in TCM, so it can offer relief from the conditions caused by anger.
Take action to curb anger - Learn more or get some help
Grief and excessive sadness
The cause of Lung disharmonies
sudden or shocking grief can increase the risk of heart attack
Grief consumes and weakens the Lung qi. In Chinese medicine, this emotion includes sorrow, regret, sadness, and senses of loss or remorse. Like anger, grief can have a very strong effect on health.
People normally cry to release their sadness, and this is perfectly natural and healthy behavior. Again, holding onto this emotion and letting it consume you is when ill health can result. It is always far better to express grief and release these feelings rather than trying to suppress (or repress) them.
It is useful to compare the way Westerners - especially in the UK - keep a stiff upper lip and keep their feelings hidden; whereas the Chinese will celebrate the death of a loved one with a three-day funeral party, dressed in white. They will eat and drink and talk to each other to express their sadness and grief.
Adverse health effects caused by grief
Respiratory problems and 'shock'
Problems associated with sadness affecting the lungs is very common. The symptoms are usually concerned with the respiratory system, such as bronchitis or asthmatic problems, especially after a bereavement. And chesty coughs are common in people seeking alternative therapies for being unhappy.
When sadness reaches its extreme, grief, it can affect the whole body, and causes symptoms that in the West, we would call 'shock'. These include pallor, difficulty breathing, a feeling of suffocation in the chest, but also other indicators such as loss of appetite, constipation and urinary problems.
The best cure involves expressing the grief to close the chapter that caused the illness, and this might involve 'unloading' emotionally, talking to close friends or family. Sometimes acupuncture can be helpful to combat the effects of the unexpressed loss.
Finally, it is worth remembering that grief and sadness can be caused by any kind of loss, not just bereavement. It could be loss of a dream, regret about not having achieved what you wanted to achieve in life. The emotional response is what is important, and needs to be dealt with.
Overcoming grief - And banishing sadness
Fear and Shock
Causes of disharmonies of the kidneys and heart
fear & fright cause bedwetting in infants, and panic attacks
Fear causes the qi to descend, and Shock causes it to scatter.
The reversal of the normal upward flow of Kidney qi can lead to loss of control of urination and other problems, such as lower back pain, listlessness and a desire for solitude.
Fear can also be the emotion responsible in children who suffer from bedwetting - and also the related symptoms of shyness and timidity.
Fright and shock can affect the heart causing Heart qi to scatter - or in the parlance of TCM to wander about but adhere to nothing.
The symptoms of fright and shock are essentially those we see in the West as a panic attack, and include palpitations, mental restlessness and cold sweats.
Adverse health effects of fear & fright
Chronic back pain to stress to heart attack
A Stanford Medical School study of women who had previously had heart attacks, found that women who were fearful were the ones more likely to go on to have a second heart attack.
The fearful ones were women who after their first heart attack had stopped working, or stopped driving etc.
The effects of fear have also been briefly described in the previous section, and include chronic lower back pain, associated with the Kidney qi imbalance.
It is also known that fear can stimulate the production of adrenaline in the body, and it is not good for us to be perpetually high on adrenaline. This can stress the organs and lead to long term ill health.
Although fear can also be seen as a force for good, by ensuring that we exercise caution when facing the unknown, it can also be extremely debilitating. In its extreme forms it can totally paralyse us in the face of imagined catastrophes - that never materialise!
Of course, there are obvious physical disadvantages of having no fear, not least the danger of death by reckless acts, carried out without fear of the possible outcomes. Many people drive too fast, and have no fear of this. Yet you are far more likely to survive a car accident at a lower speed!
Combating fear - Time to fight back!
Worry and Over-thinking
Cause of Spleen and Stomach disharmonies
a problem shared really is a problem halved
Worry and over-thinking cause qi to stagnate. This emotion also includes too much studying, obsessive thinking or continually working something over in your mind.
Worry is a particularly insidious emotion as it can eat away at some people, even though there is nothing to be worried about. More often than not, the worries are unfounded, but the afflicted person is ruled by the emotion.
Adverse health effects of worry
Abdominal problems, depression and anxiety
The most important thing to consider regarding worry is to share your concerns with somebody you trust. This can have a dramatic effect on the health outcome.
Research at Stanford University found that women with advanced breast cancer who unburdened themselves of worries by regularly attending meetings with other cancer sufferers, lived twice as long, after diagnosis, than the women who suffered in silence.
So emotional support is extremely important to counteract worry and its effects.
In TCM, excessive worry stagnates qi and causes dampness, disturbing the Spleen qi and leading to abdominal symptoms such as stomach distension or poor digestion.
Other associated symptoms are depression, anxiety, poor appetite, weakened limbs and abdominal bloating.
Some aspects of worry are connected to the heart, and a very common complaint is called depressed Heat in the Heart and Spleen which can involve insomnia, palpitations and constipation.
Don't worry be happy - Free yourself from worry
Joy and over-stimulation
Cause of Heart disharmonies
To have enough is happiness. To have more than enough is harmful
Joy causes the qi to slow down and relax. Over-exuberance can scatter the Heart qi, damaging the heart.
It may be surprising that joy can be a cause for concern emotionally, and therefore a burden on health. What is really meant here is over-stimulation or rowdy over-exuberance. It is the unsettled feeling perhaps associated with teenagers shouting noisily in the streets and annoying passers-by.
It might also be the state of elation of somebody winning the lottery!
Such excessive elation can lead to problems later on, usually the opposite feelings to joy. So, for example, the initial elation of a giant lottery win may be followed by bickering and breaks with family and friends, all linked to greed, and sadness is the final result.
Adverse health effects of joy
Confused behavior and mental illness
In its restrained form, joy is of course a very good thing. To have contentment and satisfaction is one of our goals in life, and relates to being balanced and healthy.
When joy becomes excessive elation however, it can cause the Heart qi to become scattered, leading to confused behavior. Hysterical laughter and some forms of mental disorder are also associated with damaged Heart qi, the cause being joy taken to excessive extreme.
Finding joy - Happiness and joy
Anger causes energy to rise, joy causes energy to slow down, grief causes energy to dissipate, fear causes energy to descend, fright causes energy to scatter, exhaustion causes energy to wither, worry causes energy to stagnate.
from the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine
Promotion and control of emotions
The Sheng and Ke cycles
The emotions are interconnected according to Chinese medicine, following the Five Element Theory. So each emotion is associated with and promotes the next within the Sheng Cycle:
- Anger promotes Joy
- Joy promotes Worry
- Worry promotes Grief
- Grief promotes Fear
- Fear promotes Anger
The Ke Cycle connects emotions together according to which one controls another:
- Anger controls Worry
- Joy controls Grief
- Worry controls Fear
- Grief controls Anger
- Fear controls Joy
So in order to control Anger, for instance, TCM suggests inducing Sadness - perhaps by remembering a loved-one who has passed away; it doesn't matter how you do it, just that by generating feelings of sadness or loss, you can reduce anger levels.
The other way is to reduce the element that promotes your pathogenic emotion, so for Anger, the promoting element is Fear - do something in your life to reduce Fear, perhaps by facing a fear and overcoming it.
Learn more about Chinese medicine - Acupuncture, herbal medicine and qigong
The Acupuncture Handbook - by Angela Hicks
This is a very well-written and clear book on the ancient art of acupuncture. It gives useful information on what acupuncture actually is, who should have it and what does it treat, as well as explaining what it feels like.
There are some good sections on the landscape of the body and how we get ill.
The book then goes onto some more specialized areas, including the theory of Chinese medicine and the organs, and finishes with some common ailments and how they are treated in TCM.
A useful well thought out and accessible book for the non-expert.
Caveman image: Hasslefree Clip Art