In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Each Major Organ Corresponds to a Specific Emotion

By Margery Keasler
While doing my residency in China, I witnessed an unforgettable moment. I was sitting in on an intake with a very learned Acupuncturist when a rugged and strong Chinese man came in the clinic for urinary difficulty. He stood around 6' 3″ and was quite broad. The doctor asked the usual questions about his sleep, energy, digestion, etc. before asking him, “What are you afraid of?” The man’s expression shifted to that of a small boy and he answered, “The dark.”

I was intrigued by the Acupuncturist’s question and asked why he asked that. He explained that the five major organs all correspond to an emotion and that each organ is affected by its related emotion.

The kidneys are associated with fear. Fear makes qi descend, which can cause urinary trouble. Think of the expression I was so afraid I peed in my pants. The liver: anger. Anger makes qi rise quickly, so most symptoms are felt in the head as dizziness or headaches, perhaps. The Spleen: rumination. Rumination affects digestion, so signs and symptoms include bloating, distention, and gas. The lungs: grief. Greif manifests with colds or pneumonia. The heart: excessive joy. Joy can manifest as mania or depression.

Emotions are, of course, a natural part of being human. It is when these emotions become excessive or are repressed and turned inward that they can become a pathology and cause disease. In the above-mentioned man, fear of the dark was not the main cause of his urinary difficulty. But the emotion of excess fear is strongly considered when coming up with a diagnosis. The emotions are considered as a piece of the puzzle when ascertaining what we call a pattern in traditional Chinese Medicine.

Chinese medicine is both scientific and poetic. The humanity that took place in that intake reiterates why I love this medicine so much. The connection that took place when that man opened up to the practitioner and the dialogue that transpired was remarkable. The whole person was considered with both a very human and scientific approach, which I found both fascinating and profound.