Emotions in Chinese Medicine

Emotions in Chinese Medicine

23 November 2018 by Caitlin Armit


Did you know that there are 5 main categories of emotion in Chinese Medicine? Each yin & yang organ pair is associated with a particular element – fire, earth, metal, water or wood – and each of these elements is associated with a particular emotion. These emotions and organs can be in a state of ‘excess’ or a state of ‘deficiency’ when the body is not harmonised.

Ideally, we would be able to experience all of these emotions as easily as each other and to transition from one emotion to another smoothly and appropriately. It usually takes people pause for thought to articulate the emotions that they are feeling. Saying that we are fine or stressed or tired have become a default answers when someone asks us how we are. I like this 5-element model because it helps us to identify exactly how we feel and therefore also to distinguish which organs and elements need treatment and with a bit of knowledge about these organs and elements, it gives us some clues about how we can help ourselves out.






Joy is associated with the Fire element and the Heart and Small Intestine organs. When this is out of balance it may present as a lack of joy (deficiency) or some form of mania (excess). To explain further, a lack of joy may be apathy or depression but excess joy may be inappropriate or uncontrollable laughter, rapid speech, muttering or inability to express a lack of joy.




Worry is associated with the Earth element and the Stomach and Spleen organs. Worry may also include over-thinking, over-analysing and brooding or dwelling over things. Interestingly, people in a state of worry often use language which indicates digestion troubles – “I’m having trouble digesting this information” or “I have a gut feeling things won’t work out” or “Thinking about this makes me feel sick” even to the point where they instinctively put their hand on their abdomen as they’re uttering those words.


Grief / Sadness


Grief / Sadness is associated with the Metal element and the Lung and Large Intestine organs. These emotions are often felt in the form of a heavy chest or difficulty getting a complete and effortless inhalation and exhalation. People describe their grief as suffocating and stifling as they go through the process of letting go.




Fear is associated with the Water element and the Kidney and Bladder organs. Disharmony with these organs may be reflected in bladder weakness (e.g. overactive bladder, bed wetting), adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, infertility and are associated with some aspect of trauma or ageing.




Anger is associated with the Wood element and the Liver and Gall Bladder organs. This can include implosive or explosive anger, suppressed or unsuppressed anger, frustration, resentment, blame, holding a grudge… anger in all its ugly forms I suppose. We’ve all got it in some form or another and it’s generally considered an acceptable emotion in society compared to the other emotions.




Of course, humans are complex creatures and this is just one way of looking at emotions. These organs all have a specific relationship to each other in terms of function and influence so we apply this knowledge of emotions into a greater context.


In the clinic, people generally don’t visit with these emotions as a primary concern but they do speak of being tired, stressed and in pain. As practitioners, we listen to the patient’s voice and their choice of words for clues about their overall mental and emotional health and of course we take into consideration their general constitution. Let’s face it, most of us are more transparent than we would like to believe.





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