5 Emotions and the 5 Zang Organs

Here is a very, very brief and simplified introduction to the emotions as TCM understands them, as well as some of organ imbalances that may arise! We want to guide you to think about organs and imbalances in a holistic way, instead of compartmentalizing them.

This is not meant for you to diagnose any illnesses on your own, as it takes a lot more to make an accurate diagnosis and licensed practitioners. It is for you to have a general idea about what could potentially affect organ function and what imbalances you might be prone to.

Emotional imbalances affect the harmonious function of the internal organs (Zang Fu), the formation of the Substances, and their transportation through the meridians, to all parts of the body. 

The emotions mostly recognized in TCM are namely: joy, grief anger, worry or fixation, and fear.

We find it difficult to discuss emotions concretely, due to the nuanced and often subjective experiences that we each encounter. Due to the fluid nature of emotions, they are in constant flux, and merging and transforming into each other. There are varying shades of feelings and it is not possible to give them all precise and rigid chambers. There will often be overlap, and there will often be several emotions experienced simultaneously, and at times even contradicting emotions. For example, anger and fear are easily understood, but where should we place greed, jealously, hate, pride, and so on? 

The human experience is so vast and complex at times, there is no one  classification system of emotions that can be wholly satisfactory.


Emotions are not necessarily pathological factors; but in fact necessary and important, and serve us as a catalyst to act or warn us. The changing flow of emotions is part of healthy behavior, varying with environmental pressure, inherited traits, age, our stage of development, among other things.

Emotions are only associated with disharmony when their flow becomes obstructing or irregular, when they become excessive or deficient, or when one or more become overly dominant the others. Emotional imbalance may then give rise to organ disharmony. Alternatively, disorders of the organs may also result is emotional disharmonies. 


Fear and The Kidneys 

The emotion of fear is deeply linked to self-preservation, the will or desire to live. Following a fearful situation, there are usually sensations of fear, fright, and terror, and maybe temporary loss of control of defecation or urination. There may be paralysis (freeze) or the attempt to flee (flight) or combat (fight).  

Fear has its obvious survival value, it is sudden and temporary. However, the continual stress of modern living may result in a state of fearful anxiety or panic, anxiety or even phobias. 

The kidney is associated with the emotions of fear and fright. In extreme cases, your Kidney Qi may descend, and you might temporarily lose control of urination and defecation, since the Kidneys govern the lower orifices (the urethra and anus).  


Anger and the Liver 

Anger, associated with liver, is linked with violent out bursts of emotion. The accompany sound is shouting, and mode of action is wrenching and pulling. Bursts of anger may be seen with a bright red face and trembling or  as I've heard it called, "shaking with rage." 

Failure of free-flowing Liver Qi or depression of Liver Qi, maybe associated with frustration, irritation, and depression, and periodic outbursts of anger. This may arise if you've encountered a lot of frustration and restriction of feelings, and suppressed actions. Long term frustration may result in alternating anger and depression. Note: this is not Western psychology's Manic-depression.

Joy and the Heart

Happiness or contentedness are associated with heart; it can be a wonderful feeling of lightness and release! In this sense, joy (fire) is the child of anger (wood), as in the Mother-child relationship of Five Element Theory. But joy, may also be associated with excitement, laughing, talking, and general social hyperactivity. Also, joy maybe associated with pleasure, excessive day dreaming, and sensual enjoyment. If you've ever fallen in love, or lived through the honeymoon phase of a new relationship, you know the feeling.. There are many levels and facets to this emotion. 

Over excitement or excessive joy is said to injure heart, since it scatters, slackens and disperses Heart Qi, so that ones spirit or "Shen" becomes confused and disoriented. The best example I can give here is someone who is a pleasure seeker or adrenaline junkie. They are in a constant search for stimulation and can lose grasp of reality. The constant search to fulfill their hedonistic desires may lead to a deficient Spirit or burn-out, which may be associated with dullness, apathy, lack of vitality and enjoyment of life. 

The two organs most concerned with maintaining balanced emotions, and the two most susceptible to emotional disturbance are liver and heartLiver is responsible for maintaining a smooth and even flow of emotions, and if liver is disharmonious and there is irregularity and obstruction of this flow, the emotions may become extreme, fluctuating and sometimes inappropriate. Heart is responsible for housing the Shen or Spirit, and if our Shen becomes disturbed, there may be extremes of depression or mania. The most extreme disturbances of emotion and behavior arise from liver and heart disharmonies.  

Worry and the Spleen

Worry, the emotion associated with Spleen, can be described as pensiveness, cogitation, contemplation and meditation. fixation. It is said that excessive thinking, excessive studying, obsessive thinking and catastrophizing injure spleen, and may inhibit the functions of Transformation and Transportation of nutrition involved in digestion. 


Grief and the Lung 

Grief, associated with lung, is the pain of loss, the pain of letting go. With that are the related emotions of sorrow, melancholy, and loneliness. In TCM anxiety is also link to lung. All emotions related to grief, anxiety will tend to stagnate the Qi in our chest, and hence weaken the function of both heart and lung. This may result in weakness and stagnation of Qi and blood through the body. 

5 Feelings and 5 Organs



References: https://shen-nong.com | Kai Yim LAc 

Written by Five Seasons TCM

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