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“There Are Only Seven True Emotions” – Signed, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Onism: The name given to the feeling of realizing how little of the world we’ll each get to experience.

Anemoia: The name given to the feeling of being nostalgic for something you haven’t actually experienced.

Monachopsis: The name given to the feeling that you don’t belong where you are, that you’re not in the right place.

As granular as human beings have gotten through millennia of analysis…

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), all of these hyper focused feelings fall into one of only seven categories – the seven emotions.

Each of those emotions correlates to a specific organ. That means that bodily pain or unusual activity can be used to identify buried or unclear emotions. 

In the Western medical model, these beliefs can’t, or rather haven’t been, proven. Joy doesn’t necessarily cause the heart to light up on an ECG, but you have probably felt a flutter, palpitation, or increased heart rate during euphoric moments.

TCM practitioners believe that any excess or recess of any of those emotions can cause organ irritation or inflammation, and that organ malfunction can cause an imbalance of its connected emotion – sort of the way that the vagus nerve allows the gut to affect the brain and the brain to affect the gut.

Let’s first identify the seven true emotions from which all other feelings spring, and which can affect each other (and their related organs):

The Seven Emotions

Per TCM, every emotion you ever feel is an iteration of one of these:

  1. Joy 
  2. Anger
  3. Grief
  4. Worry
  5. Fear
  6. Shock
  7. Sorrow

The basic idea is that all of those feelings are perfectly natural – unavoidable, even. But should they assume control of our consciousness, should they push other feelings to the perimeters, should they overwhelm our senses…

We’ll be out of balance and in big trouble.

Here’s how…

  1. Joy affects the heart. 
  2. Anger affects the liver.
  3. Grief affects the lungs.
  4. Worry affects the spleen.
  5. Fear affects the kidneys.
  6. Shock affects the heart, then kidneys.
  7. Sorrow affects the lungs.

Now, you may find yourself hard-pressed to tell the difference between shock and fear, fear and worry, grief and sorrow, etc. 

The truth is that none of them exist in a vacuum and often are symbiotic with one another. Extrapolate what each emotion comes from and how it presents. 

Grief relates to futility, to loss, to the intangible impermanence we all face. Sorrow can simply mean sadness, disappointment, emptiness and longing. 

Shock relates more to panic and immediacy than fear, which is a chronic and persistent emotion. 

Fear and worry aren’t the same either – fear may be irrational, while worry tends to indicate fixation, dwelling, solution-searching. Overthinking, in other words.

How Do They Manifest?

Let’s look at a few ways that disproportionate emotions can present throughout the body.

  • Joy sounds like a good thing, right? Ancient Chinese practitioners believed in measure and balance. Excessive joy clouds judgment and vision, and because it is unsustainable, crashes into disillusionment at its logical end. It can cause heart palpitations, insomnia, mania, even heart attacks.

  • Anger sends qi (energy) from the liver roiling upwards and out of control. Headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, strokes, nosebleeds, burst vessels – all are possible due to excess anger.

  • Grief, and if you’ve ever felt it you’ll probably recognize this, seems to strike at our very ability to breathe. In TCM, the lungs circulate qi. Grief can cause chest tightness, asthma, shortness of breath, crying, impaired circulation, loss of appetite, and more.

  • Worry connects to the spleen and digestive system. Ever felt so trapped inside a worried thought, you couldn’t eat, felt constipated, or disrupted your menstrual cycle? Spleen problems are also linked to depression, feelings of physical weakness in the limbs, and bloating.

  • Fear, when sustained, causes qi to sink.  It’s related to the kidneys, and can cause trouble regulating bladder and bowels, back pains, sexual frustration, and more. 

  • Shock, or fright, or panic, first affects the heart, and then the kidneys. Think about a panic attack… those symptoms were identified long ago in TCM. Shock lowers blood flow to the kidneys and results in less oxygen. 

  • Sorrow affects the lungs similarly to the way grief does, and can be connected to bronchitis, shortness of breath, qi stagnation, insomnia, appetite suppression, and weakening of lung function.

Often, several emotions occur in tandem and wreak havoc throughout the organ systems of the body.

Understand that TCM is a complex and interconnected system of medicine, whereby natural elements of the world (air, water, fire, etc.) are also related to various organs and emotions.

We’ll get into those at a later date. In the meantime, consider paying closer attention to which emotions in your life tend to coincide with distinct physical discomforts. 

Editor’s Note: If possible, when experiencing an emotion, notice where in your body you feel it. For example, is your chest tight? Are your shoulders up by your ears? Is your stomach in knots? Has your breathing changed? When you think about a situation, do you notice anything different in your body than before you started thinking about it? Understanding how your emotions can affect your physical body is a great step into your healing journey. 

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