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Page 3 - Acupuncture and Emotion
Anger: A Case Study
"Sickness of the liver," the Nei Jing tells us, "causes...people... to have fits of anger." Anger causes Qi-and tempers-to rise. Maciocia reminds us that anger can be considered to include irritability, frustration, rage, indignation, animosity or bitterness. Anger, when expressed appropriately, may not cause harm; when chronic or suppressed, it may become pathogenic. A study published in a recent issue of The Lancet found that the "Type-D personality was a significant predictor of long-term mortality in patients with established CHD [chronic heart disease].... Personality traits should be taken into account in the association between emotional distress and mortality in CHD"(8). The American Journal of Cardiology concurs: "Anger is the effective state most commonly associated with myocardial ischemia and life-threatening arrhythmias. The scope of the problem is sizable-at least 36,000...heart attacks are precipitated annually in the United States by anger"(9).
When anger causes Qi to rise, symptoms are naturally expressed in the upper part of the body. A patient will often exhibit dizziness, a flushed face, tinnitus and headaches (frequently parietal). His or her tongue may be red due to liver fire, the result of prolonged liver Qi "stagnation" or "repression." Additionally, rebellious liver Qi may flow sideways, invading the stomach and its paired organ, the spleen. This will result in diarrhea and indigestion.
Liver Qi oppression and its consequences were embodied in a diminutive lady named Mrs. LeBeau. While Mrs. LeBeau may have been petite, her repressed fury was not. She solicited my help with resolving increasingly frequent parietal headaches and indigestion. It took little effort to discover the cause of her illness.
Removing her suede pearl-white gloves and placing them on my desk, Mrs. LeBeau marched to my treatment table and lay down. She then said hello and held out her hand impatiently. Not knowing if she expected me to shake it or kiss it, I took her pulse instead. She was, by her account, "fifty-something," yet I noticed she had fewer wrinkles than the Chanel pant suit she had poured herself into. Her pulse was "wiry" in the liver position, suggesting pain or repressed anger. Mrs. LeBeau spoke incessantly and admiringly of her husband, a highly successful corporate motivational speaker. She was, she said, the luckiest woman in the world. Her unstoppable eulogizing of Mr. LeBeau, however, was clearly practiced, as if she had delivered the monologue many times previously. It was only as she relaxed that her pace slowed and, eventually, a frown made her lips droop. In a sudden burst of tears she revealed her husband abused her, and she did not love him anymore. Leaving him was a moral impossibility since he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. "And besides," she sobbed, "it simply isn't done! Are you or are you not going to offer me a tissue?" It was interesting to note that Mrs. LeBeau's cosmetic surgeon had removed all facial evidence of intense liver Qi, lines which extend vertically from the inward tips of the eyebrows. Resigned she was to a duplicitous life, attending social functions and televised events wearing a smile that was not her own. Meanwhile, her headaches had become frequent and nearly intolerable. Food, she complained, caused her to bloat and belch and she experienced a continual bitter taste.
While there was little I could do to improve the circumstances of her life, I was able to address, on an energetic level, Mrs. LeBeau's liver symptoms. Her long-repressed anger forced rebellious liver Qi to flow upward, causing headaches and bitter taste, and to flow "sideways," toward the stomach/ spleen. The result was indigestion and bloating. If left unchecked, suppressed liver Qi could turn into liver fire, with its attendant violent, unpredictable behavior. My treatment plan was to soften the liver and descend rebellious liver Qi. Modified Xiao Yao was the herbal remedy.
My concern for Mrs. LeBeau was further fueled by statistics recently published in Nursing Research. In an article, "Women's Anger: Relationship of Suppression to Blood Pressure," we find a 12-year Michigan study of middle-aged men and women which "showed that suppressed anger significantly interacted with elevated blood pressure to produce the highest mortality"(10). It appeared that people with elevated blood pressure who scored higher on anger suppression were five times as likely to die than hypertensive people who expressed it. On reading this, I directed Mrs. LeBeau to a qualified therapist whom she now sees regularly in addition to receiving her acupuncture treatments.
As these case studies show, the management of emotion-associated illness may be slow, requiring great patience and the scrupulous application of ancient Oriental principles to modern dilemmas. Nevertheless, such concepts of emotion, illness, and the expression of character are as pertinent today as they were more than a thousand years ago when Laotse wrote:
"Those who are disturbed by their senses and minds cannot preserve their own character. How much less can they follow the Tao!" (11)
Names and circumstances have been changed to protect patients' privacy. Charles Yarborough, L. AC., NCCA, practices acupuncture in the Los Angeles, CA area.
1. Veith, Ilza. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972, p. 28.
2. Veith, p. 25.
3. Marks, Joel, and Ames, Roger R., eds. Emotions in Asian Thought: A Dialogue in Comparative Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 183.
4. Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone,Inc. 1989, p. 129.
5. Ross, Jerilyn. Triumph Over Fear. New York: Bantam Books, 1994, p. 19.
6. Hammer, Leon I. Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies. New York: Station Hill Press, 1990, p. 111.
7. Soinneau, Philippe, and Gang, Lu. The Treatment of Disease in TCM, Vol 1. Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 1996, p. 250.
8. Denollet, J., Sys SU, Stroobant, N., Rombouts, H., Gillebert, TC & Brutsaert, DL. "Personality as independent predictor of long-term mortality in patients with coronary heart disease." The Lancet, 1996; 347:417-21.
9. Jain D, Burg M. & Zaret BL. "Prognostic implications of stress-induced silent left ventricular dysfunction in patients with stable angina pectoris." Am. J. Cardiol, 1995; 76:31-5.
10. Thomas, Sandra P. "Women's anger: relationship of suppression to blood pressure." Nursing Research, 1997; 46:324-30.
11. Yutang, Lin, ed. The Wisdom of Laotse. New York; Random House, Inc., 1976, p. 85.
The following books referenced by this article are available from our Online Qi Catalog at or 1-800-787-2600.
The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine: #B271
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: #B436
Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: #B178
The Treatment of Disease in TCM, Vol. 1: #B079
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