Embracing Harmony: Emotions, Well-being, and Love in TCM
By Jeannie Kim
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dates back more than 2000 years, long before the development of psychology and mental health. Ancient TCM practitioners believed in a holistic approach to health, encompassing both physical and spiritual well-being. They observed a powerful link between emotional and physical health, noting that imbalances in one could harm the other.
According to TCM, five main organs govern five central emotions. These paired emotions and organs are
- joy and heart;
- worry and spleen;
- sadness and lungs;
- anger and liver; and
- fear and kidneys.
When suppressed or experienced in excess, these emotions become pathological emotions—emotions that can cause abnormal health. If we were to translate TCM's emotions into modern psychological terms, joy would be similar to mania, worry to anxiety, sadness to depression, and fear to phobias.
But what about love? Where does the experience of love fit into the concepts inherent in TCM?
In TCM, emotions are all about balance and harmony. In simple terms, any experience that is not balanced, whether excessive or deficient, can lead to emotional and physical symptoms. For example, a person struggling with depression struggles to feel an emotional connection with others, and they may also experience stomach aches and headaches (1). However, if someone is in complete harmony with their emotional health, they can freely express and receive unconditional love.
Guided by this principle, here are three tips on how to maintain your emotional balance and allow love to flourish in your life.
1. Be curious about your emotions
Lacking awareness of or deliberately ignoring your emotions can harm your emotional health. When one is unaware of one's emotions, they can slowly fester over time and eventually lead to burnout when faced with a traumatic situation. Similarly, brooding over an emotion can lead to unhealthy habits, such as rumination and worst-case-scenario thinking. So the next time you experience something unusual in your body, take a moment to pause and use your curiosity to identify and understand what you are feeling and why. There is no need to try to change how you feel, but acknowledging and accepting your emotions can help you to be an emotionally healthy individual. This approach can also be helpful when dealing with children.
2. Be compassionate toward yourself
During my years in practice as a TCM specialist, I found that many of my clients were compassionate towards others but were often their own harshest critics. These clients tended to be highly critical of themselves, including their school or work performance, mistakes they made, or even small decisions. I frequently observed this across various cultures and occupations. People's inability to forgive and love themselves made it challenging for them to accept gratitude or recognition from peers, colleagues, or even parents.
Tools for practicing self-compassion
One effective way to practice self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend (2). A great way to give self-kindness is to write a letter to yourself. You can write about your mistakes but offer words of reassurance and encouragement, rather than criticism or judgment.
Another powerful way to give self-kindness is using positive affirmations. Here are a few examples.
- "I forgive myself for making mistakes. Everyone stumbles, and I can learn and grow from this." This affirmation normalizes missteps and offers self-compassion instead of self-blame. It frees you from guilt and empowers you to keep moving forward.
- "I treat myself with the same kindness and understanding I would offer a dear friend." This affirmation, the most powerful one, encourages you to cultivate the same gentle empathy for yourself as you would readily offer others. It shifts your perspective to one of support and encouragement.
- "I am worthy of love and kindness, even when I feel imperfect." This affirmation gently reminds you that your intrinsic worth isn't tied to achievements or flaws. It fosters self-love and acceptance, even on challenging days.
3. Use mindfulness to live in the present
It can be tempting to dwell on the past, whether it be past mistakes or fond memories. Similarly, obsessing over potential future events can also be hard to ignore.
Focusing on either the past or the future can interfere with our ability to truly live in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a popular and effective way to help us remain engaged in the present. In fact, mindfulness meditation is so popular that there are countless online-based techniques available, making it convenient and easy to practice daily. According to a systematic review, even mindfulness meditation apps, like Calm, are effective tools for reducing stress and promoting presence in the current moment (3). Additionally, this systematic review found that practicing five to ten minutes of daily mindfulness meditation for just five weeks had a therapeutic effect.
By being aware, compassionate, and mindful of our emotions, we can create a healthy and balanced emotional state that allows love to flourish. It is important to remember that we are all human and emotions are a natural part of our existence. Instead of suppressing or ignoring them, we should embrace and learn from them. This not only benefits our emotional health but also has a positive impact on our physical well-being. So, don't be afraid to dive deep into your emotions and strive for balance in all areas of your life.
Photos from Canva.
- Maciocia, G. (2015) The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A comprehensive text. Churchill Livingstone, 3rd edition.
- Wilson, A.C., Mackintosh, K., Power, K., Chan. S.W.Y. (2019) Effectiveness of self-compassion related therapies: Asystematic review and meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 10, 979–995. doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-1037-6
- Gál, E., Ștefan, S., Cristea, I. A. (2021) The efficacy of mindfulness meditation apps in enhancing users’ well-being and mental health related outcomes: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Affective Disorders, 279, 131–142. doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.09.134
About the Author
Jeannie is currently pursuing an honors degree in psychology with a focus on clinical applications. Prior to this, she was an acupuncturist specializing in fertility, stress management, and pain relief in Sydney for 12 years. With her unique blend of Eastern and Western therapeutic approaches and maternal perspective, as feature writer, Jeannie promises a valuable contribution to BAMBI magazine.