How Emotions Cause Illness

The Case of Bob and Bill

Bob and Bill (pseudonyms) are twin boys, approximately 4 years old. The boys were dressed similarly, and spent virtually all of their time together. Bill was more dominant and pushy, frequently controlling the play situation and having his way. Bob was more easygoing but given to bouts of temper and pouting.

Mom brought Bob in because he complained of stomach pain. He would cry and complain that his stomach hurt with increasing frequency. The pediatrician had ruled out any organic reason for the pain.

After taking his pulses I determined that Bob was very frustrated, and his wood (liver and gallbladder) was attacking or over controlling his earth (spleen and stomach), causing stomach pain. I treated Bob (no needle insertion) 3 times and advised his Mother to separate Bob and Bill sometimes, so that Bob (the shy, less outgoing boy) could have a chance to explore the world and make friends without his more dominant brother at his side all the time. Bob’s stomach pain was markedly reduced after the first treatment. His Mom reported he was much happier and less given to bouts of bad temper. She allowed them to choose separate extracurricular activities and brought Bob in – without his brother – for his follow up sessions.

Treating Shannon’s “Shoulder”

Shannon (pseudonym) came to me with shoulder injuries. She was very vulnerable to shoulder issues, with pain or problems sometimes starting with little or no provocation. Upon doing my intake with her, I discovered that she had been the victim of quite severe abuse as a child. Although she bore some physical scars, the emotional scars were much more severe.

In Oriental Medicine, the lung governs the shoulder girdle. It’s location within the rib cage right below the actual shoulder structure means that the shoulder is governed by the qi which pervades the lung. The job of the lung is to bring the breath in and down, so the direction of the lung qi’s movement is down. Emotionally, this downward movement in life is known as grief. So the lung grants us the capacity to feel grief.

And grief was very much part of Shannon’s make-up, although through psychotherapy she had overcome many obstacles. As I worked with Shannon I explained the connection between the lung, the shoulder and the emotion of grief, in detail. I wanted to be sure she understood that her shoulder pain would be influenced by her emotional state as well as by physical activity. I also explained that if she was having a difficult time with grief (she was in the midst of a divorce) that this would make her even more vulnerable to shoulder injury or pain.

After each treatment Shannon felt stronger and stronger, her shoulder stabilized, and she felt lighter and happier in general. Then one night Shannon went to see a movie. The movie was Mystic River, a film which depicts multilayered levels of grief. Every character grapples with almost overwhelming grief. When Shannon went in to the theater, she felt fine. She was in a good place emotionally and had no shoulder pain. After viewing the movie, Shannon emerged from the theater with so much shoulder pain, she thought she might have to go to the emergency room. What had happened?

Bearing witness to so much grief in the film reactivated Shannon’s own feelings of grief. Just as at a movie we might cry when something sad happens to the main character, even though nothing has happened to us, so Shannon’s pain had been reawakened in her. She called me the next day and came in to see me. Luckily the pain subsided fairly quickly and we were able to comfort her emotionally and physically so her recovery was speedy.