Anger, the Wood Element and the Liver
- Is anger or irritability an emotion that is all too familiar to you? Do you find yourself filled with rage at times as you navigate the challenges of everyday life? Many things can trigger anger, including stress, family problems, and financial issues. Anger itself is not a disorder, but when it is uncontrollable or begins to impact negatively on relationships and functioning, it is time to examine the causes and seek support.
In East Asian Medicine, anger is the emotion of the Liver, the organ system associated with the wood element. Emotions like rage, fury or aggravation can indicate that the liver energy is out of balance. When we experience these emotions frequently over time, our Liver energy can suffer. An imbalanced Liver can be caused by longstanding feelings of repressed anger, such as resentment, frustration, and irritability. Finding ways to avoid outbursts of anger will protect our Liver health.
This blog is the next in the series, The Emotions, Organs and The Five Elements. This time, we will look more closely at the emotion of anger, the wood element and how this relates to the Liver.
The role of the liver
The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi or energy in the body, ensuring balanced mental-emotional states. The healthy liver processes nutrients, remove chemicals and synthesises hormones. We all face conflict at times in our lives, and balanced Liver energy helps us handle this in productive ways. It processes information from our interactions, sets healthy boundaries, and easily integrates new information.
Imbalance of liver energy
When the Liver energy is stuck or stagnant, it can lead us to react or attack. As an emotion, anger is not “bad”, and it keeps us safe physically and emotionally. Anger gives us energy and focus to act, stand up for ourselves, assert our needs, and defend what we believe in. However, unresolved long-term held anger stresses the nervous system, creates walls in relationships and blocks us from connecting with others.
Anger can be a result of many factors. It can be caused by hunger or lack of sleep, emotional imbalance, nutritional issues, or organ imbalance. Anger can also mask pain, hurt, frustration, disappointment or a threat to our values and beliefs. If the Liver is out of balance or over-worked, emotions like anger can build up and explode. In contrast, when we are at ease, anger can serve its purpose without causing harm to others.
The key is balance.
The wood element and the liver
According to TCM theory, anger and the liver organ relate to the Wood element. This element is all about growth and expansive movement, both physically and emotionally. Anger is the natural response to any interruption in the Liver’s mission to move and grow. At the same time, an excess of anger or repressed anger inhibits the Liver’s function, leading to further emotional imbalance and feelings of frustration, resentment, aggression and depression.
Signs and symptoms of liver imbalance/stagnation
When the emotional aspects of the Liver are working as they should, you can stand firm in your convictions, with proper boundaries between you and others around you. The Liver influences confidence, assertiveness, and the ability to make decisions and stick by them. Do you experience any of these symptoms?
- Tightness in necks and shoulders
- Clenched jaw
- Grinding of teeth
- Waking up between 1 am and 3 am
- Tendency to “fly off the handle” or overreact to everyday frustrations
- Often feeling irritable, aggravated or frustrated
- Controlling behaviours
- Insistence on being right
Treatment of liver stagnation
Foods that stimulate the Liver out of stagnancy are generally fresh vegetables and fruits, in particular, the following food groups:
- Watercress, onions, turmeric, basil, cumin, fennel, ginger, rosemary, mints, and cardamom. Too many spicy foods can damage those with Liver stagnation.
Fruits and nuts:
- Strawberry, peach, cherry, chestnut, pine nut and seeds
Vegetables of the Brassica family:
- Cabbage, turnip root, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Also sprouted grains, beans
Maybe the most potent common remedy to quickly remove Liver stagnation is vinegar. Best apple cider vinegar. A tablespoon in a glass of water before meals is beneficial to the Liver and overall health. The Liver loves bitter and sour flavours.
- Simple Self Massage
A simple foot massage for anger helps to calm the Liver. Find the point located on the dorsal surface of the foot, between the first and second toes. Massaging this point is a great way to settle the Liver and prevent feelings of rage.
The Liver is responsible for flow in the body. Moving mindfully through yoga, Qigong, dance, tai chi, or simply going for a walk will increase circulation and ‘spread the Liver Qi‘ to avoid energy stagnation. Mindful breathing can also slow us down and reduce angry reactions. After moving, we may find ourselves much less reactive. Over time, movement can help us live calmer, more peaceful lives without sabotaging the happiness that anger can bring.
- Acupuncture and support from East Asian medicine
Acupuncture can be very beneficial for regulating emotions, balancing anger and calming the mind. A 2021 Korean study looked at the efficacy of acupuncture in patients suffering from long-term anger conditions. The results show that ten acupuncture sessions over four weeks had positive outcomes.
How Ondol Clinic can help:
At Ondol Clinic, we understand anger as a health disorder rather than a personality flaw. The treatments aim to subdue the volatile energies so that intense reactions to life’s frustrations can settle down.
We offer a holistic approach to health, empowering you to lead your best life.
Yujin Choi, In-hye Park, Jung-Eun Kim, Ojin Kwon, Ae-Ran Kim, Hyo-Ju Park, Jun-Hwan Lee, Joo-hee Kim Front Psychol. 2021; 12: 651649.
Published online 2021 Sep 24. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.651649