The Traumatic Stress Response In Chinese Medicine: Five Constitutional Types

Over 100’s and 100’s of years, Chinese medicine explored patterns and associations in health and illness. They identified 5 constitutional predispositions or types. These types are based on a system of correspondences. These correspondences, which include certain organs, emotions, senses, body tissues, psychological challenges and gifts associate with one another at the interface of body, mind and spirit. They are unique to Chinese medicine.

The dramatic disorganization of energy or qi caused by traumatic stress will primarily manifest in one of these 5 distinct constitutional or personality types, each one named for their associated pair of meridians. This diagnostic framework helps an acupuncturist more precisely treat patients who have survived life-threatening circumstances.

The Kidney/Bladder type: Fear or the lack of fear predominates. While terror and rage are common in all survivors of Traumatic Stress – fear and terror truly predominate here. Their eyes don’t sit still; they scan constantly in anxious and fearful attention. They may have been unable to complete a survival response rooted in flight; they can’t sink deeply and fearlessly into themselves and often won’t sleep out of fear of what will come in the night. Their traumatic stress manifests either as hyper-vigilant alertness or its opposite — feeling collapsed and frozen, agoraphobic at its extreme.

The Liver/Gall Bladder type: Again – terror and rage are ubiquitous in this population – and for this type, either anger or a collapsed lack of capacity for assertion truly predominates. Perhaps they were unable to complete a survival response rooted in fight; and are looking for avenue to complete it. They may smash down a door before checking the handle to see if it is unlocked – they tend to find obstacles rather than seeing openings. Or this pattern may manifest in its yin form — they are frozen and imploded, suppressed, hopeless. But do not think that there is not a mountain of rage underneath that veneer of collapsed hopelessness.

The Heart type: Sadness predominates: We see flat eyes, flat emotions; heart irregularities, memory and cognition are slow, they are socially inhibited, and very anxious. They can’t look at you – it is very hard for them to feel vulnerable and safe in relationships. The Chinese character for heart is identical to the one for mind. They knew that a disturbance in the heart affects the mind, and vice-versa. This type will have significant problems with their memory and cognition.

The Stomach/Spleen type: Digestion is shutdown, they can’t receive anything, hold onto anything, can’t digest or integrate experiences. This may show up in their digestion of food with irritable bowel syndrome or GERD– or in their digestion of their experience. The stomach and spleen are here to help us harvest lessons out of life’s challenges – to break down our stories into digestible bits — and help us digest that gristle. If this capacity is undermined, a person’s trauma story goes around and around and it is hard for them to come to terms with feeling like a victim.

The Lung/Colon type: Grief is the predominate emotion. There is a very primal sense of shut down. It is hard to inhale – to receive life –and any of the gifts that are here for them now — or exhale and let go of their past. The question “How can a loving God allow bad things happen to good people” is tormenting for them. Their breath may be shallow and they may have deeply soulful survival guilt.

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