No chill left – the treatment of anger and rage with Chinese medicine

In the previous article in this series, I discussed the depression that can arise when the Qi of the liver stops flowing properly. You may also want to read the first and second articles in this series – exploring various aspects of the treatment of emotional difficulties with Chinese medicine.

In this week’s installment I want to examine the other extreme of liver Qi stagnation: rage.

Depression is often described as anger turned inward. Anger directed outward is a more straight-forward problem for others to see, but also a differently-stigmatized problem. Clearly there is a long history and present difficulty that those suffering from depression face in reaching out for care, because depression has often been papered over and ignored as a problem.

Intense and lasting anger is much more visible, but is often attributed to a character failing on the part of the sufferer.

It is important to note that anger is not, in itself, pathological. Its healthy purpose in our lives is to let us know when our boundaries have been crossed, and to help us reassert them. Healthy anger comes up, does its work, and then recedes out of view. But anger that has no clear target, or which is the product of a bodily process that has gone awry, can fester.

This festering anger grows beneath the surface, until it becomes a rage that pops out at the slightest provocation.

Let’s turn to a Chinese medicine view of this process. The healthy liver gives us the quality of perseverance in the face of obstacles, self-protection and planning. It distributes Qi and blood throughout the body in a regular, rhythmic way. If a physical blockage occurs anywhere in the body, either in the channels that circulate Qi (often called meridians through an odd bit of French translation) or in the blood vessels, then the liver has to work harder to do this job.

Over time, this hard work depletes the Yin, or cooling and calming essence, of the liver.

In this frazzled state, the Yang, or hot and enlivening essence, begins to take over. Imagine a car whose gas pedal is being pressed continually down, but with the transmission in neutral, and this is the sort of situation being described. Things get hotter and dryer, until something gives.

That something, in the case of a human, is their ability to be a calm and reasonable person in times of stress.

Rage is one expression of a hot and erratic process in the body, both there are other telltale signs that appear in the pattern.

If someone truly has this deep, Yin-deficient heat running rampant in their body they will also have burning urination, red eyes, intense headaches, and sometimes itching rashes that come and go. These are all expressions of the same dynamic: the Yin of the liver can no longer contain its Yang, and it begins to erupt out of the body in harmful ways.

This level of extreme is not seen often in the world. Most people in this state burn off the Yang of the liver and revert to an exhausted kind of depression.

This back and forth cycle can occur many times, depleting the Yin and Yang of the liver into deeper and deeper illness over time. If this person does come in for treatment while the intense upswing of this cycle is occurring though, treatment is quite straightforward. The heat needs to be drained off in the short-term, which will resolve most of the symptoms quickly.

Longdancao – 龍膽草 – one of the primary herbs for treating liver fire in some CM traditions

In Chinese medicine, we would use strong heat-disbursing needling techniques to accomplish this, as well as formulas like Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (pronounced long dahn shay gahn tahng) that clear heat and restore yin. The most important thing to understand in this sort of case is the cyclical nature of the symptoms, and the need to address both the Yin and the Yang of the organs involved to achieve a full recovery.

Whether you reach these extremes of the expression of emotional pathology or not, you may find it helpful to talk to a Chinese medicine practitioner about how herbs and acupuncture can help you find greater balance and peace.

I’m available for scheduling online or by phone – feel free to reach out any time!

Written by Rowan Everard


I discovered Chinese medicine shortly after moving to Portland to complete my undergraduate studies. I began my journey as a patient, but after several years of being an increasingly curious patient I found myself drawn into the formal study of this medicine. In Chinese medicine, I found tools that helped me to transform myself, and which I have seen lead to dramatic positive shifts in patients.