How to be yourself according to Chinese medicine





“This is an explanation of aspects of importance within Chinese psychology. The discussion is basically around Li and Qi when considering personalities.”

Nils Volden


In Chinese psychology personalities are regarded as a mix of 理 Li and 氣 Qi. This means that we have some freedom to manipulate our way of being, but at the same personalities are strongly connected to a deterministic way of thinking. As we know Li is mostly hereditary or associated with the congenital essence. Indicating that personalities are strongly connected to our Jing (our essence); like genetics, biology and other factors in the body. The environment is more connected to the daily changes and thereby Qi; Yang factors in the body. If the environment is going to influence the body it need to have a long time exposure or a strong environmental factor that it transforms to a pathogenic factor for the body.


A personality in Chinese psychology is regarded as something universal; meaning that it is applicable to all people. There by stating that all humans are the same or minimum comparable.  At the same time, Chinese psychology also states the uniqueness of each human being. Meaning, all humans are different; by this contradicting to some degree the last statement. The universalism and uniqueness of Chinese psychology confuses a lot. Simplified it means humans are same by origin, but different in complexity and content; and thereby making them unique.


When it comes to how we act, Chinese psychology divide into two. First we have the personality; our primary way of acting. It will guide our behavior in the same pattern and in the same direction EVERY time we act. Second we have the mental model. It is preprogrammed by the personality, but the external stimuli that enter our mind will guide us to react; making us reactive individuals. Chinese psychology holds us to be both Active and Reactive in our behavior. Making Chinese psychology believe that, we are passively shaped by the environment. At the same time, actively shaped by our personality; a type of external-internal shaping.


The personalities within Chinese psychology are very distinct and have only a little room for change, making them pessimistic by origin. At the same time, we now understand that this personality theory is flexible by nature and that the mind will to a certain degree have some influence. This gives us an understanding or hope for a possible change in the personality or optimism if you prefer. In the deep understanding of personality we find a confusing mix of different personalities. This mix will sometimes work synergistic and sometimes antagonistic, making some persons suffer and others grow. Pure personalities are more predictable than the really mix type. On the top of this we have the mental model that explains the function of the brain. The mental model is a fix entity, but the different mixes of personalities and life events will make aspects of the mental model work slower or harder.


The function of the mental model will be colored by the personality, a type of congenital control mechanism. This opens for a bidirectional control and adjustment in the person; giving place for continuity (through the personality) and necessary adjustments (through the mental model). Even though Chinese medicine put personality in a category for no change through Li as the unchangeable; we cannot forget the power behind Qi; the changeable. Li and Qi are in a way both subtle and intangible. The aspects can be analyzed through the yin/ yang theory. According to the fifth yin/ yang law they will be in a never ending relation. Li will always be in Qi and Qi will always be within Li. A practical consequence of this is the opening for a possibility for changing inherited factors in a person (Li) as well as the possibility for acquired factors to work different from person to person (Qi).


Chinese psychology states that we are born with a personality that we to a certain degree can adjust. Our daily mental activities are constantly afflicted by our genetics. Li in Qi is seen as the coloring of the personality on the way you actually thinks. No matter how much or little a person uses his brain, connects or his cognition; he will never get rid of his ancestors control over his life. A classic example is the Chinese personality of Roun. This personality is known for being very impulsive and changing. As a result the brain of this personality will always be working hard and always pushing the person to the extreme. Thereby giving the basis for a restlessness, shortness (not well considered), and an extremely short concentration span. No matter what this person does he is genetically created as an active person and this cannot change. The areas where the Roun personality is active can be manipulated; meaning that he can be given direction.


Qi in Li is seen through the habitat, cultural context and their guidance of the active component within the personality of a person. Meaning that a person has his distinct personality, but factors around him will activate certain aspects within the personality. A classic example is the Chinese personality of Pro. The Pro personality is known for being goal oriented and well planned. Given those facts it is rare to see this personality change course. Even though it is rare, it’s not impossible. Any Pro personality would refocus; accommodate his doings if needed or if the circumstances tell him that it is favorable. One of the major reasons for a change are bigger collective needs, but only if they are seen as more important that the Pro personality’s. Giving him a temporary time loss and a future gain. Also depending on the arena where the Pro personality is acting out his personality he will be more or less sensitive for change.


Qi will always color Li. It is impossible to speak about this connection without mentioning the couples. According to classical yin/ yang theory in any relation one have be dominating the other. Giving us an understanding of that minimum one have to moderate his/ her personality, Qi colors Li. At school this is often seen through the Pinocchio phenomenon. This is the history of the marionette doll from Carlo Collodios children book, Le avventure di Pinocchio (1883 or the days of Sigmund Freud if you want) and different magazines (1881 -1883). The psychological phenomena explained through this story tells us that when a dominator is not present anymore, another (before more passive) person will rice and take his place (with the same intensity as the past dominator). The rule is as follows: “It will always be an Alpha person present”. Indicating that it is normal for a person to live another life than his personality has destined him to life; making the majority of the people living “false” – or (perhaps a better word) a suppressed life. We all live out our personality or behavior adjusted to others. Nobody live a life where others do not guide. Qi will color Li. It is both latent – and subtle mechanisms that moderate our personality against circumstances and elements that possible would be more reasonable for the person; at least seen from a collective view and not from a self-centered view.


In the light of the coloring of Li we have to think about schizoid personalities and their badly adjusted social life. British Journal of Psychiatry (1998) published an article written by Malmberg, Lewis, David and Allebeck at Warneford Hospital, Oxford: Premorbid adjustment and personality in people with schizophrenia. The article underlines that the research in this area are very little conclusive. Anyhow, the authors write that one of the great risk factors for development of schizophrenia comes from a premorbid personality and a premorbid adjustment. The premorbid personality are in fact the personality that existed BEFORE the schizophrenia developed, and the premorbid adjustment is the way the schizophrenic adjusted his life BEFORE he got sick. Something existed before the disease started or as said in Chinese just before the battle  临阵 Línzhèn. Our life before our battles will constitute how we manage the battle said Linzhen. The way we live out our lives will afflict the health of us. Choices took can and will afflict us. Some choices are definitely unhealthier than others.


Chinese psychology gives us the understanding that Qi can give permanent changes in Li. As we know environment can make elements stored within the genes active or direct change the genes. Yin will always be present within yang, and yang will always be present within yin. The process being a distinct autonom person with personal characteristics will always be clouded by external factors. The question is if it is possible to really be oneself. The answer within Chinese psychology is mostly NO; you are never yourself.

Dead bird with flies






The writer of this article gives seminars in Chinese medicine and Chinese psychology all over the world! Go to this page to find out how.

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