Imagine a carpenter with five tools in his kit: A hammer, a screwdriver, a hacksaw, pliers, and sketch pad. Does he venture out on a job snarling, ”Damn it! Today I’m going to use only my screwdriver?” Or conversely heading to work does he declare, “I hate my hammer. Today I’m just not going to use it?”
Not too often!
The carpenter worth his salt respects his tools and before placing it back in his kit uses each one in accordance with its need.
Engineered to possess a pathogen resisting immune system we are also from birth, equipped with a toolkit of five core emotions. Each tool is indispensible to repairing a broken situation or renovating a shabby state of affairs. Over or under use of any one emotional tool is bad workmanship causing the framework of our psyche to wobble. Proper utilization of an emotional tool is cathartic, meaning a satisfactory outcome always results.
My analogy likening emotions to tools derives from Traditional Chinese Medicine’ Five Phase theory. More about this can be learned here.
I am reminded of the actor Spencer Tracy’s description of his girlfriend Katharine Hepburn: “Not much meat on her but what there is is cherce.” Though bare bones and practical, the psychology Chinese medicine offers is also cherce.
1. The hammer of Anger
A situation arises demanding immediate and forceful action. The best thing is to fashion your force into creative action. Expressing your anger then is like smashing down on a nail. Take out your hammer if you are insulted or frustrated! People fearing that natural expression of anger prompts loss of control or violence suppress their indignation. Here, they are misusing the other side of the hammer, the claw used to extract nails. The claw can be likened to contrition, an emotional need to apologize or retract angry words or actions. The claw is overused or used to self-claw when we despise ourselves for being angry or overdoing the apology. We then rage and shake in useless frustration. Dysfunctional self-clawing anger known as vexation is not cathartic since it makes us feel worse not better. The homeopathic remedy normalizing use of both sides of the hammer and thereby ridding us of the tendency to vexation is Staphysagria. Individuals can also fall in love with and over rely on their hammer: Someone with a hair trigger temper for example, who is easily provoked into rage will need a remedy such as Anacardium or Stramonium.
2. The screwdriver of Anxiety
Imagine you are starving while lost in a wilderness and espy a mushroom. Eating it will either poison or nourish you. The screwdriver of anxiety tightens, heightening situational focus. Your hands sweat and your mouth goes dry as you lift the mushroom toward your moth. But suddenly anxiety constrains the impulse. Improved “performance” due to anxiety, in this case avoidance of a poisonous foodstuff or the partaking of a miniscule nibble may have saved your life. Reluctance to use the screwdriver of anxiety stokes recklessness. A reckless individual thus requires a homeopathic remedy such as Medorrhinum. Excessive use of the screwdriver on the other hand use is incapacitating. A homeopathic remedy to diminish excessive anxiety is Arsenicum Album.
3. The hacksaw of Sadness
The bond was strong between you and your beloved grandmother. And now she is gone. Or, once solid your five-year relationship is broken. Have you wept cathartically? Grieved the loss to completion so that you can move on? If not, the hacksaw of sadness has yet to cut: Despite an appropriate interval’s passage the bond is not severed. Grief remains locked in place. You are sad but unable to cry. The homeopathic remedy Natrum Muriaticum is then called for. Overuse of the hacksaw of sadness on the other hand suggests the remedy Pulsatilla. Here, you cry at the drop of a hat. No matter how hard you saw away at a loss, longstanding memory of having been previously abandoned makes the effort futile.
4. The Pliers of Fear
When fear grips us like pliers we freeze before hasty action is taken. The pliers of fear allow grasping of the situation. So expeditiously we can choose between fighting or fleeing. When the pliers of fear do not relax a routine non-threatening situation can escalate to life of death proportions. The homeopathic remedy Veratrum Album may then be called for. On the other hand, someone in whom fear has inculcated an escapism reaction may become audacious and insensitive to pain. Incapable of finding his pliers this individual needs homeopathic Opium.
5. The Sketchpad of Joy
Finally, the project is completely worked out. We see it in its entirety. Such joy to view the big picture, everything hanging together, the blueprint of our envisioned project. The time has arrived to actualize what exists on paper. The glory of its vision must give way to the drudgery of execution. Dwelling forever in joy is not possible. An individual lost in visions or prone to excess of ego has not learned to put away his sketchpad. A homeopathic remedy known to upend this applecart is Sulphur. But let us consider someone whose sketchpad is crumpled and jumbled within the toolbox. Disappointment and resentment has smudged the big picture, the overriding blessings of her life. Overwrought, depressed and unclear as to where she is in life the remedy Sepia is called for.
* Our tools can do a lot, but only within reason
A normal toolkit can be used to build a shed in our backyard. But don’t expect to build a skyscraper with them. Similarly, a big trauma or abuse occurring in childhood when our emotional tools inadequately measure up to the task of repudiating trauma will be a problem. Some tools will be worn out and others put to disuse.
* Tranquility does not mean the absence of toolkit emotions
What tranquility should instead signify is calm awareness of our emotional toolkit’s being close at hand.
*A related version of the toolkit, Pixar’s animated film, Inside Out
An entertaining film with a point of view akin to that expressed above is Pixar’s animation, Inside Out. The film’s depiction of five inhabiting core emotions differs from the version presented here in the substitution of Disgust for my (and Traditional Chinese Medicine’s) choice, the emotion Anxiety.