Stress, trauma and shock begin at least at conception, depending on the life-style of the parents. Drugs and deleterious habits that affect sperm and ova, emotional strains, and especially age, have a profound effect on the sperm-egg viability and on the ‘terrain’ of the foetus. Stress continues throughout pregnancy again in terms of the parent’s life-style and what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”: the vicissitudes of life. Certainly, vaginal birth is the prototype of stress in the struggle of a foetus to reach for its existence and individuality. In my experience, ‘insults’ during these early stages of development degrade Kidney Essence, and the foetal Heart and Circulation experience ‘shock’, due to the effects of trauma on the placental circulation (on which the foetus depends completely). All of these play a role in the ultimate shape of a person’s terrain.

Stress is usually associated with the chronic pressures and frustrations of everyday life, and our adaptations and mal-adaptations to them. The function of the Liver to move and to contain responds to stress with an emphasis on containment that becomes the all too familiar Liver Qi stagnation. The Liver gradually becomes deficient due to the attempt of the organism to move the stagnant Qi, and throughout history, in all parts of the world, people have found ways to relieve stress and this stagnation with certain substances, all of which have deleterious effects on the Liver and accelerate its decline into Liver Qi/Yang deficiency (marijuana, LSD, heroin) or severe Liver Yin deficiency (alcohol, cocaine).

It is obvious that stress is the inescapable motif of life. We are stress. Place a person in a room alone and he will begin to argue with himself. Stress has something to do with expectations. If things do not go as planned and we are called upon to struggle, we experience this as stress. In societies such as in the Orient (although perhaps only in the past), the unfolding of events was experienced as fate, against which there was no point in struggling. People could work within the context of fate, and try to improve their lives, but it was futile to object to that which was inevitable. There were certainly more than enough exigencies of life that we might today call stress, but which at the time, may have been considered less stressful due to the philosophy.

Trauma, on the other hand, is an acute situation, such as a physical accident or the sudden loss of a loved one, or even the loss of something that is very important to one such as money, or a precious possession. Trauma, even physical, is also almost always accompanied by a Shock to the Heart that drains Heart Yin, often simultaneously causing Phlegm Misting the Orifices. In my experience, such a shock also stagnates Qi, especially in the Heart and Lungs (Muffled Quality), and in the chest (Inflated Diaphragm).

This brings us to ‘vulnerability’: the balance between stress, shock, trauma, the outside forces, and terrain (the inner environment). It is this interplay that determines the outcome of any encounter with life: outer or inner, mental or physical.

Vulnerability is a function of the viability of the terrain. In contradistinction to the ‘Law of Correspondences’, a stress will affect the most vulnerable organ or area rather than the one assigned by those laws. If the Lungs are more vulnerable than the Liver, anger will affect the Lungs before the Liver.

So, if you have a person with persistent Lung problems, do not always look for grief as the cause. Don’t limit yourself to the ‘Law of Correspondences’; anger, or any of the emotions, could be important aetiologies if the Lung is vulnerable. If, in the unlikely case that there are no particular vulnerabilities, then the ‘Law of Correspondences’ will probably hold.
(There is no information available to me on whether or not a defective organ leads to the associated emotion according to the ‘Law of Correspondences’.)

We are all born different, and not everyone enters this life on the same energetic footing. Our competitive world causes people great internal pain by expecting everyone to succeed, and to be the same, as if sheer will power can overcome inherent weaknesses. Will power carries us beyond our capabilities at a great price to terrain, and inevitably increases our vulnerability.

When we interview a patient, we must ask ourselves whether or not the clinical picture before us is the consequence of the stressors in his life, or if it is the consequence more of his inability to cope with this stress: with his Terrain. In my teaching experience, it is the inclination of students to place their focus on the stress, and to overlook the vulnerability of the patient to the stress, i.e. to overlook the terrain.

When we deal with lifestyle changes that reduce stress – altering diet, work, sleep, or even play, or eliminating abuse (drugs, etc.) – we are doing so in the context of the physiological landscape of one particular patient: within the context of someone’s terrain. To the extent that the terrain physiology is compromised, the person who owns it is vulnerable more or less to stress, and the consequences therefore are more a function of the terrain itself than of the stress.
(It is possible, however, that the stress may be so overwhelming that even the strongest terrain will accede and ‘break’.)