The Liver, The Spleen, and Boundaries

As I've mentioned endless times before (although not for a while-sorry for the blogging hiatus!), acupuncturist treatments do not just deal with the physical. To be honest, creating physical change is the least exciting part of what I do. I find the mental-emotional aspects of acupuncture to be far more fascinating and rewarding; this is probably why I love treating anxiety, depression, and insomnia so much. Lately I've been thinking a lot about boundaries. A few weeks ago, I was making plans with my boyfriend and this thought quickly flitted through my mind: "I have never lied to you." As the thought surfaced, I gave myself a moment to consider what it meant, because I typically do not lie. After pondering it further, I realized that what I really meant was that I have never felt the need to say something to him that I didn't truly mean. If he asks me if I want to do something I don't want to do, I'm perfectly fine with simply saying no. I'm not sure if this is due more to my stronger boundaries that have come with age, or to our mutual comfort level with each other. It's probably a little of both.

In TCM, the Liver energy governs boundaries, while the Spleen is basically the people-pleasing, pushover side of us. I'm much more of a Spleen personality, but as we all know, acupuncture is about balance. The Liver and Spleen are the opposite sides of the spectrum, and the trouble lies when they don't meet somewhere in the middle. Too much Livery energy creates an uptight, rigid mentality that cannot bend. Excessive Spleen energy can lead to a doormat who eventually feels resentful and exhausted.

I can't tell you how many times I have treated patients for issues unrelated to boundaries and had them later tell me that this was the first time they started to feel empowered enough to say no. Or how many times I've had total Type A's come back looking like completely different people, relaxed and mellow. Yet another amazing part of this medicine.

As previously mentioned, I have always struggled with that Spleen-type, can't say no persona. Balance is hard! On the one hand, I genuinely like helping people out. However, it's sometimes hard for me to discern who is deserving, and who is taking advantage.

A few years ago, I was contacted by a local small business owner who requested a meeting with me to help with marketing techniques. I have a very visible online presence, and I am often approached by people new to business who ask for advice in this area. I am always happy to help out fellow small biz owners, and it makes me happy to give back, so everyone wins!

This particular woman set up a consultation with me, but did not want to come to my office, so I drove to her. After talking to me for over an hour about how slow her business was, I offered some tips to increase her online presence. She didn't look happy and barely listened as she doodled on a note pad. Finally, after several uncomfortable minutes, I came right out and asked her: "What exactly is it the purpose of this meeting? Is there something in particular you need help with?"

"Yes," she replied, "What I'm looking for is a way to reach more people and advertise for free, and I noticed that you show up everywhere online. I'd love it if you could link me on your website and maybe write a blog about me? And if you could put my cards in your office and talk me up to all your clients, that would be great."

I was rather taken aback by this, but again-typical people-pleaser. "Ok," I said, "I'll be happy to cross-refer. I'll leave my cards here, you can give me a stack of yours, and we can both promote each other."

I could not believe what she said next.

"Actually, I already see an acupuncturist that I love, and I refer my clients to her. Putting your cards out or promoting you would be a conflict of interest. I won't be doing that."

Bear in mind that I had driven 20 minutes to help this woman I had never met, taking 2 hours out of a busy day. I was speechless. I took her cards, left, and promptly tossed them in the garbage, vowing to screen my next request for help more carefully.

Driving back to my office, I felt completely drained. Why had I let her take up so much of my time? Damn my weak Spleen! I vowed to work on this, and I have. I'm a different person than I was then, and I'm so much happier now. Part of it is having the desire to change, yes, but I also credit my acupuncturist for all his hard work on my poor depleted Spleen. I think my doormat days are finally behind me!