Hwabyung of Korea

 The article that I read, Hwabyung in Korea: Culture and Dynamic Analysis, by Sung Kil Min was a look at Anger (fire) disease which is known as Hwabyung in Korean culture. What the disease basically entails is a strong feeling of anger with related behavioral and bodily symptoms. The anger is seen as a reaction to being the put in an unfair situation, usually social in nature and must be suppresses so as not to interfere with familial or social relationships. This suppressed anger continues to build till it finally causes Hwabyung, which can show itself through heat sensations (hot flashes redness of the face), somatization, respiratory oppression, insomnia, anorexia, depression, anxiety, and behavioral symptoms such as sighing, tearing, and an impulse to open doors or go out from closed situations. An interesting aspect of this is that even though patients become very depressed, they are still extremely talkative. Hwabyung symptoms are thought to symbolize the nature of fire, and other symptoms such as the open of doors are seen as the release of anger. Culturally, there is a unique sentiment known as Haan, which signifies the mixed mood of missing, sadness, suppressed anger and feeling of unfairness that results from societally tragic history, as well as from traumatic personal trials. This could be a product from any number of things including a failed romantic relationship to lower family class, to being swindled. An accumulation of feeling of haan and the inability to deal with such has been reported to be a major reason behind Hwabyung. While the disease has mostly been known for effecting women, it is also recognized for effecting people in the lower social class.

Treatment of this disease is varied from person to person. Often sufferers will go to physicians, pharmacists, traditional herb physicians, Christian faith healing, shaman rituals and psychiatrists looking for treatment. The methods used to combat this disease can be psychotherapy, drug treatment, family therapy, community approaches, often integrated with traditional and religious healing methods or through the use of haan-puri, which is basically the sentiment of resolving, loosening, unraveling and appeasing negative emotions with positive ones. An example that Min gives of this is if the haan of a mother was caused by poverty, and a violent husband, the haan-puri might be a result of the success of her son, for which she endured the hardships for.

Sung Kil Min. Hwabyung in Korea: Culture and Dynamic Analysis. World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, Jan 2009 accessed 7/20/12


2 thoughts on “Hwabyung of Korea

  1. Hwabyung should be regarded as a CBS. The illness is a built up of environmental stressors that are translated into psychological and physical symptoms. It’s interesting to see the varying symptoms that can occur with hwabyung. For example, the opening of doors seems to be a symbolic coping mechanism. As one opens the door, the problem doesn’t feel so suffocated, trapped, and can be released to others or in the air. Although it can be regarded as a CBS, the fact that it is an illness, proves to be somewhat complicated. If one were to self-diagnose themselves with hwabyung, then does that become a way to deal with the surrounding issues or a trap to fall into a deeper hole. It definitely should not be legitimized as a long-term illness.

    In the popular sector, friends and families would probably be understanding of hwabyung. Stress is an everyday occurrence for people, so naturally talking about it or getting advice about one’s problems would definitely be understood and maybe even resolved. In the folk sector, one could say that the anger(fire) consumes a person in the form of a bad spirit, and takes over ones mind and body. In the professional sector, this illness would probably not be understood biologically, but more on a psychological level. One could seek out a psychologist or psychiatrist and receive the proper treatment by talking things through or taking medicine in order to regulate their brain levels, if they so choose.

  2. This is a very interesting post; I hadn’t heard of this CBS before. To be considered a CBS, an illness must be a locality-specific, recurrent pattern of aberrant behavior. From your description, I believe that Hwabyung could be regarded as a CBS. As stated, it occurs in a specific region (Korea). In this case, the aberrant behavior is the release of suppressed anger that can show itself through many symptoms. Additionally, it seems to be culture-specific because it often includes the emotion of “Haan”, which I don’t think would have an exact translation to an English emotion. The advantage of regarding Hwabyung as a CBS is that it could be better studied and its patients given better treatment. A disadvantage is that it appears to be a multi-faceted illness with multiple causes and multiple symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint and treat.

    In a different culture, the expression of once-suppressed anger may not be considered aberrant behavior and thus not labeled as a disease. For example, in our culture, I think that it’s more accepted to express anger on occasion rather than repressing it. If the same symptoms occurred out of its cultural context in Korea and in a culture where expressed of “negative” emotions like anger was more accepted, it may not be recognized as anything other than a normal expression of emotion.

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