Dear Vicki: My husband Roland is a truly kind person, but he has a deep appreciation for structure and doing things the “right” way. For almost twenty years he has managed an art gallery and done it very well. The gallery had grown and taken on dozens of new artists, and Roland personally championed each of them. But since the pandemic hit, Roland has become judgmental, overly critical, and even somewhat sloppy. The gallery has reopened, and sales are picking up, but Roland isn’t getting back to his usual self. I’ve tried to support him by bringing cookies and his favorite lunches to the gallery – and even tried flirting with him – but nothing seems to work. In fact, the gallery is doing fine these days, but he seems to be getting worse. Help! Signed: Misses Her Man
Dear Misses: Roland is a lucky guy to have someone who cares about him so much. Bless you for trying, but I suspect that flirting (and lots of cookies) aren’t enough to get him back to his usual self. Given how you describe him, Roland’s primary elemental personality is likely Metal. The fact that he has a “deep appreciation for structure and doing things the ‘right’ way” strongly suggests Metal. People with a primary Metal personality are usually wonderfully structured perfectionists, until they become stressed. When that happens, they can become a dysfunctional version of their normal selves.
If, in the face of stress, the distortion is toward too much Metal energy, an out of balance Metal person will seem domineering, controlling, and dismissive. Conversely, too little Metal energy will usually manifest as an inability to determine what’s important (confusion), which makes the Metal person more critical. It’s a subtle, but important distinction because it will determine the best way to help the stressed Metal personality. Based on your description, it sounds like Roland’s Metal energy is depleted, and in truth, it’s not a big surprise.
Dear Vicki: I’m the mom of two small children and having them home so much lately (like 24/7) has given me an opportunity to observe more closely the ways they act with other family members. I love being with my children – all I ever wanted was a home and a family – but my husband has lower tolerance to their loud movies or fighting, especially when he’s trying to work himself. He loses his temper pretty often and asks if this is the way it’s going to be. So, my question is are children’s elemental personalities already fixed in place when they are 4 years old (Mickey) and 7 years old (Jessica)? I’ve read a little on the Five Elements personalities and wonder if Mickey’s preference to play alone most of the time means he’ll be a Water personality when he grows up? And will having an Earth personality mother (which I’m pretty sure I am based on my reading) make Jessica more “Earthy?” She does love helping me cook. Thanks for any guidance you can give. Signed: Curious Mom
Dear Curious: It is a truism these days that being at home together a lot more certainly does highlight our personalities and how they interact. The short answer to your questions is that children are born with the wiring for their elemental personality already in place, so they can, and will, begin expressing that personality immediately. This means that Mickey is already the little primary Water person he appears to be. One way you see that is in his tendency to prefer playing alone. And if your daughter is a primary Earth personality, it will be because she’s wired that way, not because she has an Earth person for her mother.
But while that may be the short answer, to get the whole picture of how children relate to their elemental personalities as they grow, we need to discuss two important relationships that color the way your children express themselves over time: 1) How their primary elemental personality relates to the elemental personalities of each family member, and 2) How their primary elemental personality relates to the elemental stage of their development. We’ll start with this issue of developmental stage.
Dear Vicki: Family is very, very important to me, but I am having trouble with two cousins who appear to have an overwhelming need to control my life. They strongly suggest (almost demand) that I do things the way they do, according to what they think is right. I have friends that seem to act this way toward me, too. All I want is for everyone to get alone, especially in these difficult times, but they just keep suggesting and pushing for what they think I should do next. When I haven’t done what they suggest, it has caused family rifts and the breakup of friendships. The pushy people in my life also don’t seem to feel the need to apologize for their actions, either, so it’s often up to me to make the first move, which doesn’t feel right. What can I do? Signed: Worried About My Relationships
Dear Worried About Relationships: There will always be people who, coming from an honest desire to help, strongly suggest that they know what is right for another person. And at an elemental personality level, these people are usually primary Wood personalities. Wood people focus on the future, are great at assessing what might not be going well in the present, and are even better at coming up with plans to address the issue going forward.
You, on the other hand, just want people to get along to the degree that you are willing to make the first move even when you aren’t the problem. That strongly suggests that you are a primary Earth personality. Earth people value family and friendships, and they are often the ones willing to go the extra mile to keep the peace.
Dear Vicki: For the first time in almost 35 years of marriage, my husband and I are having trouble. Our children are raised and on their own, we are financially settled, but are fighting like we never used to. If I look back at when things changed, it was probably five years ago when my brother died and I had hip replacement surgery. Instead of the fun-loving, happy homemaker I had been, I became a warrior determined to come back better than ever. Initially, Brad was very supportive and encouraging, but not anymore. Once I recovered, I found that I actually liked being more assertive, even if it meant I was often angry or frustrated. But apparently Brad doesn’t like it. He’s been uncharacteristically opinionated and cruel, is working longer hours, and generally seems to be pulling away. I love him. Is there hope for us? Signed: Stumped in Stockton
Dear Stumped: Of course there’s hope! There’s always hope. But there’s always change, too, and it sounds like you may have changed quite a bit five years ago when you faced the dual challenges of major surgery and the loss of your brother. Significant events in our life can and do change us, sometimes on a temporary basis and sometimes more permanently. So, let’s look at the ways the events of the past five years might have changed you and how you can work with that to rebuild a happy relationship with Brad.
You say that you were a “fun-loving, happy homemaker” before the surgery, but then you became a “warrior” while recovering from the surgery. And now you actually like your more assertive self. It sounds like pre-surgery you were probably acting like a primary Earth personality (happy homemaker) with a secondary Fire personality (fun-loving). However, post-surgery, you’re clearly acting like a primary Wood personality (warrior and assertive are both excellent ways to describe the primary Wood personality). So how could you have changed so much?
Dear Vicki: I hope you can help me understand my younger brother. I love him, but he drives me crazy. Growing up, Gavin was very outgoing, to say the least. He ran instead of walked, jumped around when excited, and always seemed busy. When we were little, I wanted to stay inside and color or read, but that bored him. In high school, he was on the pep squad and in theater. Just watching him made me tired and irritable. It still does. We’re in our early twenties now and have both moved back home temporarily to take care of our aging parents during the pandemic. My parents love him because he’s funny, but he always laughs louder than anyone else, even at his own jokes. And he tells way too many jokes. Honestly, I find myself wanting to be around him less and less, which is pretty hard in a small house with so much shut down these days. What can I do? Signed: Exhausted
Dear Exhausted: These are certainly trying times in many different ways. Moving back to your childhood home – even for a very good reason – is a big change and bound to be stressful. The incredible degree of uncertainty in the world these days is also stressful. And being thrown back into an uncomfortable dynamic with your younger brother is obviously going to be stressful. But while we can’t change the world right now, or even the people in your life, I can help you understand the personality dynamics between you and Gavin and offer you some suggestions on ways to improve them.
To begin with, as you describe him, Gavin is clearly a primary Fire personality. Fire people tend to be upbeat and outgoing, quick with a joke, and constantly in motion. They are usually happy to connect with people (current friends or strangers) and are firm believers in the old adage, “The more, the merrier!” And you are correct: Most people love being with Fire people because they are entertaining and just plain fun.
However, there are certain elemental personalities that can find Fire people difficult to be around. One of them is the Water personality. Water people tend to be quiet and reflective individuals who avoid crowded, raucous activities. Based on the fact that you loved coloring and reading when younger, and your basic reaction to Gavin in general, I suspect you are probably a primary Water personality. And as we know from nature, fire and water usually don’t mix well. The same can be true for people. Let’s look at why.