What Elemental Personality Are You?

Dear Readers: 

I regularly hear from people asking how best to determine their elemental personality. Four years ago, I wrote a blog about just that and thought it might be a good time to share it again.

Stay safe and well,


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Dear Readers: At a recent workshop, a student approached me unsure of her primary elemental personality. She had taken several different “learn your element” tests and while they all narrowed the focus to three elements (Water, Earth, and Metal), she still wasn’t sure which one was her true primary elemental personality or even how they might manifest in her life. Most of the test results said she was a primary Water personality, but she just wasn’t sure.

I explained that while the tests are a great starting point, I believe that the best way to determine your primary elemental personality can be to observe yourself relative to what we know about each of the element personalities. To do this, I asked her to send me answers to the following five questions:

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Her Sister Won’t Discuss Family Death

Dear Vicki: Fran, a dear friend of the family, passed away almost three months ago. She was like an elderly aunt to me and my older sister Ruthie, and it has been hard for me to lose her. I’ve reached out to Ruthie to talk about it, but she apparently doesn’t want to. In hindsight, I can see that Ruthie never really wanted to talk about her feelings. We had a difficult relationship growing up and were very competitive as children. As we grew, I figured out that the easiest way to get along with Ruthie was to do things for her. I baked her favorite cookies, did some of her homework, and even knit her a scarf once. In short, I learned to hide it when I had strong opinions about something or really wanted to do something Ruthie didn’t. Now, I want to talk about Fran, but Ruthie will have none of it. I’m really frustrated about this because I think it’s time for me to be more of my real self around Ruthie. Why am I the one who has to change to get along? And how do I get Ruthie to talk to me about Fran? Signed: Disconnected Sister

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Dear Disconnected: I wish I could offer you a magic wand to make Ruthie more willing to talk about her feelings, but honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible. Based on your description of her, I suspect that Ruthie is a primary Wood personality. And given that the two of you were really competitive as children, I think you may be, too. But you also appear to have Earth as a very strong secondary part of your personality. Given this, the interactions between you and Ruthie become somewhat predictable and definitely understandable. Let me explain.

The Wood personality deeply values accomplishment and personal achievement. When two Wood people get together, if they aren’t careful, they can lapse into competitive behavior, possibly even bringing out the worst in each other. I suspect that any conflict between you and Ruthie was very difficult for your secondary Earth personality to take because family harmony is really important to the Earth personality. To avoid conflict and create harmony, it sounds like you stepped into that Earth part of your personality more and more around Ruthie. And one way to demonstrate that would be to do nice things for her.

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Understanding Each Other Now

Dear Vicki:  I know these are difficult times for all of us, but I’m having trouble with my husband. We both work outside of the home (he manages a printing store, I’m a librarian) so used to spend time together just on weekends. But now with stay at home, we’re together almost 24/7. I think the problem is that I’m a pretty go with the flow kind of person and my husband is not. We’re all stressed, but lately my beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy has turned into a fussy, opinionated jerk who rants continuously about everything (politics, viruses, no business, you name it). I’m actually enjoying the quiet time at home to catch up on reading, but he’s like a caged animal. How do we get along? Signed, On the Edge

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Dear On the Edge: That’s the question, isn’t it? How do people who are so different manage to get along? I believe the short answer is that we start by understanding each other. Especially now with the stress of Covid-19, we are all going to have times when we behave less than perfectly. And there are ways to manage that, but let’s start with understanding each other first. It sounds to me like you are a primary Water personality and your husband is a primary Wood personality, so let’s take a look.

Your husband, as a Wood person, will care about things like politics, will always have opinions, and will “rant” because frustration and anger are where Wood people go when they’re stressed. And politics usually stress the Wood personality; the concern that the “wrong” party or person is creating chaos frustrates them. And given what’s going in the world, I can guarantee that you’re not the only household where ranting abounds these days.

I have no idea how long you’ve been married, but the fact that you also know him to be a “beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy” says that you’ve likely been together a while, so his behaviors probably aren’t a total surprise to you. Rather, I think perhaps they’re wearing on you more heavily now than at previous times because, as you say, you are together 24/7. As a primary Water personality, you will tend to go with the flow more than most, or even let the flow go around you, leaving you unfazed. This will be a real asset for you moving through these coronavirus times.

Sadly, your laid-back approach isn’t something your Wood personality husband will necessarily understand. Wood people usually try to make things happen, and to do that they often have opinions about everything. The ability of a Water person to be philosophical, to look at a situation like the current pandemic and take an “it is what it is” approach, will be completely foreign to a Wood personality. Hold on to your ability to be philosophical, though. It will serve you well as you navigate the relationship with your husband. And understanding how you two relate is where the Five Elements model can help

In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate on the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model below), so this connection can have a nurturing feel to it. Note that I say “can” have a nurturing feeling. How a Nurturing Cycle relationship feels will vary greatly depending on the elements involved, who is “feeding” who, and if the interactions are casual and fun or serious and stressed. In your relationship, it is your Water that is feeding his Wood, so he should feel happy with that.

The Five Elements Model

And as long as you stay balanced so as not to over or under supply the relationship with energy, it can and should be a happy connection. It’s likely that the differences between you and your husband are heightened right now based on what’s going on in the world. Said another way, you’re probably having trouble with the fact that your flow is running smack dab into a wooden wall of ranting and fussiness that interferes with your calm.

There are several ways for you to approach this. First, your Wood personality husband might be surprised to know that his ranting is upsetting you as much as it is, unless you have already told him. Ranting is a natural expression for a frustrated Wood person; it’s an emotional energy release for them that often doesn’t include their brain. If you haven’t already shared with your husband that you’d rather not experience his rants or fussiness, then please do so. Wood people are usually very rational individuals who can comprehend that something they’re doing is a problem. Your husband probably won’t be able to change completely, but at least he’ll understand when you choose to remove yourself from the discussion, the room, or the house when he’s in one of those moods. You doing this might be the encouragement he needs to alter his behavior, too.

Second, you need to honor yourself. Like any healthy Water personality, your sanity will often depend on your ability to maintain a steady, calm flow so that you can go deep down to where the inner life of the Water personality exists. Make sure your Water energy is balanced. If you have too much Water energy, you could actually be contributing to your husband’s heightened frustrated state because, as we’ve said, Water feeds Wood. Once you’re sure you’re balanced, determine when your husband is most likely to be ranting or fussy (watching political shows on TV, perhaps?) and avoid those times and places. You can read a book in another room while he watches TV or does whatever it is that upsets him so much.

Finally, request that certain rooms in your home can be declared “neutral zones.” This means no intense discussions allowed. Rooms to label as such might be the bedroom and the dining room; anything that happens in either of these rooms usually doesn’t benefit from ranting or fussiness. If a conversation with him gets to be too much, retreat to one of these neutral zones and hold your line.

I suspect that if you do this a few times, the “beautiful, kind, and intelligent” part of him will get what’s happening, become more aware of his behavior, and ideally change it accordingly. He is always going to be a Wood personality, and you are always going to be a Water personality, but the relationship between the two of you doesn’t have to be  contentious. It can be loving and deep as long as you understand and honor what each of you brings. Blessings to you! Stay safe and well!



Helping Friend Dumped During Pandemic

Dear Vicki: Sami has been my best friend for over a decade. We have had many wild and crazy times together, mostly because Sami loves going out and is always the life of the party wherever we go.  She said she never wanted to be tied down, but all that changed last year when she met Hans, an outgoing, serious banker guy pretty focused on his career. Sami really fell for him, and he seemed to feel the same about her. Sami’s life was definitely a lot more together with Hans around. But after about six months of what looked to me like crazy, happy, almost all the time togetherness – including sheltering together at Sami’s during this pandemic – Hans left Sami last week for a meditation instructor. Sami’s totally depressed and not herself. What can I do to help her get Hans back? Signed, Sorry for Sami

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Dear Sorry: This is a difficult time to end a relationship. During the Covid-19 outbreak, stable relationships can significantly support our sense of normalcy. For Sami and Hans to split up now will definitely rock both of their boats, but of course it will be especially hard on Sami. To find ways to help her, let’s see if we can figure out why Hans might have left. And as you can imagine, I believe it comes down to the interaction of their primary elemental personalities.

As someone who loves going out and is always the life of the party, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Sami is a primary Fire personality. Hans, on the other hand, is clearly not. As an “outgoing serious banker guy pretty focused on his career,” he is likely a primary Wood personality. Getting ahead really matters to Wood people and at a personality level, they are often mesmerized by the light and fun Fire people create. I believe Sami and Hans had a Wood/Fire relationship, and that dance between Fire and Wood is an interesting one.  Continue reading

Twins Clash While Sheltering at Home

Dear Vicki: I have 14-year-old twins who are as different as night and day. Ted is a low-key guy who has always been happiest alone reading or watching movies. Tammy is the exact opposite. For her, everything is exciting and should be shared and celebrated at high volume. With the onset of sheltering in place, my husband is working from home and the children are doing virtual classes here, which means the four of us are spending almost every waking moment together in our small house. It’s not going well. I’ve tried to create fun and inventive family dinners, but they have degenerated to the point that Ted no longer talks because he can’t get a word in with Tammy going on and on about anything and everything. Tammy thinks Ted is a downer and Ted thinks Tammy lacks substance. My husband, an attorney, thinks they’re both spoiled brats that I clearly failed to raise well as a stay-at-home mom. I know this is a stressful time in the world, and I’m deeply grateful we all still have our health, but do you have any advice for a mom trying desperately to hold her family together during a pandemic? Signed, Battle Weary Mom

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Dear Battle Weary: Well, it sounds like your household is certainly not dull. But have faith. You are dealing with the logical extension of what I believe are four different elemental personalities confined 24/7 in close quarters while a deadly virus runs amok in the world. For most people, the pandemic has thrown everything on its head and created stressors that can bring out the best – and the worst – in all of us. But there are ways to make some sense of (and even improve on) what’s happening at your house.

First, we need to identify the elemental personalities interacting in your family. To begin with, I believe that as a stay at home mom desiring nothing more than peace in the family, you are a primary Earth personality. Your husband, an attorney who gladly delegated childrearing to you yet is quick to judge the results, is very likely a Metal personality. As for Ted, the fact that he is low-key and enjoys time alone, plus loves reading and watching movies, strongly suggests that he is a primary Water personality. And Tammy is clearly a primary Fire personality: she loves to be the center of attention, louder is usually better, and everything is worthy of celebration.

Knowing that Ted is a primary Water personality and Tammy is a primary Fire personality absolutely explains the way they interact and the fact that you consider them exact opposites. At an elemental personality level, they really are exact opposites. Let me explain.

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