Earth and Wood: When Controlling is Protecting

Dear Five Faces: I have a question about how my personal five elements relate to each other. Specifically, I’m wondering if my individual elements create “relationships” among themselves that are able to nurture or control. I ask because I grew up in a household with a depressed mother (too much Water) and frustrated father (too much Wood) whose anger frightened me. As with many children of depressed mothers, I felt responsible and tried to help her when she was depressed. I know I have a lot of Wood; I’m determined and forceful, with a strong sense of wanting things to be fair. My father and I were often in conflict, so I suspect I went through my childhood leading with my Wood. Until recently, I’ve believed I don’t have a lot of Earth. However, a friend pointed out that I have to have a lot of Earth: I’m a serious gardener and have baked professionally. But if I never expressed my Earth, does that mean my Wood has been over-controlling it? Signed: Tied Up in Knots

Dear Tied Up in Knots: The short answer to your first question is yes; our individual elements do interact with each other via the Flow and Control Cycles. Our Metal feeds our Water, our Fire controls our Metal, etc. In ancient Chinese medicine these relationships are the core of using the elements for physical health and healing. And the interaction of the elements can also be used to understand and support both our personal emotional experiences and our relationships with other people. Your Water mother and Wood father shaped you as your grew up, but throughout your life you will also be shaped by the interactions of the five elements in your personal make-up.

Regarding your second question, as a child you might well have had a lot of Wood because your mother’s over-abundance of Water “fed” your Wood. The fact that she had too much Water might also have kept your Metal suppressed so as not to add more energy to her Water (Metal feeds Water). Suppressed Metal would mean that you didn’t control your own Wood very well, which would have given you even more Wood. That might be why you and your Wood dad were often in conflict. And if your dad had too much Wood himself, not only would that have overfed your Fire and created panic or anxiousness for you, it (along with your own Wood) could also have over-controlled your Earth, minimizing its expression. This might be why you believed you didn’t have much Earth growing up.

But as an avid gardener and professional baker, you clearly have a lot of Earth. Yet isn’t it interesting that you have chosen to express your Earth in ways that don’t require you to interact with people? Based on your childhood, it’s very possible your Wood is controlling your Earth, but in a way that’s positive. Remember, “controlling” just means reducing the amount of energy in an element in a way that brings better balance.

The fact that your mother manifested too much Water would likely cause your Earth to try to help bring her Water back to balance (Earth is what “controls” Water). Directing a lot of Earth energy at someone who couldn’t reciprocate (Waters are loners, plus depressed people don’t relate well) was probably a painful experience for you as a child and sent a subconscious message that, with people, Earth hurts. To protect you, your Wood could have stepped in and brought down the amount of Earth you manifest around people. But Wood wouldn’t be able to change the fact that Earth could be your secondary element and would need to find some form of expression. And it has as an adult, but in ways that don’t require a lot of Earth around people.

(An interesting aside is the possibility that Earth could be your primary element, but it’s suppressed because of your family dynamics. If this is the case, we would call that “Earth lacking,” but that’s a topic for another day.)

retaining wood wallSo that was the long answer and I hope it helps you feel less tied up in knots. The most important point to remember is that your personal elements do work together and will always try to do what is best for you. And that might mean using your Wood to protect your Earth as a child the way Wood can anchor Earth to protect it in nature.

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