Dear Vicki: I am writing regarding a family problem in the wake of my mother’s passing one year ago. Mary, my mom’s younger sister, was incredibly close to mom and often acted like she resented that mom had three children and a husband to attend to. Mom adored us all, but our family’s relationship with Mary was often quite difficult. Since mom died, even though the three of us are adults with our own children, Mary seems to think she has to play the role of our mom now. She gets very annoyed if we don’t call her or get in touch. She always wants to know what we’re doing and has strong opinions about whatever it is. My sister and I can find a place to connect with her because we’re both artists, but my younger brother Frank feels very frustrated by her constant questioning of his life and the choices he’s made. He’s actually quite angry with her and just recently snapped at me, “We already had a mother; we don’t need another one!” If it helps, Mary lives the artist’s life nearby and doesn’t need work beyond that because she parlayed an excellent investment into a permanent income stream for herself. None of us really enjoy Mary, but she is the only member of my mom’s family left and families should get along, right? Do you have any suggestions for how we can get on better with her? Signed: Pretty Fed Up
Dear Pretty Fed Up: Ah, the joy of family interactions, so often fraught with misunderstanding and tension! Please remember that even though you are all from the same family, that in no way guarantees that getting along will somehow be easier. In truth, the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt often applies to families. The more acquainted we become with a person, the more we know their shortcomings, making it easier to dislike them. But it doesn’t change the issue that Mary is family, and as you have discovered, there is rarely an easy answer regarding how to shift unwanted behaviors. However, we do have our trusty Five Elements model to help make sense of the relationship, so let’s see what we can work out to help you change what is going on with your Aunt Mary.
As a full time artist, Mary likely has a primary Water personality. Creativity and imagination sit in Water, as does a tendency to have poor boundaries. In nature, water conforms to any container offered, but lacking a container, it flows all over the place. Mary clearly has never had good boundaries regarding her relationship with your family. Our culture generally gives priority to marriages and the families they produce, but while your mother was alive, Mary apparently felt her sibling relationship with your mother should be the top priority.
However, your comment about Mary’s ability to create an income stream for herself through astute financial management suggests that she also must have a good amount of Metal energy in her personality. It’s rare that a Water person would be that interested in – or clever at – investments. And while it’s likely that Mary is naturally a primary Water personality with a strong secondary Metal, I suspect that the Metal part of her personality is taking a more dominant role these days due to her grief at the loss of your mother. Grief and letting go sit in the Metal element, and lots of Metal energy can make Mary pushy and insensitive. As artists, you and your sister probably also have primary Water personalities. In the Five Elements model, Metal feeds Water, so Mary’s excess Metal energy probably isn’t bothering you that much. But your brother Frank is a totally different story. Given that he responds to Mary with frustration and anger, he sounds like a primary Wood personality. In the Five Elements model, Metal chops Wood. No wonder Frank is bothered by Mary these days!
Given the parties involved, it seems the best way to get on better with Mary will be to help reduce her excess Metal energy. If you can do this, she will likely revert back to the more comfortable “go with the flow” primary Water personality that you’re all used to, so it should make things a bit more comfortable. However, I’m not sure how easy it will be for you and your siblings to address Mary’s excess Metal because it doesn’t sound like any of you have a lot of Fire energy, and Fire is what is needed. Fire controls Metal.
The absolute best way to bring in Fire energy is to do fun and exciting things. Play! Laugh! Dance! But that’s often the last thing a group of Waters or a Wood will want to do, especially if they are still mourning the loss of someone dear. Playfulness and partying are the polar opposite of your comfort zone (Water is pure yin to Fire’s pure yang), plus Fire activities often feel frivolous to Waters and Woods. So, let’s look at less active ways to help balance Mary’s Metal.
One possibility would be to build her personal Fire energy by surrounding her in red. The easiest way to do this is to gift her with red clothing (perhaps a scarf, blouse, or t-shirt?) and hopefully she will like it well enough to wear it. Other simple ways to shift Mary’s Metal energy include: a) Gifting her with jewelry made from stones known to balance Metal. This includes hematite, snowflake obsidian, and goldstone. As part of the gifting, encourage her to wear them 24/7. b) Buying her eucalyptus and lemon essential oils because they also balance Metal energy. Encourage Mary to wear the oil or diffuse it into her home. c) Offering Mary tea. Red clover and elecampane tea balance Metal energy, so you could give her a healthy supply of those.
These suggestions will all help balance Mary’s Metal, but probably the best way to address the issue with Mary is to share with her the truth of how you all feel. Metal people often change behaviors rather easily if given a rational reason for the suggested change. This may be difficult for you, but if you could share with Mary that you are uncomfortable with her trying to be your mom and you would rather just have her as your aunt, she might well respond to that. I loved your brother’s comment about already having had a mother and not needing another one. It might be terse, but shared in a kind way, Mary’s Metal should respond to that truth. Metals value truth above almost anything else.
The bottom line is that if you don’t take some kind of action, the situation is likely to continue deteriorating to the point that it creates a rupture in the family that could be even more difficult to address. Helping your aunt see the truth now will be an important step. I wish you and your family all the best.