Dear Vicki: I’m fascinated with the idea that our elemental personalities create nurturing or controlling relationships with other people. And now I’m wondering if the individual elements that make up my own elemental personality create “relationships” among themselves that nurture or control. I ask because I grew up in a household with a narcissistic and often depressed mother and a father whose anger frightened me. In some ways, I felt responsible for my mother and tried to help. I did a pretty good job, too, because I’m a determined (and some might say forceful) person. I also wanted things to be fair for my mom, so I often defended her against my dad when she couldn’t defend herself. I’m a serious gardener and manage a bakery from a back office, which I think means I have Earth as a primary elemental personality, right? But I don’t feel very Earthy around people. I never did growing up, but I want to now. Could something in my personality be affecting this? Signed: Wants to Be Warm and Fuzzy
Dear Wants to be Warm and Fuzzy: The short answer to both of your questions is yes: our individual personality elements do interact with each other via the Nurturing and Controlling Cycles and they do affect how our personalities manifest. We all have all five of the elemental personalities in our personality make up. And as the Five Elements model suggests, the Metal part of our personality feeds the Water part of our personality, our Fire part controls our Metal part, etc. In ancient Chinese medicine, understanding these relationships was central to using the elements for physical health and healing. And as we’ve covered in this blog for years now, these same interactions can also be used to understand and support both our personal emotional experiences and our relationships with other people. So, let’s take a look at what might be going on for your personality both as a child and an adult.
First, it will help to understand the primary elemental personalities of your parents. Depression and narcissism both sit in the Water element. Depression usually occurs when there isn’t enough energy to be optimistic and hopeful (which are characteristics of the balanced Water personality). Narcissism usually indicates an over-abundance of Water energy. It’s very likely your mother was a primary Water personality, but one that was unable to hold a balance. Anger sits in Wood and usually manifests when there is too much Wood energy, as does forcefulness, so I suspect that, not only was your father a primary Wood personality, but you are, as well. A strong desire for fairness in very characteristic of the Wood personality.
You likely have a strong secondary Earth personality as both your gardening and baking attest, but the fact that you stood up for your mother as a child says that your primary personality is probably Wood, not Earth. Earth people hate conflict and it would have been very hard for an Earth child to stand up to an over-energized Wood father because in that Five Elements model, Wood controls Earth. Your angry father would have pulled the rug right out from under your sweet Earth as a child. Because of this, I just don’t think you would have had the forcefulness to stand up to him as you did if you were a primary Earth personality. However, Wood personalities are usually ready to do battle for a cause. This is why I believe you are a primary Wood personality.
Growing up with a constantly unbalanced Water personality mother and excessive Wood personality father would have shaped you in very specific ways. In the Five Elements model, Water feeds Wood on the Nurturing Cycle. Your mother’s lack of Water energy at times would have underfed you and caused your Wood to push itself forward for her attention. Her over-abundance of Water energy at other times would have over-fed you, adding even more Wood energy to your personality expression. Remember that the Wood personality expresses itself through movement, accomplishment, and a desire for fairness, so the Wood part of your personality would have been very busy.
That might be why you and your Wood personality father were often in conflict. Unbalanced Wood people usually need to feel important. The presence of another unbalanced Wood (which you probably were growing up given the constant abundance, then deprivation, of Water energy from your mother) definitely can lead to competition, which increases Wood energy. And as we know from the Five Elements model, too much Wood will over-control 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 do have a lot of Earth. Yet isn’t it interesting that you’ve 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. And if lots of Earth energy was painful around people as a child because neither parent connected with you, your Wood would have stepped in to protect you by decreasing that Earth desire for connection.
Directing a lot of Earth energy at someone who couldn’t reciprocate (Waters are loners, plus depressed and/or narcissistic people don’t relate well to others) was probably a painful experience for you as a child who wanted attention from her mother. The experience likely sent a subconscious message that, with people, Earth hurts. To protect you, your Wood might well have stepped in and brought down the amount of Earth energy you manifested around people. But it wouldn’t change the fact that, as your secondary elemental personality, Earth would need some form of expression. And it has. As an adult, you manifest the Earth aspect of your personality in ways that don’t require a lot of connection with people.
You now feel emotionally ready to express the Earth part of your personality more around people and there are several easy ways for you to do that. In your bakery, allow yourself more customer interaction. Sweets and baked goods usually make people happy, so you will have a ready supply of happy people ready to appreciate you. Give them, and yourself, the chance for that to grow. Also, if you don’t currently dress in “bakers white” in your back office, I encourage you to start. It will help you feel more connected to the food products you sell (food is very Earthy) and more importantly, it will help prune back some of the Wood energy that is overcontrolling your Earth around people. White is the color that builds Metal energy, and in the model, Metal is what controls Wood. Less Wood energy will absolutely help you feel more warm and fuzzy toward people by allowing your Earth more expression with people.
So, this is a long answer and I hope it helps. The most important point to remember is that all of your personality elements work together to do what is best for you. And that might mean using your Wood to protect your Earth as a child the way the roots of a tree anchor the earth to protect it in nature. But as an adult, your primary Wood personality has earned a well-deserved respite because you are ready to engage more deeply with the people around you. Blessings to you!