Managing Grief and Control Issues During Difficult Times

Dear Vicki: My widowed mother passed away earlier this year. My older brother, Paul, was named the executor of her will and estate, which surprised me; I assumed we would be co-executors. But Paul is an attorney, so I guess that makes sense. He is very responsible and orderly and has approached this task like it’s the most important thing in the world. But even though I’m a book nerd librarian who coaches girls soccer, I think I have something to offer the process. Basically, the problem is that Paul has a woman who wants to buy Mom’s house straight out, but I think the price is too low and we should wait until the pandemic is over. I have tried discussing this with Paul, but he refuses to budge and just shuts me out. How can I approach Paul and this situation without inflaming it? I feel extremely frustrated and angry, like he has slammed the door in my face. These are such difficult times, and this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Can you help? Signed: Saddened Sister

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Dear Saddened Sister: First, I send deep condolences to you and your brother on the loss of your mother. As you say, these are already difficult times, but the passing of your mother certainly makes things much more difficult for your whole family.

To help you address the issue with your brother in the midst of your loss, let’s start by looking at the Five Element personalities and dynamics involved. As a self-described book nerd and librarian coaching girls soccer, you sound like a mix of the Water and Wood elemental personalities. A passion for books and reading usually sits in the Water personality. But it takes a lot of focus, planning, and outward-expressing energy to coach soccer. These are attributes of the Wood personality. Your brother, on the other hand, sounds like a stereotypical primary Metal personality. As we have said here many times, it takes a great deal of detail and precision to practice law, and the Metal elemental personality excels at that.

However, because of the recent loss of your mother, you and Paul are currently both immersed in grief, endings, and letting go, all of which are expressions of the Metal element. This has likely resulted in the Metal part of your personality (remember we all have all five of the elemental personalities in our mix) expressing itself more strongly right now. It also means that Paul probably has extra Metal energy expressing itself in his personality. This could create a tendency for him to assume he is correct in everything he does. I suspect that, in his mind, he believes your mother was correct to choose him as the executor of the estate and he will do what he thinks is right. But please know that he will not take this approach in an egotistic way; it will just be a matter of fact for him.

If Paul has made it his mission to settle the estate, he will go at it with order and vigor, determined to do it the “right” way, which is of paramount importance to Metal people. Process and protocol guide their lives. And more Metal energy in Paul’s personality means more structure, so what you are likely experiencing from him now is this inflexible marching toward accomplishing his goal. Also, you don’t mention why you are unhappy with Paul selling the house to the woman who wants to buy it. Do you believe Paul is giving her too low a price and that an auction would bring a better price? Do you feel it unfair that this woman would be the only one who might have the opportunity to purchase the house? Is there something else?

The potentially lower price or unfairness of this woman being the only one with a chance to buy the house would definitely bother the Wood part of your personality. Obtaining the best price and being fair both sit in the Wood element. The fact that you are extremely frustrated and angry also suggests that your Wood energy is upset. And while this could be because of Paul’s actions, it could also be a reaction to his increased Metal energy and how that’s impacting you. Let’s take a look.

In the Five Elements model below, Metal and Wood relate on the Controlling Cycle (the big star), with Metal controlling Wood. It’s not uncommon for too much Metal energy to significantly upset the Wood personality. It can feel like all of their forward movement has hit a brick wall. And honestly, sometimes the wall is there for good reason. But sometimes the reason won’t matter; the feeling of being controlled or stopped will just bother the heck out of the Wood personality.

The Five Elements Model

The other dynamic at play between you and Paul is that Paul’s Metal personality relates to your Water personality on the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model). This is expressed as Metal feeds Water. Your own temporary extra Metal energy will also feed your Water. Excess energy for the Water personality can cause them to become somewhat paranoid or suspicious, and it’s possible that this might be contributing to your concerns around Paul. Finally, the presence of more Water energy will supply more energy to your Wood (Water feeds Wood on the Nurturing Cycle), which can heighten your feelings of frustration and anger if things aren’t going the way you think they should.

So, how can you approach Paul about the sale of your mother’s house without upsetting your relationship? First, I would suggest that you take a few steps to calm and center the Wood part of your personality. Wood and Metal both have control issues — Metal people like to be in control and Wood people don’t like to be out of control — so you want to be sure Paul doesn’t perceive your interventions as bids for control. Right now, with extra Water energy building your Wood energy, and extra Metal decreasing it, the Wood part of your personality is probably feeling pretty unstable.

Before approaching Paul, try balancing and grounding your Wood energy using sound and essential oils. To balance Wood energy with sound, inhale sharply, then exhale quickly making the sound, “Shhhhhhhhh,” pushing the last of the sound out at the end. Do this several times in a row, multiple times a day. To balance Wood energy with essential oils, obtain either peppermint or lavender oil and rub a few drops on your skin so that the scent is just noticeable. Or place a few drops on a tissue and inhale it several times a day.

Once you feel grounded, reach out to Paul and express your concerns regarding the way he’s selling the house. The good news when relating to the Metal personality is that, because they are so mental, they will usually respond positively to a well-reasoned discussion. Approach Paul with calm rationality and logic and he should readily see the wisdom in what you share. This means that the two of you will be able to address your concerns and grief together as both family and friends. Blessings to you as you move through these difficult times.

grief and control

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