Dear Vicki: I hope you can help me understand my younger brother. I love him, but he drives me crazy. Growing up, Gavin was very outgoing, to say the least. He ran instead of walked, jumped around when excited, and always seemed busy. When we were little, I wanted to stay inside and color or read, but that bored him. In high school, he was on the pep squad and in theater. Just watching him made me tired and irritable. It still does. We’re in our early twenties now and have both moved back home temporarily to take care of our aging parents during the pandemic. My parents love him because he’s funny, but he always laughs louder than anyone else, even at his own jokes. And he tells way too many jokes. Honestly, I find myself wanting to be around him less and less, which is pretty hard in a small house with so much shut down these days. What can I do? Signed: Exhausted
Dear Exhausted: These are certainly trying times in many different ways. Moving back to your childhood home – even for a very good reason – is a big change and bound to be stressful. The incredible degree of uncertainty in the world these days is also stressful. And being thrown back into an uncomfortable dynamic with your younger brother is obviously going to be stressful. But while we can’t change the world right now, or even the people in your life, I can help you understand the personality dynamics between you and Gavin and offer you some suggestions on ways to improve them.
To begin with, as you describe him, Gavin is clearly a primary Fire personality. Fire people tend to be upbeat and outgoing, quick with a joke, and constantly in motion. They are usually happy to connect with people (current friends or strangers) and are firm believers in the old adage, “The more, the merrier!” And you are correct: Most people love being with Fire people because they are entertaining and just plain fun.
However, there are certain elemental personalities that can find Fire people difficult to be around. One of them is the Water personality. Water people tend to be quiet and reflective individuals who avoid crowded, raucous activities. Based on the fact that you loved coloring and reading when younger, and your basic reaction to Gavin in general, I suspect you are probably a primary Water personality. And as we know from nature, fire and water usually don’t mix well. The same can be true for people. Let’s look at why.
In the Five Elements model depicted above, you will see that Water and Fire relate to each other on the Controlling Cycle (the big star). And therein lies a key aspect of the difficulty you face with Gavin. The responsibility for “controlling” is yours. In the model, it is Water energy that is supposed to keep Fire energy under control. This means that deep in your Water personality wiring is a sense that it’s your job to keep your younger brother from getting out of control. This is often necessary, too, because unchecked Fire people can and do burn out themselves, and others.
Another important aspect of your relationship with Gavin is that, energetically, Fire and Water are exact opposites in terms of their expression. In the Five Elements model, Fire represents full yang, the energy of expression, joy, and celebration. As you know, Fire people love activity, love to connect with others, and love the attention their outgoing personalities give them. But because connections with Fire people are often temporary, few people experience the ongoing exhaustion and literal burn out you can feel with Gavin. That’s because Fire people usually enjoy the moment, wherever and whatever it is, then are off in search of the next transforming experience.
On the other hand, in the Five Elements model Water represents full yin, the energy of introspection, contemplation, and inspiration. This means Water people need quiet time and are happiest discussing issues with a few close friends. They usually find loud, crowded events overwhelming and understandably draining, thus will go out of their way to avoid them.
So, does this mean that you’re doomed to feel fried whenever you’re around Gavin? Not necessarily. But it does mean you probably need to help Gavin understand the very real differences between the two of you. Because Fire personalities are such fun, in the “now” people, they often don’t make the time to ponder differences. In fact, one of the beauties of Fire people is that they rarely have a “them vs. us” approach to life. Everyone is welcome to have fun with them (and everyone usually does).
Since that isn’t the normal reality for you as a Water personality, it’s important that you help Gavin understand that you just approach life differently. And while Gavin might find a life of only quiet get-togethers boring, you can help him understand that you rather like them and would love to share a few with him. In fact, if you can each step lightly into the other’s world now and then, I believe you will find that you both have richer lives for the experience.
Yes, you and Gavin are very different. But each of you has something the other doesn’t and sharing that with each other will enrich (and balance) both of you. When you are deeply in a Water place, the sunshine of fun doesn’t reach you. And while too much Fire energy wears you out if you always try to control it, some Fire is good for you. We all need connections (yes, even Water people) and we all need the joy of celebrating life. Fire people do that naturally. Small doses of Fire time with Gavin will actually help you introduce some balancing yang to your very yin ways.
Conversely, every Fire person needs the cooling “down time” of yin energy, and you can offer this to Gavin. Encourage him to spend time with you reading, watching a movie at home, or (after things open up) attending a musical event like a symphony. Walks in nature together are also great options. The important point is that, every now and then, you offer Gavin a glimpse of your cool, calm world and allow that to help balance him instead of you trying to do it by sheer force of personality.
If you can reach out to Gavin, explain the differences between the two of you, and build on what you can offer each other, I truly believe you can create a relationship with your brother that will be healing and fulfilling for you both. Then, instead of running away from him, you can settle in now and then and enjoy the warmth of his Fire. It’s a warmth that, as a Water personality, you will probably never know without him. Blessings to you! Stay safe and well.