Dear Vicki: It’s a hot summer where we live and I’m having trouble with a neighbor who keeps using our outdoor pool without being invited. I know outdoor socializing is less of an issue these days (although I still worry myself sick about our family getting Covid), but when they come over, I can’t bring myself to tell them to go home. The guilt would kill me. However, other than the social distancing thing, it’s also a problem because her five children are poorly behaved, to say the least. They splash water all over, run around the pool when we’ve specifically told them to walk, and generally don’t follow the rules, which really disturbs me. Honestly, my family just doesn’t like them. I’m so sorry to be unkind, but we are already stressed and having rude neighbors here ruins things for my family. I want to do the right thing, but also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or create a difficult relationship with the people next door. Can you help? Signed: Feeling Guilty and Miffed
Dear Guilty and Miffed: First, let me assure you that you are not being unkind. Frankly, you sound pretty practical to me. As far as I know, creating family “bubbles” for socialization is still the best way to stay safe and well during this pandemic. Most people who take this approach usually think long and hard before they include others in their bubbles. And pandemic issues aside, if a neighbor is ruining things for your family, they shouldn’t be at your house. So, let’s look at what might be going on between you and your neighbor, and from there I think we can come up with ways to address your situation.
Based on your letter, I think it’s safe to say that you are a primary Earth personality (worrying yourself sick is very Earthy, as is feeling guilty). However, your dislike of the neighbors not following the rules strongly suggest that you have a secondary Metal personality. Metal people deeply believe that rules are meant to be followed. They also have a lot of structure (they can be the most structured of the elemental personalities), so can easily land in a place of “what’s right is right, and what isn’t right is just wrong.”
Your neighbor, on the other hand, seems to me to be a primary Wood personality. It takes a lot of hutzpah to continually invite yourself and your children over to use someone else’s pool – especially during a pandemic – unless a standing invitation has been issued (which it doesn’t sound like you’ve done). The elemental personality that has that kind of “pushy” energy is Wood. This means that you, as a primary Earth personality are trying to deal with a Wood personality. And it’s no surprise you’re losing.
In the Five Elements model (see diagram below), the Wood and Earth elements relate on the Controlling Cycle (the big star), with Wood controlling Earth. This means that your neighbor’s Wood energy will diminish your Earth, which leaves you having less fun and feeling more guilty. The guilt itself is an indication that her Wood energy has controlled your Earth energy to the degree that it’s becoming depleted. Guilt usually indicates under energized Earth energy. Said another way, her Wood personality is over controlling your Earth personality. It’s no wonder you’re feeling uncomfortable. But worry not, because you have a secret weapon!
The good news is that your secondary Metal personality also relates to your neighbor’s Wood personality on the Controlling Cycle, but it is your Metal that will control her Wood. And this will be the best way for you to relate to her regarding this issue. Step strongly into the world of Metal where everything is done in an orderly fashion, there are right and wrong ways to behave, and protocol reigns! Short-term, lock your sweet Earth personality in a closet and let her out once your Metal energy has had a serious (but kind! Metals are very kind!) talk with your neighbor. For this talk, there are two ways you can go.
The first is to tell your neighbor the truth. As a secondary Metal personality, you can be rational and direct in telling her that you and your family are not currently welcoming non-family members into your “bubble.” You might also point out that the behavior of her children is the opposite of what you are trying to teach your children, and for those reasons you request that she not invite herself and her family over to your pool anymore. Honesty is always the best approach, but there are two reasons you may not choose to do this, and both have to do with your primary Earth personality.
The first reason is that your Earth energy, even though locked in the closet, may cave at the thought of possibly hurting someone’s feelings. This is a very real issue for Earth people and must be taken into account. The second reason is that even if you communicate with your neighbor in a kind manner, your Metal energy will not only feel controlling to her Wood personality, it will stop her from getting something she wants (time in your pool). Both of these could easily cause an angry outburst from her (anger is the Wood personality’s stress response) and create prolonged tension between the families. Again, this will be very hard on your Earth personality.
If you decide that your Metal can manage things and help your Earth along, I encourage you to use the first approach. It is honest and direct. However, if you just don’t think you can do it (it really could be hard on your Earth personality), you can use the “little white lie” tactic, which can also be effective.
Begin by explaining to your neighbor in a gentle, but firm, fashion that given the stress in the world these days you have decided to create more private time for your family going forward. Because of this, your family has agreed to restrict use of the pool to just your immediate family for the foreseeable future. You appreciate her understanding and respect for your family’s wishes. Thank you. End of discussion.
This should do it (as long as you don’t invite other, non-family people over which, given your concern about Covid, seems unlikely). And if she still comes over? You will need to stand in a strong Metal place and, hard as this might be for your Earth, tell her that the pool is not available to non-family members and she needs to leave. That should do it, even for a Wood personality.
What you describe is an awkward situation to address at many levels, but if you stand in your Metal energy and offer the truth, I think you can not only keep her from ruining your family’s pool time, but also preserve the relationship. Best of luck! Stay safe and well.