The Holidays: What Really Matters to the People in Your Life?

Dear Vicki: “I’m devastated that my grandchildren won’t be here for Thanksgiving. How could their parents decide to take them to Hawaii?”

Dear Vicki: “I don’t want to go to the company holiday party. Can I get out of it?”

Dear Vicki: “My husband is obsessed with finding the perfect gift for his best friend. How can I convince him that’s not the point?”

Dear Vicki: “I want to host the family holidays this year. I throw better parties, but my sister says they’re too loud. Who should win?”

Dear Vicki: “My wife and I have always had a quiet ceremony on New Years Eve, but now she thinks we should go to her best friend’s house instead. Really?”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

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Dear Readers: Every year, letters from you abound regarding how best to address thorny holiday issues. So in the name of holiday harmony, I once again offer this brief reminder of what will matter the most to each of the Five Element personalities during the holiday season.

To paraphrase A Tale of Two Cities, the holiday season is the best of times, and the worst. The holidays celebrated from November through January, replete with tradition and meaning, guarantee that ceremony and fun will end up co-mingling with pushed buttons and dashed expectations. “We’ve always done it this way; that matters to me” must dance with “We’ve always done it this way; I think it’s boring.” To help keep your relationships harmonious during the holiday season, here is a brief summary of what will matter most to the people in your life, and what won’t. There are also a few suggestions regarding ways to keep the season happy for everyone.

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Hate Crimes: Who ARE These People?

Dear Readers: Last Saturday, 11 people were killed and two others critically injured during religious services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh when a lone gunman entered the building intending to “kill Jews.” As a result of his actions, he has been arrested and charged with federal hate crimes, which the FBI defines as crimes where the perpetrators act based on a specific bias against some aspect of the victim, such as race, color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. In essence, they hate something about the victim vehemently enough to take violent action against them. But why? And who would do something like this?

The answers to these questions are as complex as humanity itself. One can spend a lifetime trying to understand the human personality. But for those who have asked if there might be some understanding to be found in the Five Elements model regarding how people can hate each other enough to turn violent, I would like to offer the following thoughts.

The Five Elements model provides us with the ability to categorize people into five basic personality groups based on key factors such as life focus, needs and priorities, vulnerabilities, etc. This same model contains not only personality information, but also key relationship dynamics between each of the five elemental personalities. And it’s this relationship information that’s important here because hate crimes are predicated on how one person (or group of people) relates to other people, specifically people who they dislike or have a bias against.

The five elemental personalities are defined by their differences across a variety of topics, but for those of you less familiar with them, their basic priorities can be summarized as follows:

  • Water personalities tend to focus on exploring inner wisdom and philosophy. Out of balance, they can become almost reclusive.
  • Wood personalities tend to focus on success and accomplishment in the physical world. Out of balance, they can become angry and abusive.
  • Fire personalities tend to focus on enjoying and celebrating life. Out of balance, they can become panicked and hysterical.
  • Earth personalities tend to focus on relationships with home, family, and friends. Out of balance, they can become codependent and timid.
  • Metal personalities tend to focus on acquiring and sharing wisdom. Out of balance, they can become erudite and dismissive.

In truth, any one of these elemental personalities could be capable of committing a crime if something they value was threatened. But an act as horrific as killing another human being would be hard for someone with a lot of Earth energy in their personality because Earths are usually caring, gentle people. Fire people would also be unlikely to commit hate crimes because their upbeat, gregarious personalities make them a friend to all. And Water personalities would be unlikely to resort to violence because they live most of life in their heads. The two elemental personalities most likely to take negative action against a fellow human would be Wood and Metal personalities, but for very different reasons.

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My Daughter Hates Her Teacher!

Dear Vicki: My high school senior is having problems with one of her teachers. I know, what high school student doesn’t have teacher problems, right? But my concern is that the dynamic between Jillian and Mr. Smith could set a tone for the rest of Jillian’s educational life. She’s an outgoing, fun-loving, teenager who excels at the more social aspects of high school like cheerleading and parties, but generally gets respectable grades. Mr. Smith is deliberate (Jillian calls him boring), thoughtful, and what I would call deep. Jillian finds his history class boring and thinks everything about him is a “total downer” (other than the fact that he frequently lets them out of class early). Consequently, she isn’t doing well in the class. I don’t want to let her drop it, but is there some way to help her appreciate his deep approach to learning? Signed, A Concerned Mom

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Dear Concerned Mom: Bless you for caring enough to help your daughter understand her teacher instead of just letting her bolt from the class. I think there is a definite possibility of offering Jillian a lesson in relationship dynamics as you assist her in better understanding her history teacher. Here’s how you might approach the situation.

Based on how you and Jillian describe him, it seems pretty likely that Mr. Smith is a Water personality. Water people are deep and thoughtful, love pondering the greater truths of the world, and often use wisdom from the past to inform current and future learning. Jillian, on the other hand, sounds like a Fire personality. Fires love socializing, being the focus of attention, and standing out in a crowd. If we use the Five Elements model, we will see that Jillian and Mr. Smith relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle where his Water energy controls her Fire energy. Few Fire people like having Water rain on their parade, so it’s understandable that Jillian reacts negatively to Mr. Smith.

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Does Her Mother HAVE to Move In With Her?

Dear Vicki: My father passed away a decade ago and since then my mother, who is in her early 80s, has lived on her own. We had to take the car keys away from her last year due to poor eyesight and this has really been hard. She used to go out with friends all the time – she was quite the social animal – and complains regularly now about loneliness and boredom. Yet when my two brothers or I encourage her to join senor clubs – many of which provide transportation in our area – she says she’s not interested in spending time with a bunch of tired old people. More concerning is that she has had several falls over the past months, so we have to do something. I’ve spoken with my brothers and they both insist that, as the only daughter, it’s my job to have Mom move in with me. My children are grown, so we have room in the house, but the idea makes me angry. I don’t want to give up my space and freedom. I run a well-respected marketing consulting business from home, so if she lived here, my work might suffer. Plus, we would be together 24/7, and just thinking about that makes me tired. My brothers are really turning up the pressure and trying to guilt me. The whole thing makes me so mad I don’t want to see or talk to Mom now. This feels like a lose/lose for me, which seems really unfair. Am I stuck? Is it just the way of the world that she has to move in? Signed: Angry in Arlington

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Dear Angry: This is a very common issue. We all age and our abilities change as we do. Back in older times, people lived together in extended families or tribes, which meant the task of caring for older generations was spread more evenly across the younger generations. This is still the norm in many places, but in the Western world we have embraced the idea of individual homes, which creates a dilemma when someone is no longer capable of taking care of themselves and their home. The good news for you and your brothers is that a multitude of options exist for seniors these days, so you should be able to find something that works for your family. However, the discussions you will need to have with your mom regarding this issue will likely be hampered by your anger, so let’s help you understand what’s going on so you can better help your mom.

Based on the fact that when you get stressed you get angry or mad, it seems likely that your primary elemental personality is Wood. The need for success, space, freedom to “do their own thing,” and an organized environment are all key aspects of the Wood personality. Woods also do well in marketing, which involves creating and manifesting a plan for the future, all strengths of Woods. What Woods don’t do very well is give up their own dreams and comforts for someone else. But, this isn’t just anyone else, this is your mother, so it’s not surprising that you feel guilty. You probably think you should want to do this for her. Maybe you’re even slightly surprised at how strongly you don’t want her living with you. But I think there is a good reason why.

I’d like to suggest you feel this way because you are a Wood and your mom is likely a Fire personality. Fire people like to be busy and are indeed “social animals.” Connections matter to Fires, especially with friends at fun events. Fires don’t do well with boundaries, so the loss of freedom your mother experienced when her car was taken away would have been especially hard for her. Movement matters to Fires and a lack of movement can put out Fire. Her response that she doesn’t want to spend time with “tired, old people” also sounds like a Fire. Fun, upbeat, exciting connections feed Fire. Slowness and lethargy kill it. And while knowing she has a lot of Fire energy may help you better interact with your mother, it’s the relationship between her Fire and your Wood that is most important for you to understand.

Fire and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle, so one would think you two should have a congenial relationship. However, it is your Wood that feeds her Fire, so too much of your mother (or any Fire energy) could indeed feel draining to you. Also, the child feeding the parent seems backwards to our view of family, so this might be another reason you feel a slight bit of resentment around the idea of your mother moving in with you. In truth, you have launched your own children and have been enjoying the ability to focus on your own needs, so it’s not surprising that the idea of taking on responsibility for someone else again isn’t appealing. Wood energy likes to focus on personal success and accomplishment, not nurturing or feeding others, so it really might not be a good match to have your mom living with you. Fortunately, there are other options.

You don’t indicate whether anyone has run the ideal of moving in with you past your mom, but I suspect she might not like the idea, either. As a Fire, being busy and active as long as she can will be really important. Hanging out by herself in a large home with little or no company is not a Fire’s idea of a good time. So instead of trying to assuage your guilt and manage your anger at the situation as you and your brothers see it, I encourage all three of you to sit down with your mother and express your concerns. It might well be the right time for her to give up living alone, but there are a number of ways to accomplish that. For example, you could hire someone to stay with her, which will help keep her safe. But it also means that unless you hire a comedian or another Fire, she will probably be unhappy, so a different approach might be warranted.

Fortunately for you, as our population has aged, we have acknowledged that seniors will need assistance and a veritable cornucopia of residential options are now available in most metropolitan areas.  With a little bit of research, you and your brothers will probably find a place that will be perfect for your Fire mother. It will need to be geared toward “active seniors” so that she will have others like her with whom she can engage. Facilities like this usually have movies nights, regular parties, lots of activities (from shopping trips to theater excursions), as well as counselors and an abundance of staff people to keep an eye on the residents. A place like this will be perfect for a senior Fire personality, certainly better than being cooped up alone with an angry, unhappy Wood.

More importantly, I think you will find that if your mother is someplace where she can use and express her Fire energy with others, there will be less of it when you spend time with her. This will not only feel less threatening and agitating for you, it can actually feel good. In an odd turnabout, few people appreciate Fires more than Woods because Fires remind Woods that all work and no play just isn’t a good thing. Finding a place for your mother that will keep her safe and happy can turn your lose/lose into a win/win. More importantly, you will be happy to be with your mother again. Blessings to you all!

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Is Her Partner Disconnecting?

Dear Vicki: I just read your excellent post on help for a Metal husband and Fire wife and I wonder if you could comment on the variation I think I have going on. I am a Fire/Earth and use Wood for structure. My partner is Metal, but he is an artist so I think there’s a fair amount of Water in there, too. Anyway, we’re having problems. I drive him nuts with all my home projects and inability to sit still for a whole movie or TV show. He drives me nuts with his laser-focused attention that resents interruption whether working or relaxing. He doesn’t understand why it bothers me when he doesn’t answer a question. He decides if he thinks it needs an answer, and if he doesn’t think so, he is mum. I’ve tried to be patient with him because he recently lost a close friend, but it’s not working. I worry he might be pulling back. When we first got together, I felt our Earths bond strongly, but over time this has become intermittent. When stressed, I am drawn outdoors where I work on significant flower and vegetable gardens and a flock of chickens and a few fish in the pond.  He hates gardening and yard work. Maybe you could suggest another way to bring up his Earth? Signed: Nuts in Nevada

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Dear Nuts in Nevada: This is an excellent question. On the surface, it does seem like the information offered last week to a Fire/Metal couple should fit for you and your partner. However, I believe that there are more differences between the two couples than similarities. First, I suspect that you are really an Earth/Fire, not a primary Fire. My reasoning for this is that when stressed, Fires rarely seek solace outside with gardens, chickens, and fish. Instead, they usually seek events with other people where they can feed their need for excitement and connection. So your question is more about making a relationship work between an Earth/Fire and a Metal/Water. And I can tell you right up front that more Earth energy isn’t going to help, so let’s look at what will.

First, as with most relationships, it’s important to understand the underlying dynamics between you and your partner. In fact, it is more important in your relationship than with many others. As you know, your Earth will feel good to his Metal because Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle. Metals expect this from Earths. However, your Earth relates to his secondary Water via the Controlling Cycle (Earth directs Water). More importantly, your secondary Fire relates to his primary Metal on the Controlling Cycle, (Fire melts Metal). That isn’t going to feel good to him at all. But turnabout is fair play, because his secondary Water relates to your secondary Fire via the Controlling Cycle (Water puts out Fire).

The takeaway from all of this is that the only Nurturing Cycle connection in your whole primary/secondary relationship complex is your Earth feeding his Metal. Every other connection you have with him is via the Controlling Cycle. Your Earth controls his Water, your Fire controls his Metal, and his Water controls your Fire.

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