The Holidays Make Her Sad

Dear Vicki: This is supposed to be such a joyful time of year, but try as I might I always end up sad and depressed around the holidays. I think of family and friends who have passed away and miss the holidays of my childhood. I am an adult who, for most of the year, is very content in her singlehood and happiest alone, but this time of years makes me question whether the effort I put into my legal career at the expense of relationships is wise. I know your blog is about relationships, but do you have any suggestions on how I can get through the holidays. I act like all the fuss is a colossal waste of time, but in all honesty, a small part of me wishes I wasn’t so automatically dismissive. I don’t expect to be joyful, but it would be great not to be so down. Signed: Sad in Sycamore

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Dear Sad: Bless you for reaching out. The holiday season is a complicated time of year for all of us. If we were lucky, we had parents who tried to make the holidays as magical as possible for us. We likely didn’t see the sacrifices they made to do this, or the responsibilities they juggled to manage it all. Even if we were this lucky, few of us ever enjoyed the kind of highly idealized holidays that the advertising world seems to insist is normal these days. Yet when we admit that we just don’t have the time, energy, or means to meet the expectations they create, we feel like failures.

And for those of us whose holiday experiences centered on friends and family, the inevitable loss of loved ones does put a damper on every holiday we celebrate. I want to assure you that these are all normal reactions and responses to the procession of life through the years. People come into our lives, and people leave. There are wonderfully magical times, and times of sorrow and loss. That is life at its most basic. But that doesn’t mean we are destined to be victims of the past. There is much we can do to manage our response to the holidays, so let’s look at ways you can make a difference for yourself this year.

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She’s Ready to Cut Ties with Her Brother

Dear Vicki: I feel terrible admitting this, but my brother and I fight about everything. I spent most of this year arguing with Ted about whether to sell our parent’s house (Mom passed two years ago and we just relocated my father to a retirement home) or keep it for rental income. We disagreed about which facility to place him in (my brother won), what to do with all the furnishings when we moved Dad (my brother won), who should host the holidays (I won only because I pointed out that his house is under renovation), etc. I’m a nurse and Ted’s a doctor, so he often points out that he knows more about everything than I, so I should just do what he says. I’m weary of the fighting and his angry, aggressive attitude toward me. I’d really like peace in the family, so I am seriously considering breaking off ties with him completely. The desire to do this has been especially strong this fall. I hate to tear the family a part, really the idea hurts my heart, but is there ever going to be a way to fix our relationship? Signed: Weary in Wisconsin

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Dear Weary: Family dynamics can be especially difficult. As the old saying goes, we pick our friends but are stuck with our family. Your family has been through some difficult times lately, too, with the loss of your mother, the relocation of your father, and the possible sale of your family home. This level of stress tends to bring out the very best, or the very worst, in us all. And while you and your brother may never be best friends, a little understanding might help you get along when you need to. And that is where the Five Elements model can help.

Ted sounds very much like a Wood personality. Wood people appreciate prestige, and our culture certainly holds doctors in high esteem. Ted would have needed a great deal of perseverance to make it though medical school, and Wood people usually have the stamina to push through barriers and succeed at manifesting almost anything. In fact, in the Five Elements model, Wood is represented by the power of spring, an energy that brings forth life from the darkness of winter.  You, on the other hand, sound more like an Earth personality. Earth people are usually very caring and compassionate. They want everyone to be happy and are miserable when there is fighting. Few people on the planet are more caring and compassionate than nurses, so your choice of professions also supports the strong likelihood that you are an Earth personality.

If we look at the primary relationship dynamic between Wood people and Earth people as outlined in the Five Elements model, we see that they relate via the Controlling cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. This means that it could feel to you like Ted is trying to get the upper hand when you argue because, in the Five Elements model, it is Wood’s job to make sure that Earth holds strong in the face of too much neediness from others. Left to their own devices, Earths can give so much to others that they deplete themselves physically or emotionally. When faced with an Earth that is giving too much, a Wood personality will often step in and try to control the situation to protect the Earth.

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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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Help! She Hates Thanksgiving!

Dear Vicki: Thanksgiving is less than one month away and I’m dreading it. I hate Thanksgiving. It’s so much work! I remember my mother used to cook for days to be ready for Thanksgiving dinner. And then it took hours to clean up after it. She never complained, but it must have bothered her when Dad and my brothers went off to watch football while my sister and I helped Mom clean the kitchen. My girls are teenagers now and while I’ve made the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal all of their lives, and they have helped me, I’ve dreamed about doing things differently. I want to honor the idea of being grateful – that’s the most important part – and I want my family to have a wonderful holiday, but when I suggest changing it up a little in the food department to make things easier, my husband refuses to break with tradition. Secretly, I’d like to boycott the whole holiday this year, but then I feel guilty. Am I a horrible mom? Signed: Hates Turkey

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Dear Hates Turkey: The short answer is that, no, you are not a horrible mom. Actually, you seem like a pretty honest mom to me. You care about your family and want to do well for them, but you also want to make it easier for you and your girls. That is very reasonable and actually very loving. The fact that you really want to make a good Thanksgiving holiday for your family but are feeling guilty that you might not be doing enough for your family suggests that you probably have a good amount of Earth energy in your personality. Earths care about making and keeping people happy. They want to do the best they can for their friends and family. But a balanced Earth will also know when and where to draw the line so they don’t become a squishy doormat. Congratulations on knowing when to raise your hand and ask for change!

And then there is your husband. People who value traditions and want to stick with them usually have a Metal personality. As we have said here many times, Metal people focus on the past. From that perspective, they determine what has worked before, what has not, and what should be carried forward. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” is a common Metal anthem. This sounds like your husband, right? The Thanksgiving traditions have worked for him, so why change them?

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He Complains About The Way She Does Laundry

Dear Vicki: I had an incident with my husband yesterday that has left me surprisingly upset. We both work full time jobs (I’m a project manager for a construction firm, he’s an accountant), try to stay involved with our grown children, are active in our church group, and basically have very full days. Weekends we usually have one fun day and one day for chores, which for me includes the laundry. I wash, dry, and fold everything, then leave it on the bed so we can each put away our own clothes. It had been a stressful week for both of us, but last night when it can time for him to put away his jeans, he rather condescendingly said, “How many times do I have to tell you how I like my jeans folded?” Well, I got really angry. He gets his darn clothes washed and dried; does it really matter how they are folded? What’s going on? Signed: The Laundry Lady

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Dear Laundry Lady: I have to admit I smiled when I read your letter. Doing laundry can often bring out the best or the worst in most of us depending on our elemental personality. Earth people usually enjoy doing laundry because it allows them to focus on improving something about their home (clean clothes are a definite improvement!). Wood personalities usually find it a chore that has to be done to get on to something else (“the only way out is through”). Fire and Water people usually end up doing laundry only when they run out of clean clothes because they’ve either been busy with friends (Fires) or lost in a book or creative project (Waters). And Metals usually do laundry regularly on a specific day and time and take special care in how that laundry is done. That’s because Metals believe there is a right way to do everything. And I think this is the root of your laundry woes: I suspect that while you are not a Metal personality, you certainly are married to one.

As I’ve mentioned many times in this blog, the mindset it takes to be a good accountant matches well the way Metal personalities approach the world. Not only is there is a right (and wrong) way to do everything, there is a right time, a right place, a right procedure, a right regulation, etc. And they all must be honored. In the Five Elements model, Metal people sit at the end of the cycle and this vantage point bestows upon them the ability to glean from the cycle an understanding of what worked and what did not. From this understanding they create the hierarchy, protocol, rules, etc. regarding what they perceive to be the optimal way to approach everything, be that accounting, laundry, or anything in between. And honestly, they are usually pretty spot on in their assertions.

You, on the other hand, sound like a Wood personality. It takes keen organization and planning skills to be a successful project manager, and this exactly describes the Wood personality. Details are way less important to Woods than they are to Metals, so it’s understandable that, while you will care that the clothes are clean, dry, and folded, you will care less exactly how they are folded. But as a Metal, your husband clearly does care how they are folded. So how can you smooth out this wrinkle?

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