Dear Vicki: I am writing regarding a family problem in the wake of my mother’s passing one year ago. Mary, my mom’s younger sister, was incredibly close to mom and often acted like she resented that mom had three children and a husband to attend to. Mom adored us all, but our family’s relationship with Mary was often quite difficult. Since mom died, even though the three of us are adults with our own children, Mary seems to think she has to play the role of our mom now. She gets very annoyed if we don’t call her or get in touch. She always wants to know what we’re doing and has strong opinions about whatever it is. My sister and I can find a place to connect with her because we’re both artists, but my younger brother Frank feels very frustrated by her constant questioning of his life and the choices he’s made. He’s actually quite angry with her and just recently snapped at me, “We already had a mother; we don’t need another one!” If it helps, Mary lives the artist’s life nearby and doesn’t need work beyond that because she parlayed an excellent investment into a permanent income stream for herself. None of us really enjoy Mary, but she is the only member of my mom’s family left and families should get along, right? Do you have any suggestions for how we can get on better with her? Signed: Pretty Fed Up
Dear Pretty Fed Up: Ah, the joy of family interactions, so often fraught with misunderstanding and tension! Please remember that even though you are all from the same family, that in no way guarantees that getting along will somehow be easier. In truth, the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt often applies to families. The more acquainted we become with a person, the more we know their shortcomings, making it easier to dislike them. But it doesn’t change the issue that Mary is family, and as you have discovered, there is rarely an easy answer regarding how to shift unwanted behaviors. However, we do have our trusty Five Elements model to help make sense of the relationship, so let’s see what we can work out to help you change what is going on with your Aunt Mary.
As a full time artist, Mary likely has a primary Water personality. Creativity and imagination sit in Water, as does a tendency to have poor boundaries. In nature, water conforms to any container offered, but lacking a container, it flows all over the place. Mary clearly has never had good boundaries regarding her relationship with your family. Our culture generally gives priority to marriages and the families they produce, but while your mother was alive, Mary apparently felt her sibling relationship with your mother should be the top priority.
Dear Readers: Today we offer yet another opportunity to better understand yourself and the people in your life. Or at least a chance to better understand your elemental personalities. As I have mentioned here numerous times, at a very deep level the energy of the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal) helps shape our personalities. That’s because the energy of these five elements is stacked up in our personal energy fields and the order of this stacking determines which of the five affects us most. This dominant or primary element is called our elemental personality and the more we know about it, the more we know about ourselves. Even better, the more we know about the primary elemental personalities of the people in our lives, the better we can understand them. And best of all, because the Five Elements interact in predictable ways based on the ancient Five Elements model, we can use this model to predict the highs and the lows of every relationship we have.
This means that an important key to good relationships is the ability to determine the primary elemental personalities for ourselves and the people in our lives. And I believe that the best way to do that is to recognize yourself (and your friends and family) in basic descriptions of the elements and their behaviors. As I have suggested before, your primary personality is like being born into a secret club. All members of the Wood club will have similar tendencies, as will all members of the Metal, Water, Earth or Fire clubs. How members of these different clubs get along in relationships has been the primary focus of this blog for years, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to know yourself and what matters to you. When you do, your relationships will automatically start making sense, too.
Dear Vicki: My husband of 15 years and I divorced two years ago. It was his choice and very difficult for me; I crawled into a hole for quite some time. Recently, I’ve started dating a nice fellow I’ll call Tom, but I’m having trouble figuring him out. Sometimes he’s sensitive and caring, and sometimes he’s aloof and distant. When he’s in his caring place, we get along great. But when he’s off on his own, I tend to drift away, too, which I don’t think speaks well for a future together. I do love time alone – I’m an art therapist so enjoy my painting – and Tom is an attorney who spends a great deal of time at work. Do you think we have a chance of making it work? Signed, Can This Work
Dear Can This Work: First, let me say that I pretty much believe any relationship can “make it” if both parties understand the dynamics of their connection and are willing to work with them. There will be ups and downs, of course, but these can be predicted based on your elemental personalities. Knowing what your personal tendencies are in a relationship will always help build on the ups and smooth over the downs.
It sounds to me like you may have a primary Water personality given your love for art and an appreciation of time alone to paint. Creativity of all kinds sits in the Water element. But the fact that you use your talent to work as a therapist suggests that you also have a strong amount of Earth energy in your personality, too. Earth people love helping others, and they also value home and family. Your concern about being able to “make it work” with Tom speaks to a desire for a long-term relationship, which is also very important to Earth people.
As an attorney, it’s very likely that Tom has a primary Metal personality because it takes an appreciation of detail and hierarchy to practice law. Metal people also require time alone to work, which would explain his tendency to distance himself from you at times. And when Metal people become overworked or tired, they can come off as aloof, so I think it’s a pretty good guess that Tom is a primary Metal personality. However, his sensitivity and caring with you suggests a good amount of Earth energy in his personality, too. Bottom line: In your relationship with Tom he brings Metal and Earth personality tendencies and you bring Water and Earth personality tendencies.
Dear Readers: Today we offer another opportunity for you to get to know yourself better, or at least get to know your elemental personality better. As I mentioned last month, we each have all of the Five Elements in our personality make-up, but there is one of them for which we have a special affinity. I suggested that this elemental affinity can be likened to a primary lens through which we view the world. There are five different options for this lens – one for each of the five elements – and our primary lens affects how we interpret and respond to everything that happens in our environment. What we love, who we love, what we hate, what is easy, what is hard, you name it. The reality is that our primary elemental personality determines more than we realize regarding how we live our life.
Last month I suggested that our primary elemental personality creates predictable priorities and tendencies in our life that can be compared to joining a secret club at birth. For example, all members of the Wood club will have similar tendencies, as will all members of the Metal, Water, Earth or Fire clubs. How members of these different clubs get along in relationships has been the primary focus of this blog for years, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to know yourself and what matters to you. When you do, you not only begin to understand much of what you have done in the past, you will also be able to predict your priorities and tendencies in the future. And as we have said here many times, your relationships will start to make sense, too.
So, without further ado, here’s another up-close comparison across the five primary elemental personalities. This time we’re looking at personality-based strengths and weaknesses.
Dear Vicki: This may be an odd question, but I’m hoping you can help. My teenage daughter, Sam, is very creative and loves to design things like clothing, pottery, and even scenery for our local theater. Sam’s enthused about starting things, but once she’s in the middle of it, if the process takes too long, she loses her enthusiasm and I have to encourage her (and sometimes downright nag) to get her to finish. Sam’s very outgoing, active in student government, and does have a bit of a temper if I nag too much. I know she is busy, but I am drowning in her unfinished projects. Can you help? Signed, Soggy Mom
Dear Soggy Mom: This is an interesting issue. The fact that Sam has “a bit of a temper” and is active in student government suggests that Sam has a primary Wood personality. Wood people usually enjoy the task of running things, and anger is often a place they go when stressed. That said, conceptualization and creativity sit in the Water element, so this means that Sam must easily access the Water aspects of her personality, too. She just doesn’t stay there long enough to finish up on things, and I suspect this is partially an aspect of her Wood personality. Let me explain.
Sam uses her time playing in the creativity of the Water element to come up with lots of great ideas and projects, but it’s her Wood personality that she uses to make them happen. A hallmark of Wood is accomplishment, so this means that while Sam may love the designing phase of a project, she loves the success of the finished piece, too. But the road from the design start to the finish goes through the town of hard work, and some Woods just don’t have the patience for that. If too much time is involved, Sam might be losing interest in her projects and therein sits the problem. It’s not that Sam is lazy, she’s just not engaged anymore. And that’s the kiss of death for Wood people – they don’t do boredom well.