Help: The Holidays Are Too Much For Her!

Dear Vicki: It’s been a tough year for me in many ways and the whole idea of creating the holidays my family has come to expect overwhelms me. But the minute I decide to cut back on decorating and buying gifts, I feel guilty. On top of that, even though my children have families of their own, when I mentioned not baking Christmas cookies this year they were shocked and now I’m worried they’ll be too disappointed if I don’t bake. I’m taking care of my own mother and working full time, and I just don’t have the energy or joy in me to do the whole holiday thing. Is there an easy way to tell my family that I want to skip the holidays this year? Signed: Tired in Tennessee

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Dear Tired: I can promise that you’re not alone in your desire to skip the holidays. I’ve heard from many people – mostly women – who have expressed similar sentiments. And it’s very understandable. Here in the U.S. the holidays have become a behemoth commercial event perpetuated by a retail industry brilliant at pushing all of our “make it perfect” buttons. Somehow, we seem to have bought into the idea that bigger and better matter, but deep inside I suspect we know that isn’t true. So why does the commercialization of the season still exert such a hold on us?

I think most of us go crazy around the holidays in the name of love. For centuries, gift giving has been a primary expression of love and esteem. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s actually part of our Five Elements make-up. Sharing with others is an expression of the Earth element. Earth is also where home, family, food, and deep, lasting relationships sit. Sounds like the holidays, doesn’t it? And those clever advertising people figured out decades ago that if they tie all of these things together during the holiday season, they create a very powerful message. Nothing tugs at our heartstrings more than the idea of sharing gifts and meals with those we love during this special season.

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with this idea. What is wrong is that the expression of this idea has become exceedingly unbalanced, mostly because our western cultures are patriarchies, which by definition are yang energy dominant. Yang believes that more is always better than less. So in a patriarchal culture, we have come to “believe” that doing/sharing/giving more means loving more. And I think that’s where you’re getting tripped up. Honestly, that’s where we all get tripped up. We’re pretty much all celebrating the holidays from a place of imbalance. But that doesn’t need to happen, especially to you.  Let’s look at how you can bring balance back to yourself and your family this holiday season.

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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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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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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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