Where They Meet Will Make a Difference

Dear Vicki: I’m in my mid-20s and live by myself in Manhattan where I work as a legal advocate for a refugee organization. My mother recently informed me that my cousin (her sister’s son who’s around my age) will be moving here to take a job as a trial attorney. Mom asked if I would help James find a place, get settled, and meet people. I understand that he is family, but since we were children, I’ve never really liked James. He always seemed like a wild, pushy, “my way or the highway” kind of guy. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed his company; he’s exhausting to be around. There’s no way out of it though, so do you have any recommendations regarding what I can do to stand him for however long it takes to get him settled? Signed: Cornered in Manhattan

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Dear Cornered: Ah, the things we are called to do in the name of family. I agree that you probably are stuck with helping your cousin get settled in the big city. And while you will probably never really enjoy James, there are ways to manage your interactions with him to make things less painful. That said, the first step is for you to understand why he exhausts you and rubs you the wrong way. Of course, I think it has everything to do with your elemental personalities.

It’s interesting that you and James are both attorneys. One might expect that a shared profession would make relating to each other easier, but given the type of law you each practice, I can understand why that hasn’t happened. You are radically different from each other and the way this has manifested in your career paths offers insight into your elemental personalities.

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They Don’t Need Another Mother

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

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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.

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What Kind of Boundaries Do You Have?

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.

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Husband Doesn’t Understand Her Sadness and Frustration

Dear Vicki: I am writing because I’m currently at a point of overwhelm. For years I had a solid, well paid career in finance, but when it became apparent that I could not juggle work, home, and 5 children (one with complex health needs), I quit work and have been caught in caring ever since. For the past 18 years I have been the one at home who manages everything for the rest of the family. I do think I have a lot of Earth energy, I love my family, yet I feel I have let them down. I do not yet have full time work because I still have an adult son at home who can be demanding of time and attention due to his health issues. I have reached a point of sadness and frustration over this, but when I try to explain my feelings to my husband (who I think is a very Metal personality), he simply has no idea what I’m talking about. He doesn’t understand my sense of guilt over not contributing to the household – he has apparently never felt any guilt in his life – so does not know how to help. I know I can’t change the situation, but do you have any thoughts on how I can change the way I am dealing with it? I would love to find contentment. Signed: A Mom in Crisis

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Dear Mom: Bless you for your willingness to be there for your family, especially the one who needs special attention. You probably do have a primary Earth personality; the desire to have a large family usually indicates an Earth personality, as does the fact that you made it a priority to stay home with your family rather than keep your job. However, that you had a career in finance for many years suggests that you probably have a good amount of Metal energy in the mix, too. You are correct that you likely can’t change the basics of your situation, but you can certainly change not only how you are dealing with it, but also how much help you have in dealing with it. There are many ways to do this, but first let’s look at what might be going on for you to create the sadness and frustration.

When Earth people are faced with a crisis at home, they usually do whatever it takes to make sure everyone and everything is managed as well as possible. The fact that you have some Metal energy in your mix will help drive a desire to do things not only the “right” way, but the best way possible. That’s because Metal people not only strive for perfection, they also honor the wisdom of the past, a wisdom that tells them what is “right” and what is “wrong.” This sense of what is right added to your Earth need to raise your children well is probably why you couldn’t manage a large family and a full-time job and do both perfectly. Not surprisingly, your Earth personality’s desire to do the best for your family won out.

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She’s Worried About Her Mother’s Anger

Dear Vicki: My mother has always been a strong and loving woman. She is a nurse who managed (and still does) a multi-physician office while my two brothers and I were growing up, but she still had time to bake cookies and help with science projects. When her father died and living alone was too hard on Grammy, Mom moved her in with us. The problem now is that I recently received an amazing offer to teach at a nursing college out of state. I want to accept the offer, but my mother has all of a sudden turned into a mean and angry person. She actually makes snarky comments about my leaving. I know she has a lot going on at work and with Grammy here, and Dad isn’t a lot of help, but this is my chance and now I feel guilty taking it and worried that something really might be wrong with Mom. Can you help? Signed: Worried in Western Oaks

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Dear Worried: Congratulations on the offer from the nursing college. It does seem like a wonderful opportunity for you and it is understandable that you would want to go. It is also understandable that your mother may be less than enthused. Let’s take a look at your likely elemental personalities and see what might be going on for your mother and how you might help.

The fact that your mother was able to run a large office suggests that she probably has a lot of Wood energy in her personality. That she is a nurse and also an excellent mother indicates that she clearly has a lot of Earth energy, too. I suspect that she is a primary Earth personality, but that her secondary Wood has been front and center for most of her adult life. It would take the Wood skills of organization and getting things done to have accomplished all she did while you and your brothers were growing up. It’s a very Earth thing to move her mother in when her father passed, but a very Wood thing to have the stamina to make it all work.

You also seem to be a primary Earth personality given your choice of nursing as a career. I’m sure this greatly pleased your mother and made for an even stronger bond between the two of you. In fact, I suspect this is part of the reason your mother is having such a hard time with the idea of you moving away. Earth people create strong bonds because deep and lasting relationships are one of the great priorities of their lives. And while at a rational level your mother is probably secretly pleased for you to have this opportunity, at a functional level it clearly isn’t going over very well with her.

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