Dear Vicki: Dory and I have been good friends ever since we met while volunteering at a local pet shelter three years ago. We are a good team there: I organize the ever-changing base of volunteers and Dory keeps everyone upbeat and motivated. She always makes me laugh, and when I get really angry about something – which I tend to do —she has a way of cajoling me out of it. Dory thinks of lots of fun things to do and I really enjoy our time together, but there’s one small problem. Dory has a sister named Katie and sometimes Dory just spontaneously announces that she’s asked Katie to join us when we go shopping, out to a movie, or whatever. I hate this because when Dory and Katie are together, they kind of whip each other into a frenzy. I can tell they are having the time of their lives, but lately it feels like total chaos and craziness to me. How can I tell Dory that I really don’t like it when Katie joins us? Signed, Fried in Franklin
Dear Fried: It is very interesting that you’ve signed your letter “Fried,” because I think that’s exactly what’s happening. I strongly suspect that both Dory and her sister are Fire elemental personalities and the two of them together are just too much heat for you right now. Usually everyone loves being around Fire people because they are fun, outgoing individuals who laugh a lot. But each elemental personality will react differently to prolonged exposure to Fire energy, especially a double dose.
In the Five Elements model, the two elemental personalities most negatively affected by Fire energy are Metal people (fire melts metal) and Wood people (fire burns wood). Given it was easy for you to organize a significant group of volunteers, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Spontaneous organization comes easily to Wood people. And for the record, Metal people organize too, but they look at the past and identify patterns of organization. Wood people organize on the fly. They also succumb to anger.
It’s understandable that Dory would want to spend time with you. In the Five Elements model your Wood energy feeds her Fire energy on what’s called the Nurturing Cycle. That usually feels great to the Fire person and not so great to the Wood person. However, given that you are both so dedication to the animal shelter, I suspect that you each have a lot of Earth energy in your personalities, too, and that is the key to the longevity of your relationship.
Dear Vicki: My husband loves working in his firm’s Human Resources department, and they love him. In fact, they have asked him to head the whole department. He’s excited about the promotion (and the hefty raise that goes with it), but I’m not excited at all because it means we have to move to California. We dreamed of moving there when we were first married and started our jobs (I worked as a secretary for 5 years), but now we have two small children (ages 3 and 5 years) and I don’t think it’s fair to disrupt their lives with such a huge move. It also means selling our house and leaving our friends and families. I’ve asked him to be reasonable, but all he says is that this is his chance to move up in the world and he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity. We’ve always seen eye to eye on most things, but not this. How can I convince him that he should stop being so selfish and pushy and just stay put? Signed: Happy Here
Dear Happy Here: Change is never easy, but it’s easier for some people than others. In the Five Elements model, the Wood elemental personality is the one most likely to embrace forward-moving change, especially if it relates to personal accomplishment. Moving forward is what Wood people are wired to do. The Earth elemental personality is often the least likely elemental personality to embrace change, especially if the change involves relocating. Earth people are wired to care deeply about family, friends, and home, and leaving them behind is often unbearably hard. I suspect that you are an Earth personality and your husband is a Wood personality, so let’s see what we can do to help address the situation.
First, let me say that there is no perfect fix for your dilemma. Wood personalities will always be happiest moving forward and Earth personalities will always be happiest with a settled home life. But I hope that if you can better understand what is going on around this issue, you might be able to work with your husband to make these difficult decisions together. Also, it’s also important to acknowledge that in the Five Elements model, you and your husband relate on the Controlling Cycle with Wood controlling Earth. That means that there will be times when your husband’s enthusiasm for something will seem to threaten the security that matters so deeply to you. That fact that you find him “pushy” on this issue suggests that this is probably one of those times.
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
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.
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.