Dear Vicki: My brother’s wife pasted away two years ago and he really took it hard. It was like the light and joy went out of his life; my funny and outgoing brother became somber and cynical. He used to be the life of the party, but for a while he was pretty morose. Then several months ago, he finally begun dating and recently brought a woman (I’ll call her Hanna) to a family birthday party. We wanted to be excited for him, but Hanna was unpleasantly pushy and opinionated. Most members of my family are elementary school teachers, so we enjoy harmonious environments when not working, but this party ended up far from congenial. Hanna disagreed with my mother about when to start cooking a casserole (Mom is an excellent cook!) and questioned another sibling’s opinion about a movie. I think my brother could tell things weren’t going well because he stopped joking around halfway through the evening, then he and Hanna left early. I want my brother to be happy, but if Hanna is going to be part of the family, how are we ever going to get along? Signed, Overwhelmed in Ohio
Dear Overwhelmed: It’s good news that your brother has started dating again. The loss of a loved one is a difficult event to get over, and it can be especially hard for someone with a Fire personality like your brother. Fire people thrive on fun and excitement, but when they suffer a loss, their Fire quite literally goes out and it can take some time for the joy to come back. It isn’t surprising that Hanna was the person that relit his Fire, either. In the Five Elements model, the element that feeds (and therefore builds) Fire on the Nurturing Cycle is Wood, and Hanna is clearly a Wood personality. Wood energy is outgoing and accomplishment-driven which often makes Wood people seem pushy and opinionated.
On the other hand, I think you and many of your family members are Earth personalities. Earth people make great teachers, they revel in peace and harmony, and a loved one’s happiness will always matter. However, Earth relates to Wood on the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. That means that a room full of Earths could well feel overwhelmed by Hanna’s Wood energy. It’s no wonder that many of you were uncomfortable.
As far as all of you getting along with Hanna, that may be a non-issue because it’s quite possible your brother’s new relationship won’t last very long. Too much Fire for a constant length of time can literally burn out a Wood. If that happens, Hanna will most likely move on to calmer relationships. However, if the Fire doesn’t get too crazy, Woods can enjoy the upbeat atmosphere of life with a Fire, so Hanna could be around for the long haul. But don’t worry, there are ways for you to get along with Hanna and, who knows, maybe even like her!
Dear Vicki: Our dear, sweet, loving mother passed away last year and it has been a tough road for our family. She was the glue that held us all together, but for my brother Arnold she was also a lifeline to reality. Arnold is in his early twenties, still lives at home, and never went to college. He is a quiet, sensitive guy who worked in a convenience store and loves photography and drawing comics. He could easily get lost in his art or watching superhero movies, often forgetting to eat or even get to work on time unless Mom reminded him. Since she’s been gone, Dad stays at his law office late and Arnold has lost his job. I have my own family now so can’t really move back home to help out. I think dad will be okay, but I’m really worried about Arnold. How can I help him? Signed: Sad Sister
Dear Sad Sister: My condolences on your loss. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, but it’s especially hard to lose a mom. Most mothers have a lot of Earth energy in their personalities – family and home sit in the Earth element – and they often are exactly what holds everyone together. Earth people love focusing on home and family, and making sure everyone’s needs are met. No doubt you all miss her love and affection, but Arnold is also missing more than that. He is missing the structure and boundaries that she would have provided for him because of the way they related on the Five Elements model.
It’s very likely that your brother is a Water personality. Everything you said about him, and some things you didn’t, describe Waters perfectly. They are quiet and sensitive people, usually passionate about art or some other solitary endeavor, and not very interested in the type of learning that requires a structured environment like college or even a tech school. They do love to learn, but in their own way, on their own time. As you can tell, structure isn’t something Waters have an abundance of, or necessarily appreciate. In nature, if the two most structured elements attempt to structure water, it rarely goes well. Water will rust metal and rot wood. In nature, only sweet gentle earth can successfully provide structure for water in the form of riverbeds and shorelines. And it’s the same way with people and relationships.
Dear Vicki: I am so lucky to have the greatest brother in the world. Jimmy has always been there for me and now I want to be there for him. He is a nurse at our local hospital and had been dating Tina (a lab tech there) for over a year. They seemed like total opposites to me – she’s hysterically funny and always ready to go out for a good time, Jimmy is a gentle, quiet homebody – but I guess they must have completed each other in some way. The year they were together was the happiest I have ever seen my brother. He mentioned he was going to propose to Tina, but the next thing I knew they had broken up. I’m not sure what happened, but Jimmy is super depressed and talking about leaving the hospital. What can I do to help him? Signed: Caring Sister
Dear Caring Sister: The end of a relationship is a difficult time for everyone involved. It will be especially hard for someone like your brother because, although you don’t mention it, I suspect he’s an Earth type of person. Most nurses have a lot of Earth energy and the fact that he is gentle and likes to spend time at home also suggests that he is a primary Earth. Caring for people and home are two big priorities for Earths. Long-term relationships are something else that matters deeply to Earths and I think this may be where Jimmy and Tina got into trouble. Tina sounds a lot like a primary Fire person. They usually laugh a lot and enjoy fun times out with friends. Connecting and creating relationships matter to Fires, too, but they don’t expect – or usually need – them to last. So while Jimmy and Tina both cared about connecting and relating, their expectations for the relationship would have been very different from the start.
What this means is that while Jimmy and Tina clearly enjoyed the time they spent getting to know each other, the purpose of that time together was likely very different for each of them. As a Fire, Tina would have seen the time as a fun connection with someone who was there for her and accepted her as she was. Earths do this for everyone, but it is very natural for them with Fires because, in the Five Elements model, Fire naturally flows to Earth via the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model). In nature, the earthen hearth has always been the perfect receptacle for fire and it is no different with people. Earths usually find it especially easy to accept Fires for who and what they are.
Dear Vicki: I’m hoping you can help my brother, Brad, who was in a terrible car accident three years ago. It was winter and the road conditions weren’t great here in Maine, but he and his best friend were determined to go skiing. We tried to talk them out of it, but they laughed at us and went ahead. Brad was driving when another car, going way too fast, lost control and skidded into them. Brad survived, but his best friend was killed. Brad did rehab for months and healed pretty well, but he is a changed person. He used to be a loud, assertive, wheeler dealer who turned around a chain of failing sporting goods stores, but now his heart doesn’t seem to be in anything. He’s closed one of his stores and the other two aren’t doing so well. It’s not like he’s super depressed anymore, it’s just that he’s not his normal outgoing self. Is there some way the Five Elements can help him get back to who he was before the accident? I think he was a Wood, so should I make him wear green? Signed: Sad Sister in Maine
Dear Sad Sister: My heart goes out to your brother. The loss of someone close to us is always difficult, but the idea that we had something to do with it can be especially hard to bear. I think you are correct – Brad does sound like a Wood. Woods are adventuresome and rarely back down from a challenge. Weather probably wouldn’t stop a Wood determined to push through. That’s the MO of Wood: Just do it! It’s true that Woods are risk takers, but they usually aren’t reckless enough to take more of a risk than they think they can handle. Brad correctly assumed that he could manage the road conditions. The problem was that someone else apparently couldn’t.
There are several factors at play when a Wood goes though what Brad has experienced. First, remember that Woods need to keep moving toward a goal; the worst thing that can happen to a Wood is for something to stop their forward movement. For Brad, the accident not only stopped the movement of his car, it ended the trajectory his life had been taking. No longer was life about being a successful businessman. Instead, he was faced with months of trying to reclaim his health and body functioning. And even more significantly, he had to come to terms with the loss of his best friend. This last aspect was certainly made harder for Brad given that he was driving when the accident occurred. The guilt he feels must be profound. I’m assuming you’ve encouraged Brad to seek professional help. Hopefully he is seeing a counselor on a regular basis, which will help. But there are ways the Five Elements can help, too, so let’s take a look.
Dear Vicki: My younger brother and I had a shaky relationship growing up. We never seemed to agree on anything and often took the opposite side of an issue just to antagonize each other. We’ve grown out of that to some degree, but as adults we still don’t see eye to eye on much of anything. What he thinks is important seems stupid to me. And when I make something a priority, it feels like he always questions me. We both have children now and the cousins love to get together, but it’s hard when Greg and I are so tense around each other. Is there any way the Five Elements can help us get along better? I’m just beginning to study the elements, but suspect I’m a Metal and Greg is a Wood. Signed: Always at Odds
Dear Always At Odds: In relationships, the shadowy area of priority and tendency seems to trip us up again and again. It’s not uncommon to expect our friends and family to see the reasoning behind whatever we do, but it rarely happens that way. For example, if you question your brother’s priorities and offer what are to you vastly superior alternatives, he will likely resent the interference. Or when you make decisions that fly in the face of what he thinks is smart, he’ll likely assume you’re making a mistake and challenge you, which you won’t like. This is normal and to be expected because each element has its own way of approaching everything in life.
The Metal/Wood dynamic can be particularly prickly because these two elements tend to be more opinionated than the other three elements. It’s a dynamic I know very well, too. I’m a primary Wood and my husband is a primary Metal. As a Wood, I place much more importance on accomplishment than Mark ever would. We used to argue about my workaholic ways, but he’s come to accept that it’s essential to my happiness (even though he still shakes his head many evenings as he passes my home office on his way to the TV room). Conversely, a life without order and rules would make my Metal husband miserable. We used to fight about his exacting need for detail, but I’ve come to accept it even though the tedious precision he applies toward putting together a 1500 piece puzzle sends me screaming from the room. But he’s happy with his puzzles and glad that I don’t give him grief about them anymore.