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.
Dear Vicki: I’m having trouble with my brother, Sam. We’re both adults – he’s a successful attorney and I’m a nurse – but he’s acting like a spoiled child. Last month was our parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and at my suggestion, their children (me, Sam, and our two brothers) all chipped in to send them on a cruise. The night before they left, we had dinner together and I brought a small “bon voyage” gift for Mom and Dad. Well, Sam didn’t like that. He accused me of trying to make him look bad, currying favor with our parents, and several other less choice motives, which really hurt my feelings. Of course, I was just trying to honor our parents, but Sam refuses to believe me. I’ve reached out to him, but this time he won’t return my calls. He’s divorced, so I can’t ask his wife for help now, either. It breaks my heart to have this rift with him. Why is he like this, and what can I do? Signed: Sad Sister
Dear Sad Sister: It was very thoughtful of you and your siblings to send your parents on a cruise for their anniversary. I hope they had a fantastic time.
I’m sorry about the problems with Sam, but your comment that “this time” he won’t return your calls suggests it isn’t the first time you two have had an issue like this. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising. While you don’t mention what elements you are, it’s likely that you’re an Earth. The fact that the cruise was your idea, your thoughtfulness in bringing a bon voyage gift, and your heartbreak at a “rift” with a sibling all suggest you live life through a filter where personal connections are very important. Helping people also matters a lot to Earths, and few of us on the planet help people more than nurses do.
Sam, on the other hand, is clearly not an Earth. Lawyers usually have a great deal of Wood or Metal, depending on whether they’re corporate or trial attorneys. Success matters to both, but Woods will usually personalize the success more than Metals. The anger that Sam is expressing also suggests that he’s more Wood than Metal. Metals like to be honored, of course, but Woods want to look good in front of people. As a Wood, if stressed or out of balance, Sam could easily have construed your sweet departure gift as an attempt to make him look bad, something Woods can’t stand. The idea that you would “curry favor” at his expense carries a sense of competition, which is also much more of a button-pusher for Woods than Metals. A Metal usually knows his own worth and can detach from the challenge. But out of balance Woods will often rise to anything they perceive as bait in order to prove themselves.