Death, Guilt, and Healing: Helping a Wood Rebuild

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.

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Siblings at Odds: Metal vs. Wood

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.

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After a Misunderstanding, Wood Brother is Hiding

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.

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Two Men, Both Metals, Very Different: Why?

Dear Vicki: I’m a nurse and have studied the Five Elements for some time, but have never used them in my relationships. I’ve been trying it out with my family, but I’ve hit on a point of confusion. I’m pretty sure I’m a Wood and I grew up with a Metal brother who drove me crazy. Not only was he older, but I understand now that his Metal was the control to my Wood. We get along better as adults, but he’s still prone to arguing with me (which shouldn’t be surprising – he’s a successful trial attorney). My husband is a Metal, too, but we rarely argue; I find him supportive and loving, and so do his patients (he’s a pediatrician). Why is my relationship to these two Metals in my life so different? Signed, Wondering Wood

 Dear Wondering Wood: This is a great question! First, let’s get some basics out of the way. While I’m sure you love both of your Metal men, it’s a familial love with your brother and a romantic love with your husband. Years of family dynamics can set a tone for sibling relationships that perpetuates conflict. And the hormones involved with romantic relationships often help keep harmony. This means that your marriage will probably have a bit of an edge in the “getting along” department versus your relationship with your brother. It’s not going to make a huge difference in how your Wood relates to their Metal, but it is worth noting.

That said, the biggest factor in the difference between the relationships you have with your two Metal guys is their secondary elements. Our secondary elements absolutely effect how our primary elements expresses, so that means two Metal guys can come off quite differently depending on their secondaries.

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Thanksgiving: Traditions, Metal, and Fire

Dear Vicki: I need help. I just found out that our traditional family Thanksgiving is at risk. Earlier this year my brother Derek married Leslie, who I’m sure is a Fire. She’s funny, scattered, and has no structure, a fact that became apparent last week while discussing Thanksgiving. We usually have a private dinner for the 18 of us, but that seems to be out the window because Derek and Leslie are hosting the holiday. And they are dumping the turkey and throwing a party for 50! How can I get things under control and back to the traditional Thanksgiving we all love? Signed: Disgusted Guy in Denver

Dear Disgusted: How to celebrate Thanksgiving brings up lots of issues here in the States. This isn’t really too surprising because stress and expectations around the holidays often make our differences more apparent. But worry not, there is hope for the holiday. Let’s start by looking at the key players in your scenario.

It’s wonderful news that your brother has married. If Leslie is as Fiery as you say she is, and Derek enjoys that, it means he probably has a great deal of Earth (Fire feeds Earth) or Water (they’re attracted to the light and activity of Fires, the yang of summer to Water’s wintery yin). Derek probably isn’t a Wood because he’d feel burned out by too much Fire (Wood feeds Fire), or a Metal because he’d feel threatened by too much Fire (Fire controls Metal). And it’s unlikely that he’s a Fire himself or you would have mentioned how similar Derek and Leslie are.

If Derek is either an Earth or a Water, he won’t have much structure (Wood and Metal are the most structured of the elements), so will be less concerned regarding exactly what happens around Thanksgiving. If he’s a Water, he’ll be perfectly happy going with the flow. If he’s an Earth, he’ll just want everyone, especially his new wife, to be happy.

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