Dear Vicki: I’m writing about a co-worker of mine who I’m pretty sure is a Metal. Jim always follows the rules, arrives exactly at 8am and leaves exactly at 5pm, and is fastidious in his work. We’ve been at the same small structural design firm for several years and usually get along just fine. But for the past few months, Jim’s acting like a completely different guy. He used to be pleasant and a hard worker, but now he is often what my grandmother used to call “prickly.” He’s argumentative, disagreeable, and makes rude or insulting comments under his breath (but still loud enough to be heard). We’ve ignored this at work – our office manager says Jim is going through his second divorce – but it’s really becoming uncomfortable. I dread going to work for fear that a loud argument will break out between Jim and Frank, our sales manager, who can be overbearing himself. Is there something I can do to help Jim, and other people in our office, stay happy with each other? Signed Worried in Wisconsin
Dear Worried: Jim is lucky to have such a caring and considerate co-worker. He does sound like a Metal, and while you don’t mention your element, I suspect you are a combination of Metal and Earth. To enjoy structural design work suggests that you have the meticulousness and precision of a Metal. But it’s your Earth that’s upset about Jim’s rudeness and the potential for conflict at your small office. Your sincere desire to help Jim also speaks of Earth. And Frank, your sales manager, may well be a Wood because the outgoingness of Woods usually makes them great at sales. The fact that he’s a Wood will also make Frank more sensitive to out of balance energy coming from Jim. Let’s take a look at how you might help Jim and your office “stay happy with each other.”
First, it’s important to remember that you, as an Earth, relate to Jim on the Nurturing Cycle, with your Earth feeding Jim’s Metal. This will make you feel somewhat “motherly” toward Jim and is probably a factor in your desire to help him. Frank, on the other hand, relates to Jim on the Controlling Cycle, with Jim’s Metal controlling Frank’s Wood. This dynamic alone can create an undercurrent of tension in your office; Woods usually don’t like to be controlled. And as an aside, you probably do find Frank somewhat overbearing because he relates to you on the Controlling Cycle, with his Wood controlling your Earth. The fact that your Metal controls Frank’s Wood probably allows you to hold your own with him, but it’s your Earth that wants peace in the kingdom.
Dear Vicki: I am a primary Water, secondary Wood having relationship troubles the world. Everything feels so harsh out there and getting worse. Everywhere I go I encounter people who are aggressive, bullying, and/or controlling. It must be me attracting them, right? But why? The world is meant to be easy going, peaceful, loving, and full of people pulling together. That’s what all the elements want, isn’t it? But that sure isn’t happening. My Water would like to hide under the covers and never come out, but my Wood says that won’t get me anywhere. What is out of balance? Can I change the world around me? Signed: Mrs. Worn Down and Exhausted
Dear Mrs. Worn Down: I love your statement that the Five Elements model wants everyone to pull together and get along. That is wonderful, and true! But pulling together and getting along might not always look easy going, peaceful, and loving to everyone. It depends on the elemental filters through which we view the actions of others. In fact, what looks to you like aggression or bullying might be seen as an act of “tough love” to someone else. And what seems easy going and peaceful to you might seem controlling to someone else. It all depends on our elemental wiring and the wiring of the people with whom we relate. Remember that within the Five Elements model there are three possible kinds of relationships. We can relate via the Nurturing Cycle, via the Controlling Cycle, or with someone who is the same element as we are.
Nurturing Cycle relationships often do feel nurturing, as well as easy going, peaceful, and loving. On the other hand, Controlling Cycle relationships usually won’t feel that way, even thought there’s just as much love in these relationships. Controlling Cycle love often looks and feels more like tough love. As the name implies, these relationships can feel controlling, with some aggression and even bullying thrown in. What it feels like relating to someone who is the same primary element will depend on what element both people have as their primary. Relationships between two Earths will be very different from relationships between two Woods or two Fires. The kind of relationship we are in will affect how we perceive everything.
Dear Vicki: I am a yin Wood with Earth as a strong secondary. My sister, Carolyn, is one year younger and is a yang Wood. She loves her work and works very hard. She is also very competitive; we were both very competitive as children. But the biggest problem for me is that Carolyn never talks with me about her feelings. When our mother died four years ago, I visited Carolyn and her family (she has a husband and two teenage daughters) at Christmas two months later. Carolyn never even mentioned our mother that day and barely tolerated me saying a few words about her passing. My mother and Carolyn had an okay relationship, so it wasn’t that. I love Carolyn and have worked to establish a stable relationship with her, usually by stepping into my Earth. But this frustrates me at times because I feel I can’t bring my true Wood self forward around her. I would love for Carolyn to soften up a little so we could talk about our mother and our feelings. Is there a way to ease Carolyn more into this kind of communication? Signed: Disconnected Sister
Dear Disconnected: I wish I could offer you a magic wand to make Carolyn more willing to talk about her feelings, but honestly, Woods usually don’t enjoy talking about feelings. It doesn’t feel safe to them because they don’t like to lose control. And Woods absolutely hate to cry in front of people. It’s interesting that, as a Wood yourself, you want to talk about feelings, but I think that’s because you really are an Earth around Carolyn. It could have started as a self-defense mechanism when you were both younger because her yang Wood might often have trumped your yin Wood. And since Woods hate to lose and Earths hate competition, retreating to your Earth would have avoided conflict and probably made for calmer family dynamics.
This means that acting Earth is probably pretty entrenched in your relationship with Carolyn now. And while your Earth will want to talk about your mother, Carolyn likely won’t. That doesn’t mean that she didn’t love your mother, it just means she probably doesn’t see a benefit in digging up pain from the past. By now, four years after your mother’s death, Carolyn has already processed the loss with her immediate family and moved on. But Earths like to reminisce about departed family members; it helps them honor the close connection they had. That’s a big difference between a Wood and an Earth.
You express frustration about not being able to be your true Wood self around Carolyn, and that’s understandable. But what you say you want is to “soften up” Carolyn so that you can talk about your mother and other emotional issues. I really think that’s coming from your Earth, not your Wood. Earth is where family sits and where sweet discussions about family usually happen.
Dear Five Faces: My brother’s boss is retiring in the spring and Jim (my brother) has been asked to apply for his job. Jim thinks it’s a great idea: He’ll make more money and since it’s a supervisory position, he thinks he’ll work fewer hours, too. My concern is that Jim is a Wood; he likes to start things and improve things, and spends a lot of time in his current job doing that. In his current job, his “hands on” approach has been appreciated, too. But I’m concerned that it will be seen as “interfering” or “controlling” in a job where he’s just supposed to support ongoing operations. How do I talk him out of this change? Signed: Worried Sis
Dear Worried Sis: Jim is lucky to have a sister who knows him so well. Your concerns are justified, but there might be ways Jim’s time in this new job could be positive. Let’s look at the pros and cons.
As a Wood, Jim will be pretty hands on. Woods almost always see ways to improve or change things and are excited about getting started. It takes a lot to talk a Wood out of a new project or improvement. They love the movement of creating and manifesting, and they are true visionaries. Some people say that Woods are never satisfied, but it’s really not that. Woods just always see creative opportunity; it’s in their core wiring. A Wood doesn’t look at something and say, “That sucks.” A Wood looks at something and says, “What if?”
Dear Five Faces: Since we were kids, Max and I had been close friends. We met at a child’s reading event at the local library when we were 10 and sort of bonded over the books. Growing up, Max was a quiet, go with the flow kind of guy and I was a quiet, go with the flow kind of girl. I’m sure we’re both Waters, but Max really changed after we went away to college. The first Christmas vacation back home, when we got together at a poetry reading (Max loved to write poetry), Max seemed cold and withdrawn. It made me wonder what was going on, but he never mentioned any problems at school, and I never asked. Over the years, my best friend Max really changed and by the time we graduated from college last year, he was a different person. His easy-going nature is gone now and he’s become very precise and rigid. What happened to my old Max? I don’t know if it will help, but I’m a children’s librarian and Max is a computer programmer. Signed: Missing Max
Dear Missing Max: As children, if we’re lucky, our needs are met and life is full of fun and wonder. But that can change when it becomes necessary to meet our own needs as an adult in a Western culture. Earning a living and becoming a productive member of society usually requires that we embrace the cultural norms where we live. In the West, we value structure, discipline, and precision, all attributes that do not come naturally to Waters.
I think what happened to Max is that his naturally Watery ways were at odds with what’s necessary to succeed as a student and employee in the US. Especially as an adult, the ability to function well within the average work world usually requires observing office hours, embracing specific process and corporate guidelines, and often working well as part of a team. These are not inherent strengths of Waters, those sweet beings who love prolonged pondering of options and ideas, spending time by themselves, and waiting for inspiration to strike before they act, regardless of how long it takes.