Managing Prolonged Isolation

Dear Readers: It’s been almost a year since we were told it might be wise to avoid crowds. Most humans tend to be social creatures and the isolation we’ve experienced (admittedly to varying degrees) over the past year has certainly impacted us. Last March, as prelude to the upcoming isolation, I posted a blog about how each of us (based on out elemental personalities) might handle it. Recently, someone suggested it might be helpful to re-post that blog to remind us, a year down the road, of ways we might help manage the continued isolation we are experiencing, especially for our children.

As I stated in that post, how we manage isolation depends on our elemental personalities and the elemental personalities of whoever is isolating with us. Each of the five elemental personalities handles isolation and confinement differently. With a basic understanding of what does and doesn’t work for each elemental personality, I believe it is possible to create scenarios where we not only make it through these difficult times, but cherish some of the precious moments made possible by prolonged time alone or with a select few in a “bubble” of safety. Most importantly, we need to look at ways to help each of us stay emotionally and mentally healthy as our social interactions remain limited. 

And because this discussion is based on the five Elemental Personalities, if you aren’t particularly familiar with them, here’s a quick overview of each:

The Water element corresponds to winter, when most of the activity is below the surface. People with Water as their primary elemental personality are like that. Almost nonchalant outside, inside Water people are a flurry of thoughts, ideas, and creativity. Unlimited potential, hope, and trust sit in the Water element, which gives us a sense of how Water people approach the world when they are balanced. Under stress, the Water personality can become hopeless, empty, narcissistic, or intolerant.

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Understanding Each Other Now

Dear Vicki:  I know these are difficult times for all of us, but I’m having trouble with my husband. We both work outside of the home (he manages a printing store, I’m a librarian) so used to spend time together just on weekends. But now with stay at home, we’re together almost 24/7. I think the problem is that I’m a pretty go with the flow kind of person and my husband is not. We’re all stressed, but lately my beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy has turned into a fussy, opinionated jerk who rants continuously about everything (politics, viruses, no business, you name it). I’m actually enjoying the quiet time at home to catch up on reading, but he’s like a caged animal. How do we get along? Signed, On the Edge

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Dear On the Edge: That’s the question, isn’t it? How do people who are so different manage to get along? I believe the short answer is that we start by understanding each other. Especially now with the stress of Covid-19, we are all going to have times when we behave less than perfectly. And there are ways to manage that, but let’s start with understanding each other first. It sounds to me like you are a primary Water personality and your husband is a primary Wood personality, so let’s take a look.

Your husband, as a Wood person, will care about things like politics, will always have opinions, and will “rant” because frustration and anger are where Wood people go when they’re stressed. And politics usually stress the Wood personality; the concern that the “wrong” party or person is creating chaos frustrates them. And given what’s going in the world, I can guarantee that you’re not the only household where ranting abounds these days.

I have no idea how long you’ve been married, but the fact that you also know him to be a “beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy” says that you’ve likely been together a while, so his behaviors probably aren’t a total surprise to you. Rather, I think perhaps they’re wearing on you more heavily now than at previous times because, as you say, you are together 24/7. As a primary Water personality, you will tend to go with the flow more than most, or even let the flow go around you, leaving you unfazed. This will be a real asset for you moving through these coronavirus times.

Sadly, your laid-back approach isn’t something your Wood personality husband will necessarily understand. Wood people usually try to make things happen, and to do that they often have opinions about everything. The ability of a Water person to be philosophical, to look at a situation like the current pandemic and take an “it is what it is” approach, will be completely foreign to a Wood personality. Hold on to your ability to be philosophical, though. It will serve you well as you navigate the relationship with your husband. And understanding how you two relate is where the Five Elements model can help

In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate on the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model below), so this connection can have a nurturing feel to it. Note that I say “can” have a nurturing feeling. How a Nurturing Cycle relationship feels will vary greatly depending on the elements involved, who is “feeding” who, and if the interactions are casual and fun or serious and stressed. In your relationship, it is your Water that is feeding his Wood, so he should feel happy with that.

The Five Elements Model

And as long as you stay balanced so as not to over or under supply the relationship with energy, it can and should be a happy connection. It’s likely that the differences between you and your husband are heightened right now based on what’s going on in the world. Said another way, you’re probably having trouble with the fact that your flow is running smack dab into a wooden wall of ranting and fussiness that interferes with your calm.

There are several ways for you to approach this. First, your Wood personality husband might be surprised to know that his ranting is upsetting you as much as it is, unless you have already told him. Ranting is a natural expression for a frustrated Wood person; it’s an emotional energy release for them that often doesn’t include their brain. If you haven’t already shared with your husband that you’d rather not experience his rants or fussiness, then please do so. Wood people are usually very rational individuals who can comprehend that something they’re doing is a problem. Your husband probably won’t be able to change completely, but at least he’ll understand when you choose to remove yourself from the discussion, the room, or the house when he’s in one of those moods. You doing this might be the encouragement he needs to alter his behavior, too.

Second, you need to honor yourself. Like any healthy Water personality, your sanity will often depend on your ability to maintain a steady, calm flow so that you can go deep down to where the inner life of the Water personality exists. Make sure your Water energy is balanced. If you have too much Water energy, you could actually be contributing to your husband’s heightened frustrated state because, as we’ve said, Water feeds Wood. Once you’re sure you’re balanced, determine when your husband is most likely to be ranting or fussy (watching political shows on TV, perhaps?) and avoid those times and places. You can read a book in another room while he watches TV or does whatever it is that upsets him so much.

Finally, request that certain rooms in your home can be declared “neutral zones.” This means no intense discussions allowed. Rooms to label as such might be the bedroom and the dining room; anything that happens in either of these rooms usually doesn’t benefit from ranting or fussiness. If a conversation with him gets to be too much, retreat to one of these neutral zones and hold your line.

I suspect that if you do this a few times, the “beautiful, kind, and intelligent” part of him will get what’s happening, become more aware of his behavior, and ideally change it accordingly. He is always going to be a Wood personality, and you are always going to be a Water personality, but the relationship between the two of you doesn’t have to be  contentious. It can be loving and deep as long as you understand and honor what each of you brings. Blessings to you! Stay safe and well!



Fear and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dear Readers: Lately, many of you have inquired if the Five Elements can help manage the fear we’re all feeling regarding the global coronavirus pandemic. We are afraid that someone close to us will get Covid-19, or that we will get it. We’re afraid that we will lose our jobs, or that we won’t be able to make ends meet if we do become unemployed. We fear the future with no reliable cure or treatment for the virus in sight. All of this is very understandable and yet, I do think there are ways we can approach our lives now that will help mitigate some of this fear. And of course, I think the Five Elements can help.

In the Five Elements model, the emotion of fear is usually associated with the Water element. Balanced Water energy is where hope, trust, optimism, and belief sit. Out of balance Water energy will usually lack these attributes and become fearful, pessimistic, and distrusting. This usually happens when there isn’t enough Water energy flowing. In a state of deficient Water, the usually optimistic Water question of “What if we do/create/imagine this exciting thing?” instead becomes the fearful question of “What if something bad happens?” When we start asking this question, we have opened the door to fear.

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She’s Overwhelmed by Sheltering in Place

Dear Vicki: I have always thought of myself as a good accountant, wife, and mother, but having everyone at home all of the time is driving me crazy. I’m impatient, cranky, and overwhelmed. And I only have one child! I’d love some help, but my husband’s marketing job is more intense than mine, so I haven’t asked him. This means that homeschooling Sammy, our 10-year-old, falls to me, too. I wish we could all just go to our separate rooms and get work done, but Sammy wants to be wherever I am. She also wants to help me with all the meals that are suddenly needed with everyone home, but honestly, she just makes it harder to get things done the right way. I’ve talk to my sister about this and even though she has three children at home, it sounds like she’s sailing through the whole thing. They all cook together! They make homemade gift wrap together! My sister has always been a great artist and kind of a go with the flow person, but why is she doing so much better with this shelter in place stuff than I am? My normal perfection is out the window! What can I do to get better? Signed: Overwhelmed

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Dear Overwhelmed: This may not help much immediately, but please know you are not alone. So many people I have heard from lately are overwhelmed. They are not used to being wife (or husband), employee, cook, housekeeper, teacher, mom (or dad), spouse, boss, and sane all at the same time in the same place with a house full of other people and no clear end in sight. So please, take a deep breath and some immediate comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Far from it!

Your question as to why your sister seems to be managing a husband and three children at home better than you are managing one child at home with you and your husband is a good one. The short answer is that you and your sister are clearly very different people with very different tendencies and priorities. And as you might imagine, I believe this can be traced back to the primary elemental personalities of everyone involved. So, let’s take a look at those because I think you will find not only the answer to your questions, but also some important guidelines regarding how best to survive this “shelter in place” phase most of us are in.

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The Challenge of Working from Home during a Pandemic

Dear Vicki: I appreciated your blog posts about stress and isolation during these Covid-19 times, and as a working wife and mother of 2 children, I do think I’ve handled things pretty well on most fronts. My husband and I are getting along fine and we take turns managing the home-schooling efforts. I still manage the shopping and meals, but I like to cook. What I don’t seem to be doing well is the work from home piece; I can’t seem to get into a rhythm and wrap my mind around my job as an event planner for a mid-sized company. I feel completely uninspired working on the couch at home (my husband is using the office). Plus, I miss laughing and kidding around with my co-workers. Is there something I can do to be more focused and productive working here? Signed: Lost at Home

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Dear Lost: There is no doubt that the current Covid-19 pandemic has thrown almost every aspect of our lives into some form of chaos. And for working couples with school-age children who are now home every day, it often looks more like total chaos. You and your husband are to be commended for managing as well as you are. Please pat yourselves on the back! That said, I suspect the difficulty you are having with being productive working from home relates to your elemental personality, so let’s take a look at that.

The fact that you are an event planner who misses laughing and kidding around with the people at work suggests to me that your primary elemental personality is probably Fire. People with a lot of Fire energy do love to laugh and joke around. They also love attending parties and events, so often make great event planners themselves. And the fact that you do all of the cooking at home suggests that you could have a secondary Earth personality. This would also be an asset as an event planner since most events include food, ideally good food.

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