Where Did Her Happiness Go?

Dear Vicki: I’m writing with a question regarding how I relate to myself. I’m hoping you can help. Over the past several years I’ve turned into a crabby person. I’m not that old, but I seem to have lost a lot of joy in my life, especially as it relates to the holidays. They are over now, and I’m happy about that, but I just never found the holiday spirit. I remember even 15 years ago I could sit with a cup of tea and feel the blessings of the season. Now, they are just one big whirl of anxious activity and sadly, pretty empty or meaningless. They are busy times, but as I’ve climbed the corporate ladder at the consulting firm where I work, the holidays and other times that used to be fun, magical, or even just happy don’t seem that way anymore. Is this part of growing up, or growing old? And can I change it back? Signed: Empty in Edgewater

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Dear Empty: Your letter probably could have been written by half the people in the United States. It’s a common problem that comes from believing we can/should/need to do it all. This tendency is especially strong in people with a primary Wood personality, and it sounds to me like that might be the case for you. Wood people do believe at some level that they can do it all. They carry the motive power and manifestation directive of Spring energy. That’s the energy that allows tender leaves to burst through tough bark, or crocuses to emerge from the snow. At some level, Wood personalities see everything as a personal challenge, one they are determined to meet. Climbing the corporate ladder is a perfect example, but it isn’t just about work. Creating a perfect holiday season – or the ultimate vacation – can also be taken up as a worthy challenge. Do it all, and do it better than anyone, often describes Woods who have taken on so much they are out of balance. Success will always matter to Wood people, but the wise ones know that balance in all things is important. I think losing sight of that truth may be what’s tripping you up.

No one human being can do it all, all the time, but the Wood personality will try. In doing so, they build up more of that “can do” aspect of their personality to a point that it becomes unbalanced. If we look at the Five Elements model, remember that Wood relates to the other four elements in the following manner:

  1. Wood feeds Fire, so too much Wood can lead to too much Fire, which can lead to more activity and anxiety than normal.
  2. Wood controls Earth, which can lead to less Earthiness, which is where home, family, and often holiday enjoyment sits.
  3. Wood is controlled by Metal, meaning it is Metal’s job to make sure that the level of Wood energy doesn’t get too high. But too much Wood for too long can deplete Metal as it continuously tries to manage Wood. This can lead to a loss of the logic needed to move rationally through life.
  4. Wood is fed by Water, and the more Wood there is the more energy it will demand from Water. This often depletes Water, which can affect our ability to connect with joy, wonder, and fun.

So over the long haul, if this pattern isn’t changed one can end up with too much Wood, too much Fire, and not enough Earth, Metal, or Water. A good image for this might be the hysterical bull in a china shop! For you, the end result is pretty much what you described in your letter: a sense of needing to do more (too much Wood energy), anxiety (too much Fire), emptiness around the holidays (not enough Earth energy to feel the connections), little meaning (this usually comes from Metal wisdom) and no peace and magic (both have strong representation in Water). Bottom line: you have worked yourself to a place that your Wood personality is out of balance, which really just means that your relationship to yourself is out of balance. But no worries, there are ways to address that.

First and foremost, you need to examine your workaholic ways, which are often a trademark of the Wood personality. The good news is that Wood people usually have a great deal of structure, so setting better boundaries for yourself will probably be something you can do. Create “work times” and “non-work times” and stick to it. The other personality that has lots of structure is Metal, and since Metal energy is what helps “prune” too much Wood energy, it will be important that you get very logical, rational, and strict about your new schedule, all attributes of the Metal personality.

In addition, to help balance you out you need more of what the Earth and Water personalities have to offer. Earth people love time with close friends and family, something that usually happens more around the holidays. Perhaps your busy schedule didn’t allow as much holiday connecting as you wanted (or needed), so start connecting more now. Spend time with close family and friends, or even just more time at home. And to build more Water energy, you can use some of that time at home to read, color (FYI, adult coloring books are excellent at tapping into Water energy), or even just listen to music. Not only will these activities help build Water energy, but that extra Water energy will help balance the too much Fire state you find yourself in right now.

As all of these aspects of your personality come into better balance, I think you will find that you become less anxious, more accepting, wiser, and even more playful. But don’t worry, you will never lose the strength of your Wood “make it happen” personality. It will always be your primary, it just needs help from all the others. And now is the perfect time to start. We are in winter here in the northern hemisphere, which is Water time, a time of new beginnings. Ride that energy to balance now so that when spring hits, which is Wood time, you will be balanced, happy, and ready to take on the world in a wonderful new way! Blessings to you!

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They Weathered the Crisis, but Their Relationship is Failing

Dear Vicki: Last September, my husband and I were in a serious car accident. We both survived and have recovered completely, but for six or seven months, life was a blur of hospitals, medicines, doctors appointments, and physical therapy. Initially, we seemed closer than ever. My husband Frank managed all the little details of the appointments, pharmaceuticals, live-in care, etc. for both of us. I didn’t have to worry about anything except keeping our hope alive and trying to stay optimistic. It all worked great, too, until we got back to “normal” the beginning of summer. Now, Frank seems preoccupied with his work and barely notices me, and I have to admit I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything. When we do interact, we disagree and fight. How could we have made it through the tough times and now be falling apart? Signed: Down in Denver

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Dear Down in Denver: It’s not uncommon to tough it out during a crisis and then fall apart afterward. It’s very instinctive to focus all of our resources on survival, but that leaves us depleted when the crisis passes. This certainly happened for you and Frank, not only physically, but also emotionally. You pulled together when you had to, made it though, and now are each retreating within yourselves to rebuild your resources. The good news is that each of you will likely build your stamina and zest for life back to pre-accident levels by the first anniversary of the accident. That happens automatically when we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to heal. The concerning news is that healing after a trauma is not necessarily automatic for a relationship. You may need to help it along, so let’s look at what can be done to get you and Frank back to your pre-accident connection.

You don’t mention where you think you and Frank fall within the Five Elements model, but you have given us some excellent clues. The fact that Frank was good at managing all the details of your respective recoveries suggests that he has a lot of Metal energy in his personality. Metal people are excellent with detail; organizing minutia actually makes them happy. Your gift to the joint recovery process was optimism and hope. These are natural places to go for someone with a lot of Water energy in their personality. We also see your primary elements manifesting in out of balance ways after the crisis abated. When unbalanced, Metals can become unreasonably focused on work and dismiss anything unrelated, and Waters can easily become depressed.

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Wood Challenged by Water Boyfriend

Dear Vicki: Jim and I met at a holiday party last year and really hit it off. This may sound crazy, but time with him felt sort of healing to me, like he was an antidote to the craziness of the season. I’m the oldest of five kids and even though we’re all grown, since both of our parents died in an accident a few years ago I feel a responsibility to make sure that the holidays are great for everyone. Do I go overboard? Yes. Am I usually exhausted by the end of the season? Yes. But last year was different. Jim was such a calming presence. We had amazing talks about the meaning of the season and did lots of quiet things together. It felt quite nurturing. But lately, he’s driving me crazy. As the weather has warmed, I want to be busy again, but he doesn’t. And while time with him used to feel great, now it feels like he’s slowing me down, which angers and frustrates me. Was this just a holiday thing? I thought he might be “the one,” but now I’m not so sure. Signed: Confused in California

Dear Confused: The holidays can be a magical time for many of us and it’s often hard to get back to the “normalness” of every day life once they are over. You are also facing the shift from the quiet yin time of winter into the building activity time of spring’s new yang. Spring make us all want to get going on projects in one way or another. How we react to these seasonal tendencies will vary depending on what our primary elements are, but we all feel these seasonal patterns.

You don’t mention what elements you and Jim are, but it’s easy to make some assumptions. Your tendency to take charge of your siblings during the holidays and make sure that everyone has a wonderful time in spite of your parents being gone sounds like a Wood. They value fairness and have the energy to make things happen. They are also the elemental personality most likely to go overboard with almost anything. Jim, on the other hand, sounds like a Water. His desire to engage in quieter activities and discuss meaningful topics is absolutely Water. They are also the element most likely to feel nurturing to a Wood because Wood and Water relate on the Nurturing Cycle in the Five Elements model. Specifically, Water feeds Wood. If this is an accurate assumption, and you two do relate on the Nurturing Cycle, then what happened? Why are things so different for you now that winter has turned to spring? Actually, there’s a very simple answer.

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Metal Husband Surrounded by Waters

Dear Vicki: My husband is a Metal. Roland is a truly kind person, but of course, has a deep appreciation for structure and doing things the “right” way. For almost twenty years he has managed an art gallery and done it very well. The gallery has grown and taken on dozens of new artists. But somewhere over the years, I think dealing with too many Watery artists has gotten the better of him. My kind Metal has become judgmental, overly critical, and even somewhat sloppy. Plus, things aren’t going as well at the gallery as they used to. I know something about the Five Elements model and have assumed that Roland has too much Metal, so have tried to be more Fiery around him (I am an Earth/Fire), but that doesn’t seem to be working. In fact, I may have made things worse. Help! Signed: Misses Her Metal

Dear Misses: Metal and Water relate on the Nurturing Cycle, so initially Roland’s relationships with his artists would have been congenial and felt supportive to them. But as the gallery grew, it is possible that he took on too many Waters without enough help, which would have made it harder for his Metal to keep in place the structure and order he needed and his customers expected. Bottom line: He became one stressed Metal. Remember, when an element becomes stressed, that stress takes them to an out of balance, dysfunctional version of their normal selves. Too much Water rusts Metal, but how that looks will differ depending on the Metal’s response to the stress.

If, in the face of stress, the distortion is toward too much Metal energy, an out of balance Metal will seem domineering, controlling, and dismissive. Conversely, too little Metal energy will usually manifest as an inability to determine what’s important (confusion), which makes the Metal more critical. It’s a subtle, but important distinction because it will determine the best way to help the stressed Metal.

In Roland’s case, because Metal feeds Water, it’s easy to assume that too much Water could create a demand that would cause him to build his Metal to keep the Water feed, and that does happen. If that had been the case for Roland, bringing in your Fire would have been a good approach; it would have helped keep his Metal in check. But it sounds like Roland has gone to a place of too little Metal, which is also understandable. Water demanding too much from Metal can easily deplete Metal leaving it in a deficient state. And that’s what Roland’s behavior seems to indicate. The fact that you say he has become sloppy tells me that he’s losing his grip on perfectionism, which is an indication of too little Metal.

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