Dear Vicki: Last fall I hired a new salesman for our small tool and die company. Ivan came with a stellar track record, so I felt lucky to get him. And for the most part, he has proven to be excellent; our sales are way up. He is funny, very outgoing, and what in the old day we used to call a “live wire,” which I guess is part of what makes him so good at his job. Initially, he was well liked by most of our employees, but as time has passed, several people have come to me privately complaining that Ivan is “too much” or “demanding.” We’ve all ignored it, but lately I’ve considered firing him because he often exhibits inappropriate behavior and doesn’t seem to take the job seriously. There’s a right way and wrong way to do things, and making a sales call dressed like the Easter Bunny isn’t right. At least not for me. I discussed this with my wife, who studies the Five Elements, and she suggested I write you. She said she thinks Ivan is a Fire/Wood. I hate to lose the sales he generates, but he is starting to wear us all down. Signed: Bothered Boss
Dear Bothered Boss: Your wife has done you a great service by identifying Ivan’s elemental personality. Once we understand someone’s priorities based on their elemental personality, their behaviors make more sense. We can also begin to understand why they bother us, or in some cases, thrill us. Your wife didn’t pass along what she thought your primary element might be, but based on your letter I suspect you are a Metal personality. So let’s take a look at what might be going on between you, Ivan, and your staff.
As a Metal personality, you value order and propriety. In your letter you said: “There’s a right way and wrong way to do things.” This is pure Metal, as is a desire for structure and boundaries, and a need to honor them. But Ivan’s Fire won’t care one bit about boundaries or protocol. His Fire can be all over the map, often for the sake of being entertaining. Fires have very little structure. Think of it: In nature, Fire isn’t really physical; it is heat made visible. Trying to rope in a Fire can feel like an impossible task. So why is Ivan able to manage the structure necessary to keep a steady job? His saving grace is his secondary Wood energy. Wood is the second most structured element (after Metal), so that is what helps Ivan keep his act together, so to speak.
Dear Vicki: In your blog posts you’ve discussed control and what it means relative to the Five Elements model. I understand the theory that control is important to maintain balance and that each element has an element that is meant to control it. But in reality, this control stuff can be a problem. I’m a Fire person and whenever I’m around a Metal person, (someone who seems uptight and rigid to me), I can’t help getting super fiery with them. Sometimes that means I panic, but usually it means I flirt or go overboard with sharing way too much, too soon. I know Fire is meant to control Metal, but can we sense that we’re “meant to control” someone and react without thinking? This has become a real problem lately because my new boss is a Metal guy and I’m having a hard time not coming off as inappropriate. Help! Signed: Fire in Frisco
Dear Fire: The quick answer to your great question is yes, we can sense when we are around someone on our Controlling Cycle. But we can also sense when we are around someone on our Nurturing Cycle. And we can oftentimes sense if either are manifesting a balanced version of their primary element, or are out of balance. This is usually very unconscious and is part of the apparent mystery behind instantly liking or disliking someone when we meet them. The state of their primary element, and how it relates to our primary element, are very subtle aspects of the like/dislike dynamic we have all experienced.
Our elemental wiring is a core part of our personalities. As we discussed in a post last February, our primary elements are just like tuning forks. Ting a tuning fork and other tuning forks will always respond. At an elemental level, we will resonate in harmony with an element on our Nurturing Cycle and can sense a slight disharmony around an element on our Controlling Cycle. And honestly, sometimes what we sense around someone on our Controlling Cycle can be more than a slight sense of discomfort, depending on whether they control us or we control them.
Dear Vicki: In your recent post to Angry in Alaska, you mentioned that if a Metal person senses too much Wood energy in someone, the Metal will automatically want to “prune” that Wood. Is this true for all Controlling Cycle relationships? I’m a Fire and seem to have fallen in love with a Water. Jenna is serious and can be moody, but she’s also an amazingly creative author who has several published novels. We’ve been together for a few years now and I’ve noticed that when I’m dancing and having a great time at a party, Jenna does seem to throw water on my flames by saying something mean or cutting. It’s like she can barely tolerate me. When I ask her about it later, she acts like she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I love her, but it feels bad to be insulted in front of friends, even if I might have been a bit wild. Is this something Jenna does automatically because see thinks my Fire is out of control? If so, how do Controlling Cycle relationships ever last? Signed: Drowning in Downey
Dear Drowning: The quick answer to your question is that Controlling Cycle relationships last because we all need the balancing affect of control in our lives. Too much of anything, even something as wonderful as fun and laughter, isn’t good for us. Too much of anything is, by definition, a loss of balance and the Five Elements model is all about maintaining balance. The Controlling Cycle is the way the model addresses too much of something, while too little of something is addressed via the Nurturing Cycle. These reducing and building tendencies translate to our relationships, too. But in a culture where more always seems better than less, Controlling Cycle connections can seem harsh. Yet they are just as great a gift as a Nurturing Cycle connection. Sometimes, even more.
In your case, too much Fire can and will burn you out. In nature, fire has very little structure; it’s actually just heat made visible. At a personality level this lack of structure manifests as a tendency to have fewer boundaries than the other elements. Interestingly, as a Water, Jenna doesn’t have great boundaries herself. But water in nature is definitely more solid than fire, so Jenna will have more structure than you do. And her gift to you is to cool you down before you burn yourself out. She may do this in ways that seem mean – and we will come back to that in a minute – but she really can be acting in your best interest.
Dear Five Faces: I’m having trouble with my new brother-in-law Tom, who is a primary Fire element, and I wonder if the Five Elements can help me understand why. He’s a loud, jokester, frustrating kind of guy who is always “on.” Honestly, I don’t know how my sister stands it. Tom’s never quiet and it’s absolutely exhausting to be around him. I know it’s said we respond to others based on the parts of ourselves that need work, but does this translate to the element types? If we see Fire in another person and don’t like it, does that mean we’re having trouble with our own Fire? Signed: Problem Fire
Dear Problem Fire: This is a great question and there are multiple answers. First, being around someone with an abundance of Fire will affect our own expression of Fire, even if it isn’t our primary element. That’s what often happens at parties: the fun the Fires are having is usually contagious. We all have all five elements, so wherever our own Fire is in our makeup, it usually wakes up a little and wants to have fun. And it usually does have a great deal of fun. However, for people who have trouble expressing their Fire, this can be uncomfortable. So yes, you could be having trouble expressing your own Fire and Tom’s Fire makes that worse. But based on your description of Tom’s behavior, and your reaction to it, I suspect that’s not the real problem here.
It sounds like Tom has too much Fire and that’s what’s impacting you. As the Five Elements model tells us, too much of any element is problematic not only for the whole; each of the other four elements will also be affected. To understand why, let’s use Tom as an example. Too much Fire will drain Water as it reaches across the Controlling Cycle to manage the Fire (Water puts out Fire). Too much Fire will increase Earth by dumping excess energy into it via the Nurturing Cycle (Fire feeds Earth). Too much Fire will deplete Metal by sending too much energy across the Controlling Cycle (Fire melts Metal). And too much Fire will deplete Wood by pulling too much from it via the Nurturing Cycle (Wood feeds Fire).
Dear Vicki: My 12 year old son has always been funny and outgoing, but lately I’ve caught him lying to me. It’s not really big stuff, but it’s concerning. For example, when Todd spent the weekend at his fathers (we had an amicable divorce five years ago), Todd reported that he and his dad had lunch with the mayor. When I checked, it turns out that the assistant mayor is an old high school friend of my ex-husband and that’s who they lunched with. When I challenge Todd, he laughed and said it’s a better story to have lunch with a mayor. Another time Todd complained that his history teacher assigned 100 pages to read over the weekend. It turned out that the assignment was 50 pages, but they could do more for extra credit. His response when I asked was to cop a dramatic attitude and laugh. I’m beginning to wonder if Todd’s a Fire who’s out of control and that’s why he’s lying. Regardless, I’m very upset, my Metal will not tolerate it, so how do I get him to stop? Signed: Disturbed Outside Denver
Dear Disturbed: Teaching children that honesty matters is an important part of parenting. It will be especially important to you as a Metal because following rules and maintaining high ethical standards matter greatly to Metals. The norm for our culture has been that lying is wrong, and Metals are our guides for determining right from wrong, so you are probably upset that your son isn’t getting with the program. In truth, your son’s lying strikes at the core of your values as a Metal. We’ll address his lying first, but I suspect there’s another issue at play that’s part of what’s upsetting you, and we’ll cover that later. But first, the lying.
It’s interesting you suspect that Fire would be the element to lie. That’s possible, yet all of the elements will lie. But the reasons they lie will be different.
- When Fires lie, it’s usually for a sense of drama. Todd’s correct, it’s a more dramatic story to say one has lunched with the mayor than the assistant mayor. Fires exaggerate a story for the effect, too. Fires enjoy being the entertainer and garnering the attention.