Dear Vicki: I work at our family car dealership and put in long hours. I’ve done what it takes to be the top salesperson most months and as the oldest son, I plan to inherit running the business when my parents retire. My sister also works here, but only part time, and does well selling. Frankly, selling comes more naturally to her (she’s outgoing and funny), but I work harder. Recently, her new husband lost his job managing an art gallery and started working here. No surprise, he’s failing miserably. He isn’t an outgoing person (which I find an absolute necessity for selling), and I’ve caught him reading at his desk instead of working his files. I don’t like him all that much – I have no idea what my sister sees in him – and now having to work with him every day is driving me nuts. He’s a slow, pondering guy who isn’t particularly charismatic (also important in selling) and seems to have brought the whole sales team down. Everyone’s sales are off, even mine! How do I get rid of him without upsetting my sister? Signed: Top Dog
Dear Top Dog: Well, you certainly are clear regarding what does and doesn’t work for you. Success and accomplishment clearly matter, which suggests that you’re a Wood personality. Woods are very much into individual accomplishment. They are also great planners and corporate ladder climbers. Your “plan” to inherit leadership of the family business also speaks to a Wood’s tendency to cast themselves in the lead because leadership equates to success in their worldview.
I suspect your sister is a Fire because the outgoingness and enthusiasm Fires have for almost everything makes them natural sales people. Your quiet, inner-directed brother-in-law who loves to read is probably a Water. And you are correct, Waters are rarely naturally good at sales; they really don’t like engaging with other people that much. Your desire to get rid of him is understandable, but that probably isn’t going to go over well with your sister, and possibly your parents. However, there are ways to help with your frustration, which by the way, is a very typical Wood response to something that isn’t going well. Let’s look at what’s playing out in your dealership relationships from a Five Elements perspective.
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 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.
Dear Vicki: I am a Fire/Wood. I recently moved in with my Water/Metal boyfriend and things are not going well. Now that Frank and I live under the same roof, it feels like I’m walking around in a water-soaked blanket and my happy Fire feels shut down. To compensate, my Fire grows and I go into panic and anxiety. Plus, Frank’s Metal can be so sharp and detached that I feel a great deal of anger toward him. He often goes into his deep place of yearning for information and leaves me to take care of “our life” for long periods of time. I am fighting off resentment and doing my best to be compassionate while keeping the reasons we fell in love in the first place in the forefront of my mind, but I am struggling. What can I do to protect my Fire from being extinguished and get along better with this guy I think I love? Signed: Drowning in Seattle
Dear Drowning: First, let me commend you on the excellent job you’ve done assessing your situation. Also, it’s wonderful that you are attempting to be compassion and keep in mind the reasons you fell in love with Frank. At times that may not be easy. Based on your understanding of the elements, I’m sure it’s not lost on you that you and Frank have a relationship based on the Controlling Cycle, with him doing most of the controlling. His primary Water controls your primary Fire, and his secondary Metal controls your secondary Wood. Also, there is absolutely no overlap in any of your elements. Between the two of you, four of the five elements are represented in your primaries and secondaries. That means there isn’t any common ground between you, which that can make you seem like strangers to each other. But in good times, it can feel like you complete each other.
Right now, it sounds like you’re feeling more like strangers. As you suspect, your Fire is an important piece of the puzzle. But the anxiety and panic you feel isn’t coming from a state of too much Fire when it grows to compensate for all the Water around you. Actually, it’s coming from too little Fire based on all the Water around you. Too much Fire makes one scattered and overwhelmed, too little Fire manifests as anxiety and panic. This means that, as you have surmised, you need to grow your Fire. And this brings us to a fascinating aspect of your relationship dynamics with Frank. At an elemental level, he could be the perfect person for you. Let me explain.
Dear Vicki: I recently realized I am a Water/Earth and feel wonderfully at home with this knowledge. I love having my own space and the ability to flow with my own process. I think my husband is a Wood. Sam’s a successful actor who travels a lot for his work and lately, when Sam comes home from a trip, I feel wary, threatened, and afraid of losing my independence. When he came home last week, I pulled away, which understandably hurt Sam. He is logical and defensive, and confronted me with angry questions about what was going on. As usual, I retreated with nothing to say, which frustrated him further. Since this encounter, there’s a great deal of tension between us. Honestly, I’m concerned that we’re losing our connection and understanding of one another. Can you help? Signed, Worried and Watery
Dear Worried and Watery: First, let’s look at what might be going on for you personally before addressing the relationship. Your signature, “Worried and Watery,” is all about your primary and secondary elements. Worry sits in Earth and usually indicates an imbalance in that element. “Watery” usually means a state of too much Water. That you find yourself feeling “wary, threatened, and afraid” when Sam returns supports this because these are out of balance Water responses. So, it seems likely that you’re experiencing a deficiency in Earth making it hard for your Earth to keep your Water in check (Earth controls Water).
Looking at Sam, he probably is a Wood (or is in a very Wood place these days) given his response of anger and frustration when you pulled away. Your characterization of him as logical and defensive also fits with a Wood. However, as an actor, he will have to have some Fire in order to enjoy the attention that acting engenders. Woods need to be acknowledged; the joy of ongoing attention usually sits in Fire.
So if Sam is a Wood/Fire and you are a Water/Earth, what does that mean for your relationship? Your primary Water relates to Sam’s primary Wood on the Nurturing Cycle, so it should be a comfortable relationship: Your Water feeds his Wood. Your desire to have your own space and time should work well for Sam because Woods also need time to pursue their own projects. For the two of you, that means the time Sam needs to travel as an actor should give you the alone time you want and need at home. So, what’s going wrong?