Wood Unhinged

Dear Readers,

For years, this blog has used the Five Elements model from Chinese medicine to discuss the five basic elemental personalities: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. We’ve covered issues like the strengths and weaknesses of each elemental personality, as well as the important understanding of how they relate to each other. At times, we’ve even dipped into how they relate to themselves. However, one issue we have never covered is what happens to an elemental personality when some form of mental illness is present. Recent events suggest this might be a reasonable time to cover this topic, especially as it relates to the primary Wood personality.

Wood people focus on the future and are excellent planners. Their greatest strength is that they can envision their goals and plot exactly what it takes to accomplish them. They firmly believe that if they try hard enough, they can manifest anything. Powerful and decisive, the primary Wood personality counts on their ability to get things done in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and will use their abundant energy to remove obstacles that block the way. It is the nature of their personality to be strong, direct, and assertive (hopefully in a kind way). 

If action and accomplishment are the greatest strengths of Wood people, their greatest weakness is a potentially dysfunctional – and often explosive – response to lack of movement toward accomplishing what they want. When things aren’t happening fast enough, or at all, Wood personalities have nowhere to focus their formidable energy. They’ll push and exhaust themselves in the name of the goal and ultimately lose their ability to be flexible and adaptable. In the process they can become impatient, angry, and often quite mean. However, since self-preservation (and saving face) is very important for a Wood person, they are usually able to pull themselves back from the point of no return, dust themselves off, and try again (often with a different approach).

That said, a mentally unstable Wood personality will frequently become so obsessed with what matters to them (things like success, status, being important, and winning) that they lose the ability to self-moderate their behavior. Whatever their primary goal is at the moment takes on an almost mythic “life or death” urgency such that they will stop at very little to get what they want. The concept that the ends can justify the means is a Wood energy idea, and an unbalanced Wood will see nothing wrong in doing whatever they believe needs to be done to accomplish their goal. 

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He Needs an Assistant: Who Should He Hire?

Dear Vicki: I am writing about my father; we’ll call him Greg. He’s fantastic at making things happen, is the most amazing multi-tasker I know, and is actually a great father, just not very warm and fuzzy. He’s been in business, specifically marketing, for most of his career, and changed jobs two years ago to head up a national marketing and sales force for a large corporation. The reason I’m writing is that he’s had three administrative assistants during those two years. The third quit last week and now he’s complaining that he can’t find good help. I love him, but when he’s stressed, he can come across as bossy and insensitive. Is there anything I can say to him that will help him find and keep a good administrative assistant? Signed, A Caring Daughter

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Dear Caring Daughter: Your father is very lucky to have such a caring daughter. Good for you! And this is an interesting relationship question. Work relationships are just as important as our personal relationships, but are often more difficult.  That’s because at work, we’re usually more invested in our performance than our relationships.  But work relationships often make or break our performances, so let’s see what we can do to help you help your father.

If Greg’s business career has focused on marketing and sales, it’s highly likely that he is a primary Wood personality. Marketing requires focus, vision, and the ability to make things happen, while sales requires multitasking and an ability to put yourself out there in the name of a product, brand, organization, etc. This sounds pretty close to how you described your father.

Greg clearly has a lot of responsibility in his new job, which Wood people perceive as a reflection of their importance, so usually enjoy – until times get tough. When significant problems arise, the stressed Wood personality will usually take dramatic steps to keep things from getting further out of control because nothing takes a Wood person down faster than chaos. This clamping down makes them seem very controlling, or as you put it: “bossy and insensitive.” And as Greg’s history with assistants has shown, it can be very hard to work for a stressed, controlling Wood. So how do you help your father?

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Is it Personal? A Friend Suddenly Changes

Dear Vicki: I’m having a difficult time with one of my best friends. Gail and I have been very close for several years now, ever since we met working at our community garden. She is usually a caring and thoughtful person and we have a lot in common, especially our love of gardening and our children. I read your blog and know a little about the elemental personalities, so have assumed that Gail is an Earth personality, like me. But lately I think she might be a Fire personality because she does everything fast—eats fast, walks fast, talks over you when you try to say something, and finishes your sentences. She’s also been impulsive and acts without thinking things through. Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that my husband and I welcomed our first grandchild a year ago. While Gail was initially enthused about Robby, for the past six months she’s seemed really uninterested. She never asks about him anymore and I’ve stopped mentioning him. It’s gotten to where I can’t be myself around her and it’s ruining our friendship. What can I do? Signed, Grandma

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Dear Grandma: The birth of children and grandchildren are some of the deepest changes we can experience in our lives. They can reorder our priorities and affect everything, including our relationships. Your assessment that Gail has a primary Earth personality is likely correct given that she loves gardening and children so much. But Earth people usually love talking about all children, including grandchildren. Something must be going on for Gail that’s affecting her Earth energy. To look at this, I’d like to consider Gail’s “secondary” elemental personality.

You suggest that in addition to Earth, Gail has a lot of Fire in her personality and on the surface that could be true. But the traits you mention can also describe someone with out of balance Wood energy. Doing things too fast frequently happens with a poorly focused Wood person. Finishing people’s sentences and interrupting are rude manifestations of an impatient Wood person. And impulsiveness is often the result of a frustrated Wood person. Honestly, it sounds to me like Gail’s personality is more Earth and out of balance Wood than it is Earth and Fire.

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She’s Worried About Her Mother’s Anger

Dear Vicki: My mother has always been a strong and loving woman. She is a nurse who managed (and still does) a multi-physician office while my two brothers and I were growing up, but she still had time to bake cookies and help with science projects. When her father died and living alone was too hard on Grammy, Mom moved her in with us. The problem now is that I recently received an amazing offer to teach at a nursing college out of state. I want to accept the offer, but my mother has all of a sudden turned into a mean and angry person. She actually makes snarky comments about my leaving. I know she has a lot going on at work and with Grammy here, and Dad isn’t a lot of help, but this is my chance and now I feel guilty taking it and worried that something really might be wrong with Mom. Can you help? Signed: Worried in Western Oaks

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Dear Worried: Congratulations on the offer from the nursing college. It does seem like a wonderful opportunity for you and it is understandable that you would want to go. It is also understandable that your mother may be less than enthused. Let’s take a look at your likely elemental personalities and see what might be going on for your mother and how you might help.

The fact that your mother was able to run a large office suggests that she probably has a lot of Wood energy in her personality. That she is a nurse and also an excellent mother indicates that she clearly has a lot of Earth energy, too. I suspect that she is a primary Earth personality, but that her secondary Wood has been front and center for most of her adult life. It would take the Wood skills of organization and getting things done to have accomplished all she did while you and your brothers were growing up. It’s a very Earth thing to move her mother in when her father passed, but a very Wood thing to have the stamina to make it all work.

You also seem to be a primary Earth personality given your choice of nursing as a career. I’m sure this greatly pleased your mother and made for an even stronger bond between the two of you. In fact, I suspect this is part of the reason your mother is having such a hard time with the idea of you moving away. Earth people create strong bonds because deep and lasting relationships are one of the great priorities of their lives. And while at a rational level your mother is probably secretly pleased for you to have this opportunity, at a functional level it clearly isn’t going over very well with her.

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She’s Ready to Cut Ties with Her Brother

Dear Vicki: I feel terrible admitting this, but my brother and I fight about everything. I spent most of this year arguing with Ted about whether to sell our parent’s house (Mom passed two years ago and we just relocated my father to a retirement home) or keep it for rental income. We disagreed about which facility to place him in (my brother won), what to do with all the furnishings when we moved Dad (my brother won), who should host the holidays (I won only because I pointed out that his house is under renovation), etc. I’m a nurse and Ted’s a doctor, so he often points out that he knows more about everything than I, so I should just do what he says. I’m weary of the fighting and his angry, aggressive attitude toward me. I’d really like peace in the family, so I am seriously considering breaking off ties with him completely. The desire to do this has been especially strong this fall. I hate to tear the family a part, really the idea hurts my heart, but is there ever going to be a way to fix our relationship? Signed: Weary in Wisconsin

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Dear Weary: Family dynamics can be especially difficult. As the old saying goes, we pick our friends but are stuck with our family. Your family has been through some difficult times lately, too, with the loss of your mother, the relocation of your father, and the possible sale of your family home. This level of stress tends to bring out the very best, or the very worst, in us all. And while you and your brother may never be best friends, a little understanding might help you get along when you need to. And that is where the Five Elements model can help.

Ted sounds very much like a Wood personality. Wood people appreciate prestige, and our culture certainly holds doctors in high esteem. Ted would have needed a great deal of perseverance to make it though medical school, and Wood people usually have the stamina to push through barriers and succeed at manifesting almost anything. In fact, in the Five Elements model, Wood is represented by the power of spring, an energy that brings forth life from the darkness of winter.  You, on the other hand, sound more like an Earth personality. Earth people are usually very caring and compassionate. They want everyone to be happy and are miserable when there is fighting. Few people on the planet are more caring and compassionate than nurses, so your choice of professions also supports the strong likelihood that you are an Earth personality.

If we look at the primary relationship dynamic between Wood people and Earth people as outlined in the Five Elements model, we see that they relate via the Controlling cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. This means that it could feel to you like Ted is trying to get the upper hand when you argue because, in the Five Elements model, it is Wood’s job to make sure that Earth holds strong in the face of too much neediness from others. Left to their own devices, Earths can give so much to others that they deplete themselves physically or emotionally. When faced with an Earth that is giving too much, a Wood personality will often step in and try to control the situation to protect the Earth.

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