She Wants to be Warm and Fuzzy with People, But Can’t

Dear Vicki: I’m fascinated with the idea that our elemental personalities create nurturing or controlling relationships with other people. And now I’m wondering if the individual elements that make up my own elemental personality create “relationships” among themselves that nurture or control. I ask because I grew up in a household with a narcissistic and often depressed mother and a father whose anger frightened me. In some ways, I felt responsible for my mother and tried to help. I did a pretty good job, too, because I’m a determined (and some might say forceful) person. I also wanted things to be fair for my mom, so I often defended her against my dad when she couldn’t defend herself. I’m a serious gardener and manage a bakery from a back office, which I think means I have Earth as a primary elemental personality, right? But I don’t feel very Earthy around people. I never did growing up, but I want to now. Could something in my personality be affecting this? Signed: Wants to Be Warm and Fuzzy

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Dear Wants to be Warm and Fuzzy: The short answer to both of your questions is yes: our individual personality elements do interact with each other via the Nurturing and Controlling Cycles and they do affect how our personalities manifest. We all have all five of the elemental personalities in our personality make up. And as the Five Elements model suggests, the Metal part of our personality feeds the Water part of our personality, our Fire part controls our Metal part, etc. In ancient Chinese medicine, understanding these relationships was central to using the elements for physical health and healing. And as we’ve covered in this blog for years now, these same interactions can also be used to understand and support both our personal emotional experiences and our relationships with other people. So, let’s take a look at what might be going on for your personality both as a child and an adult.

First, it will help to understand the primary elemental personalities of your parents. Depression and narcissism both sit in the Water element. Depression usually occurs when there isn’t enough energy to be optimistic and hopeful (which are characteristics of the balanced Water personality). Narcissism usually indicates an over-abundance of Water energy. It’s very likely your mother was a primary Water personality, but one that was unable to hold a balance. Anger sits in Wood and usually manifests when there is too much Wood energy, as does forcefulness, so I suspect that, not only was your father a primary Wood personality, but you are, as well. A strong desire for fairness in very characteristic of the Wood personality.

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Her Female Partner Not Included in Family Plans

Dear Five Faces: My mother recently made an extremely unreasonable request and I am writing for help on how best to deal with it. After a long illness, my father passed away this summer and our small family held a simple, private funeral for him. My fiance, Shelley, attended with me and all was well. Recently, my father’s brother (who lives out of state) has decided to stage an extensive memorial service for my father in January. My uncle is a very conservative person and Mom has asked that Shelley not attend; she’s concerned about flak from his family. Apparently, my parents never mentioned to Dad’s family that I’m gay. How should I handle this? Shelley says she understands and is willing to skip the ceremony for family harmony, but it just isn’t fair. How can I convince my mother that Shelley should be allowed to attend? I’m really angry that Shelley is being snubbed! Signed: Angry Daughter

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Dear Angry Daughter: First, I offer my condolences on the loss of your father. Losing a parent is always difficult. And losing a spouse can be just as difficult, sometimes more so, which means that your mother is probably in a pretty stressed place these days. She may still be reeling from all that needs to be managed when someone passes, so let’s figure out your elemental personalities and see if we can find a way to help you and your family with this issue.

Because you are angry and upset at the unfairness of Shelley not attending the service, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Fairness is key to Wood people and anger is where they go when things seem unfair. Shelley’s willingness to skip the service to keep the peace suggests she’s a primary Earth personality. Family harmony is very important to Earth people. Finally, your mother’s insistence on Shelley not attending because of appearances suggest she is probably a primary Metal personality. Appearances matter to them. And even if your mother isn’t normally a primary Metal, with the recent death of her husband she is probably in a Metal place these days. Grief, loss, and letting go all sit in the Metal element of the Five Elements model.

The main elemental dynamic at play here is that you and your mother (as she is now) relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model, with her Metal energy controlling your Wood energy. Wood people do not like to be controlled, so it’s understandable that you are having serious trouble with your mother’s request. Something else Wood people hate is when things seem out of control, which touches on another dynamic involved in your situation that is probably bothering you, as well.

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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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Retirement Really Changed Her Father

Dear Vicki: When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my father chose to keep the family house and has done just fine living there alone. At least until now. Recently, he’s become a bitter, hopeless, and rather narcissistic old man, which is so not like my father. He was career military; always very logical, rational, kind, and even-keeled. But since he retired three years ago, that part of him has slowly disappeared and now he seems impossible to please. He’s also very sad, more so than he ever was, even when Mom passed. Is he becoming senile? I worry about him all the time, and often take meals over to him, but he hardly asks about me or his grandchildren when I’m there. Instead, he complains and almost seems to resent my presence. It breaks my heart. What can I do to help him? Signed, Worried About Dad

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Dear Worried: It is possible your father is becoming senile, so having him checked out by a competent health care professional would be a good idea. But that might not be what is going on for him at all. What I suspect might be happening is that, with his retirement, your father has moved from the life phase of outward productivity to a phase of slowing down and introspection. His choice of a military career suggests that he is a primary Metal personality, someone who embraces order, hierarchy, and perfection in everything. And while our primary elemental personality is ours for the totality of our life, we do move though different phases as we grow and age. This is a fascinating aspect of the Five Elements model: the idea that each of the elemental personalities can be seen in a specific phase of our life. I think a brief exploration of how this works might help explain what is going on for your father.

In the Five Elements model, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all move through five distinct phases in life. Birth and early childhood are associated with the wintery time of Water when potential is unlimited. Young adulthood, a time of exuberance and rapid growth, is associated with the intense spring energy of Wood. The process of maturation is associated with the warming summer sun of the Fire element, while the final ripening of our life relates to the fields of late summer and the Earth element. The end of our life cycle – the harvest of all gained from this cycle and storage of what will be used in the next cycle – relates to Metal. However, for many ancient teachings, instead of ending with Metal, our final stop is said to be a return to Water, as seen in the innocence and playfulness of a young child mirrored in the elderly. That’s why many philosophers claim that both birth and death sit in the Water Element.

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