Looking Back: A Reader Asks, “What Element Am I?”

Dear Vicki: I find it interesting to read about the elements, but how do I know for sure what element I am? Wants to Know

Dear Wants to Know: The short answer is that you are all of them: We each have all of the elements in us. The real question is what is your primary element? What element determines the filter you use when you’re stressed, reacting instinctively, or just living? This filter affects almost everything in your life: the people you like, the jobs you hate, what you’re good at, and even the physical challenges you might have.

There are many ways to determine your elemental affinity, including questionnaires, comparing yourself to people whose affinity you know (Robin Williams was a Fire, bless him, and Hillary Clinton is a Wood), studying the elements, and even energy tests. And while all of these are excellent tools, because you are the best expert about yourself anywhere on the planet, I personally think that the best way to determine your affinity is to study the elements and recognize yourself in them.

To begin the process of determining your elemental affinity, a quick question I always ask people is how they act when they’re stressed. Take a moment and think about how you react when something doesn’t go well for you. Do you get angry (Wood) or panicked (Fire)? Do you detach from the problematic situation and people (Metal) or quietly go in a different direction to get what you want (Water)? Or do you try to understand why things aren’t going well and look compassionately on anyone involved in the problem (Earth)? Social training aside, since we automatically revert to our “true self” when really stressed, we can usually determine our elemental affinity easiest when in that state. And if you’re not sure how you act when stressed, ask a friend or family member. I guarantee, they will know.

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Fire Wonders: Am I Crazy or Just a Secondary Water?

Dear Vicki: I have a question about getting along better with myself. I know I’m a primary Fire. I have a great deal of passion for what I do and can tell that it rubs off on other people. On my good days, I have loads of interests, buckets of energy, and am a fun outgoing person. But on bad days, I have a hard time moving forward, I procrastinate until the whole day is gone, and my passion turns into frustration or indifference. It’s like my Fire has been snuffed out. I do enjoy reading, meditating, and coming up with ideas for my business, so wonder if I might have a secondary Water. This would take down my Fire and make me crazy, right? But maybe I’m not really a secondary Water. How would I know? Signed: Crazy Fire

Dear Crazy Fire: It does sound like you are a primary Fire with a secondary Water. The relationship between the two is that of opposing forces: pure yang and pure yin. You might think that could make you crazy, but in the Five Elements model opposing forces aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they can be a very, very good thing.

Remember that the goal in the Five Elements model is to maintain balance. Too much or too little of any one element is a threat to the whole, so the system is designed with balancing mechanisms built right in. If there’s too little of an element, there’s another element that can be counted on to increase energy for it via the Nurturing Cycle. If there’s too much of an element, there’s another element that can be counted on to decrease its energy via the Controlling Cycle. Your Fire and Water relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle, which means Water stands at the ready to make sure your Fire doesn’t go too wild for too long. That’s important for you because Fires really can burn themselves out. Fires have the least amount of structure or boundaries of any of the Five Elements which means it’s hardest for them to pull back and chill. Without Water, Fires risk depletion, which is a very important point for you.

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How Woods Interact with their Secondary Elements

Dear Vicki: I read your recent post about how our secondary elements affect who we are and found it very interesting. It made me wonder if some primary elements work better with their secondaries than others. For example, I’m a primary Wood and don’t think I’m “softened” much by any secondary. I’m pretty much a Wood’s Wood. Do we even need a secondary? If it helps, I work as a marketing manager for a cyber security firm. Signed: Pure Wood

Dear Pure Wood: You are not alone in wondering about the impact of your secondary element. Quite a few people wrote in requesting information about how their specific primary element might be affected by each of the possible secondaries.

First, let’s be clear that a specific secondary element will impact us differently depending on our primary element. For example, Water as a secondary will always bring some degree of creativity and a “go with the flow” energy to an individual. But what that looks like will depend pretty strongly on which primary element Water is “flavoring.”

In your case, Wood’s tendency for individualization will definitely affect the relationship between your primary and secondary elements. It’s not surprising that, as a Wood, you don’t think your secondary matters. Woods are decisive, accomplished individuals who make things happen, fight for a cause, and enjoy leading others forward. Left to their own devices, Woods usually only focus on what Woods find important, which means you might not even see your secondary as part of you.

But it is part of you, I promise. It’s very unlikely that our secondary elements have no impact on our personalities. They’re part of our energetic make up and a living filter through which we interact with the world. That said, there is one possible reason that a secondary might not have a significant impact on the expression of our primary element, and that’s if it has had its own expression conditioned out of us by an aspect of life.

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Two Waters: Can It Work?

Dear Vicki: I’m a Water (with a secondary Earth) and for the first time in my life I’m in a relationship with a Water man (I’m pretty sure he’s a secondary Wood). It’s amusing, but also pretty disconcerting to see one’s own traits – particularly the annoying ones – in your partner. We started out great together, but lately we seem less connected and could be on our way to “It’s over.” Is that surprising? Is this relationship doomed? Signed, Watery in Westport

Dear Watery: As I’ve mentioned in other posts, same element relationships have strengths and weaknesses. No one will know or understand you better when you’re relating to someone from your same elemental “clubhouse.” But there’s none of the energy movement that comes from relating via either the Nurturing or Controlling Cycle. That means a same element relationship can sometimes feel stuck, dull, or lacking in excitement.

The good news for you is that the element least likely to mind this lack of action or excitement is Water. As you have probably already discovered, two Waters together will be happy at home reading, discussing almost anything under the sun, or maybe even watching a long movie. They will understand when the other doesn’t want to go to a party because they won’t want to party in a crowd, either. They will be fine just going with the flow as things unfold in life and will have no shortage of ideas to discuss. There will be playfulness between them, too (the baby part of Water), and quietly fun times. They will inspire and be inspired by each other. In the beginning, it can be a Water’s idea of bliss.

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Two Men, Both Metals, Very Different: Why?

Dear Vicki: I’m a nurse and have studied the Five Elements for some time, but have never used them in my relationships. I’ve been trying it out with my family, but I’ve hit on a point of confusion. I’m pretty sure I’m a Wood and I grew up with a Metal brother who drove me crazy. Not only was he older, but I understand now that his Metal was the control to my Wood. We get along better as adults, but he’s still prone to arguing with me (which shouldn’t be surprising – he’s a successful trial attorney). My husband is a Metal, too, but we rarely argue; I find him supportive and loving, and so do his patients (he’s a pediatrician). Why is my relationship to these two Metals in my life so different? Signed, Wondering Wood

 Dear Wondering Wood: This is a great question! First, let’s get some basics out of the way. While I’m sure you love both of your Metal men, it’s a familial love with your brother and a romantic love with your husband. Years of family dynamics can set a tone for sibling relationships that perpetuates conflict. And the hormones involved with romantic relationships often help keep harmony. This means that your marriage will probably have a bit of an edge in the “getting along” department versus your relationship with your brother. It’s not going to make a huge difference in how your Wood relates to their Metal, but it is worth noting.

That said, the biggest factor in the difference between the relationships you have with your two Metal guys is their secondary elements. Our secondary elements absolutely effect how our primary elements expresses, so that means two Metal guys can come off quite differently depending on their secondaries.

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