Time with Her Brother Fries Her

Dear Vicki: I hope you can help me understand my younger brother. I love him, but he drives me crazy. Growing up, Gavin was very outgoing, to say the least. He ran instead of walked, jumped around when excited, and always seemed busy. When we were little, I wanted to stay inside and color or read, but that bored him. In high school, he was on the pep squad and in theater. Just watching him made me tired and irritable. It still does. We’re in our early twenties now and have both moved back home temporarily to take care of our aging parents during the pandemic. My parents love him because he’s funny, but he always laughs louder than anyone else, even at his own jokes. And he tells way too many jokes. Honestly, I find myself wanting to be around him less and less, which is pretty hard in a small house with so much shut down these days. What can I do? Signed: Exhausted

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Dear Exhausted: These are certainly trying times in many different ways. Moving back to your childhood home – even for a very good reason – is a big change and bound to be stressful. The incredible degree of uncertainty in the world these days is also stressful. And being thrown back into an uncomfortable dynamic with your younger brother is obviously going to be stressful. But while we can’t change the world right now, or even the people in your life, I can help you understand the personality dynamics between you and Gavin and offer you some suggestions on ways to improve them.

To begin with, as you describe him, Gavin is clearly a primary Fire personality. Fire people tend to be upbeat and outgoing, quick with a joke, and constantly in motion. They are usually happy to connect with people (current friends or strangers) and are firm believers in the old adage, “The more, the merrier!” And you are correct: Most people love being with Fire people because they are entertaining and just plain fun.

However, there are certain elemental personalities that can find Fire people difficult to be around. One of them is the Water personality. Water people tend to be quiet and reflective individuals who avoid crowded, raucous activities. Based on the fact that you loved coloring and reading when younger, and your basic reaction to Gavin in general, I suspect you are probably a primary Water personality. And as we know from nature, fire and water usually don’t mix well. The same can be true for people. Let’s look at why.

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Helping Friend Dumped During Pandemic

Dear Vicki: Sami has been my best friend for over a decade. We have had many wild and crazy times together, mostly because Sami loves going out and is always the life of the party wherever we go.  She said she never wanted to be tied down, but all that changed last year when she met Hans, an outgoing, serious banker guy pretty focused on his career. Sami really fell for him, and he seemed to feel the same about her. Sami’s life was definitely a lot more together with Hans around. But after about six months of what looked to me like crazy, happy, almost all the time togetherness – including sheltering together at Sami’s during this pandemic – Hans left Sami last week for a meditation instructor. Sami’s totally depressed and not herself. What can I do to help her get Hans back? Signed, Sorry for Sami

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Dear Sorry: This is a difficult time to end a relationship. During the Covid-19 outbreak, stable relationships can significantly support our sense of normalcy. For Sami and Hans to split up now will definitely rock both of their boats, but of course it will be especially hard on Sami. To find ways to help her, let’s see if we can figure out why Hans might have left. And as you can imagine, I believe it comes down to the interaction of their primary elemental personalities.

As someone who loves going out and is always the life of the party, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Sami is a primary Fire personality. Hans, on the other hand, is clearly not. As an “outgoing serious banker guy pretty focused on his career,” he is likely a primary Wood personality. Getting ahead really matters to Wood people and at a personality level, they are often mesmerized by the light and fun Fire people create. I believe Sami and Hans had a Wood/Fire relationship, and that dance between Fire and Wood is an interesting one.  Continue reading

Is Wild Behavior Really Right for her Sister?

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m concerned about my younger sister, Tina. She’s a junior in high school and is a quiet, disciplined, studious student, the kind of child any normal parent would want. The problem is that our mother isn’t a normal mother – she’s an outgoing, fun-loving, partying lady! Life with her wasn’t easy for me growing up, but I figured out that if I stayed in my room and read a lot, she’d leave me alone. Occasionally we’d fight, but usually ended up agreeing to disagree and moved past things. Tina doesn’t seem to be managing as well. When she tries to stand up to Mom, she sort of melts and gives in. What concerns me is that Mom thinks Tina is letting life pass her by, so is encouraging her to attend parties where alcohol is served, go out with wild guys, things like that, all in the name of having fun. And even though Mom loves to party, when she is serious, she can be pretty forceful in her demands. Tina was initially uncomfortable with Mom’s suggestions, but lately she seems tempted by the open door of freedom. How can I help Tina not make a terrible mistake? Signed: Worried Sister in Seattle

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Dear Worried Sister in Seattle: This is an interesting dilemma that appears to be a dance between you, your mother, and your younger sister. You don’t mention how much older you are than Tina, if you still live at home, or what your current relationship is with you mother, so I’ll make some guesses that I hope will be on target. But let’s start with a few assumptions regarding your primary elemental personalities.

The easy one is your Mother. The way you describe her makes it clear that she’s a primary Fire personality. Partying, fun, attention, things like that are often the hallmarks of the Fire personality. The fact that you’re concerned about Tina and are advocating for her suggests that you probably have a primary Wood personality. Wood people stick up for the underdog every chance they get. They can also quibble with other Wood people and end up agreeing to disagree, as you say. That is a very common way for Wood people to save face and both get to be “right.” This makes me think that while your Mother is clearly a primary Fire personality, she probably has Wood as her secondary personality. That would definitely make her a force to be reckoned with at times.

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Is The Teacher Too Outgoing?

Dear Vicki: I have been an elementary school principal for decades and love my work. My goal is always to keep the school running in an appropriate manner and support the students, who I care about deeply. Last year, I started at a new school and one of the teachers there, we’ll call her Jane, was a real challenge to manage. I’m dreading working with her again this year. She is outgoing and often very flighty. She agrees to attend meetings, then doesn’t show up. Or if she does show, she’s kidding around so much we can’t get down to business. The students all love her and think she’s fun, but they don’t have to manage her. Honestly, I do like her and want to do right by her, but I’m having a hard time keeping her in line. Any hints on how to make this year more successful than last? Signed, Burned in Bellevue 

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Dear Burned: This is an understandably difficult situation. Based on your description, I suspect that Jane is a primary Fire personality, which means she will be a lot of fun, very popular, and also difficult to contain. You sound like you care about doing a good job and have very specific ideas of how you want things run. But Fire people have very little structure, so usually aren’t great at coloring inside the lines, so to speak. And yet, there are definitely ways you can engage with Jane to help bring her onboard.

Based on your deep caring for your students and your goal to keep the school running in an appropriate manner, it is likely that you are a primary Earth personality with a strong secondary Metal personality. Earth people usually care deeply about children and Metal people care deeply about doing what is right or appropriate. The good news is that the Earth part of your personality should get on well with Jane. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle with Fire feeding Earth. This implies that, if you were honest with yourself, you probably enjoy Jane as much as the students do. The challenge for you rests in the relationship between your strong secondary Metal personality and Jane’s Fire personality.

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Where Did Her Happiness Go?

Dear Vicki: I’m writing with a question regarding how I relate to myself. I’m hoping you can help. Over the past several years I’ve turned into a crabby person. I’m not that old, but I seem to have lost a lot of joy in my life, especially as it relates to the holidays. They are over now, and I’m happy about that, but I just never found the holiday spirit. I remember even 15 years ago I could sit with a cup of tea and feel the blessings of the season. Now, they are just one big whirl of anxious activity and sadly, pretty empty or meaningless. They are busy times, but as I’ve climbed the corporate ladder at the consulting firm where I work, the holidays and other times that used to be fun, magical, or even just happy don’t seem that way anymore. Is this part of growing up, or growing old? And can I change it back? Signed: Empty in Edgewater

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Dear Empty: Your letter probably could have been written by half the people in the United States. It’s a common problem that comes from believing we can/should/need to do it all. This tendency is especially strong in people with a primary Wood personality, and it sounds to me like that might be the case for you. Wood people do believe at some level that they can do it all. They carry the motive power and manifestation directive of Spring energy. That’s the energy that allows tender leaves to burst through tough bark, or crocuses to emerge from the snow. At some level, Wood personalities see everything as a personal challenge, one they are determined to meet. Climbing the corporate ladder is a perfect example, but it isn’t just about work. Creating a perfect holiday season – or the ultimate vacation – can also be taken up as a worthy challenge. Do it all, and do it better than anyone, often describes Woods who have taken on so much they are out of balance. Success will always matter to Wood people, but the wise ones know that balance in all things is important. I think losing sight of that truth may be what’s tripping you up.

No one human being can do it all, all the time, but the Wood personality will try. In doing so, they build up more of that “can do” aspect of their personality to a point that it becomes unbalanced. If we look at the Five Elements model, remember that Wood relates to the other four elements in the following manner:

  1. Wood feeds Fire, so too much Wood can lead to too much Fire, which can lead to more activity and anxiety than normal.
  2. Wood controls Earth, which can lead to less Earthiness, which is where home, family, and often holiday enjoyment sits.
  3. Wood is controlled by Metal, meaning it is Metal’s job to make sure that the level of Wood energy doesn’t get too high. But too much Wood for too long can deplete Metal as it continuously tries to manage Wood. This can lead to a loss of the logic needed to move rationally through life.
  4. Wood is fed by Water, and the more Wood there is the more energy it will demand from Water. This often depletes Water, which can affect our ability to connect with joy, wonder, and fun.

So over the long haul, if this pattern isn’t changed one can end up with too much Wood, too much Fire, and not enough Earth, Metal, or Water. A good image for this might be the hysterical bull in a china shop! For you, the end result is pretty much what you described in your letter: a sense of needing to do more (too much Wood energy), anxiety (too much Fire), emptiness around the holidays (not enough Earth energy to feel the connections), little meaning (this usually comes from Metal wisdom) and no peace and magic (both have strong representation in Water). Bottom line: you have worked yourself to a place that your Wood personality is out of balance, which really just means that your relationship to yourself is out of balance. But no worries, there are ways to address that.

First and foremost, you need to examine your workaholic ways, which are often a trademark of the Wood personality. The good news is that Wood people usually have a great deal of structure, so setting better boundaries for yourself will probably be something you can do. Create “work times” and “non-work times” and stick to it. The other personality that has lots of structure is Metal, and since Metal energy is what helps “prune” too much Wood energy, it will be important that you get very logical, rational, and strict about your new schedule, all attributes of the Metal personality.

In addition, to help balance you out you need more of what the Earth and Water personalities have to offer. Earth people love time with close friends and family, something that usually happens more around the holidays. Perhaps your busy schedule didn’t allow as much holiday connecting as you wanted (or needed), so start connecting more now. Spend time with close family and friends, or even just more time at home. And to build more Water energy, you can use some of that time at home to read, color (FYI, adult coloring books are excellent at tapping into Water energy), or even just listen to music. Not only will these activities help build Water energy, but that extra Water energy will help balance the too much Fire state you find yourself in right now.

As all of these aspects of your personality come into better balance, I think you will find that you become less anxious, more accepting, wiser, and even more playful. But don’t worry, you will never lose the strength of your Wood “make it happen” personality. It will always be your primary, it just needs help from all the others. And now is the perfect time to start. We are in winter here in the northern hemisphere, which is Water time, a time of new beginnings. Ride that energy to balance now so that when spring hits, which is Wood time, you will be balanced, happy, and ready to take on the world in a wonderful new way! Blessings to you!

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