Dear Toria 2 – email sent by a reader

Dear Toria,

I feel bad about admitting this, but I argue with my brother about everything. We spent most of this past year fighting about whether we should sell our parents’ house or keep it for rental income. Our mother died a couple years ago, and we recently relocated our father to an assisted living facility.

My brother and I argued about where to place our father. My brother won. We fought about what to do with the furnishings when Dad moved. My brother won. We disagreed about who should host our holiday gathering. I won, but only because I reminded him that he’s currently remodeling his house. And so on, and so on.

I’m a nurse and my brother is a doctor, so he’s always pointing out that he’s smarter than I am and he should get to tell me what to do. I’m sick and tired of all of the fighting, and of his aggressive, angry attitude towards me. I want peace in our family, so I’m actually considering completely breaking off all ties with my brother. I don’t really want to tear our family apart. The idea breaks my heart. But I don’t see a way to heal our relationship. Can you help me?

Signed: Tired in Tennessee

Here’s my answer:

Dear Tired in Tennessee,

Family dynamics are often difficult. The old adage is right: we choose friends, but we’re stuck with family. Your family has definitely been through some tough times recently, with your mother’s death, your father’s relocation, and the uncertain status of your parents’ house. Stress at these levels brings out the best and the worst in us.

facing relationship issuesYou and your brother might not ever be friends, but some understanding could help you get along civilly when you have to. The Five Elements Philosophy can help you do this.

It sounds to me like your brother is a Wood personality. Wood personalities appreciate esteem, and our society definitely admires doctors. Your brother needed a lot of perseverance to get though med school, and Wood personalities generally have the energy to overcome barriers and are successful at manifesting what they want.

It sounds to me that you’re an Earth personality. Earth personalities are generally quite compassionate and caring. They want everybody to be content, and are distressed when people fight. Nurses are probably the most compassionate and caring people on the planet, so the fact that you’re a nurse supports my opinion that you’re an Earth personality.

According to the Five Elements Philosophy, Wood controls Earth, so it feels to you like your brother is trying to win when the two of you argue. In the Five Elements Philosophy, it’s Wood’s role to be sure that Earth stays strong when faced with excessive neediness in other people. If left on their own, an Earth person will give so much of themselves to others that they’ll deplete themselves emotionally or physically. When a Wood person faces an Earth who is giving too much, the Wood will often try to control the situation in an attempt to protect the Earth. If the Earth person rejects that protection, just the presence of the Wood will feel aggressive.

Disagreements with your brother probably feel aggressive to you because Woods want to get their own way. Anybody who tries to stop Woods from getting their way will certainly feel the Wood’s rage. Interactions between you and your brother probably make you feel like he’s controlling you because that’s the default dynamic of energy between your personality types.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the two of you’re doomed to argue and disagree for the remainder of your lives. You said he agreed with you about who should host the family’s holiday gathering after you reminded him that his home was being renovated. Instead of arguing, you used logic on him, and he agreed with you. That worked in your favor because the elemental personality that controls Wood is Metal, and Metal personalities are rational and logical. The rationality and logic of Metal personalities keeps the aggressive Wood personalities under control.

So when dealing with your brother, try to stay as rational and logical as you ca. This will add to your Earth personality a Metal edge that will control your brother’s Wood personality, instead of your Earth being controlled by his Wood. The bottom line is that you may always feel that your brother’s Wood personality is a bit controlling. But if you remember this and try to act rational and logical around him, I think you’ll find it easier for the two of you to get along. He may also mellow out a bit if he feels less Earth, because he won’t feel the urge to control you. Best wishes to you!

Love, Toria

Dear Toria – email sent by a reader

My blog post today is an answer to an email sent by a reader. She wrote:

Dear Toria,

I’ve had a difficult year in many ways. The idea of making Christmas happen in the way my family has come to expect is overwhelming. But the moment I choose to cut back on buying gifts or decorating, I feel guilty.

Besides that, even though my grown children all have children of their own, they were shocked when I told them I’m not going to bake Christmas goodies this year. Now I worry that they’re disappointed I’m not baking. I work full time and I’m caring for my own mother. So I just don’t have the joy or energy to do the holiday thing right now.

Is there a way to let my family know that I have to significantly scale back the way I do Christmas this year?

Signed: Exhausted in El Paso

Here’s my answer:

Dear El Paso:

I promise you aren’t alone in wanting to skip Christmas! I’ve heard from lots of people, mostly women, who’ve expressed a similar desire. And it’s totally understandable. Christmas has become a major commercial event that’s hyped by retailers that specialize in pressing our “it has to be perfect” buttons. For some reason, we’ve fallen for the idea that more and bigger is better, despite knowing deep down inside that isn’t true.

So why does all that hype exert such a stranglehold on us?

I think that most people who lose it around the holidays are doing it out of love. Gift giving is an expression of esteem and love, and there isn’t anything bad about that. It actually is part of our make-up according to the Five Elements Philosophy.

Sharing with others is a characteristic of Earth personalities. Earth is also the base of family, home, food, and profound,, long-term relationships. That all sounds like the holidays, right? Advertisers realized years ago that tying all those things together around the holidays creates a powerful message. Little else tugs at our hearts harder than the concept of sharing meals and gift with our loved ones during the Christmas season.

I think you, Exhausted in El Paso, are an Earth personality. You’re feeling guilt over not doing enough. You worry that your children are disappointed. You’re tired from taking care of other people. This is a classic behavior pattern for Earth personalities. Since most activities related to the holidays embody Earth-y components like family and food, Earth personalities are more likely to give in to extravagant expectations about the holidays than the other four elemental personalities are.

With that said, each of the elemental personalities has inherent vulnerabilities related to the holiday hype:

  • Wood personalities can use holiday socializing and gift giving as occasion to stand out, which is important to them. But they frequently wear themselves out in the process.
  • Fire personalities love holiday parties, because they love to have fun. But left unchecked, it’s possible for the Fires to actually burn themselves out.
  • Metal people join in the socializing and gift-giving because it’s the “right” thing to do, but these things aren’t really in their nature. Too much of those things brings controlling, dismissive aspects out of their usually kind selves.
  • Water personalities may be successful at retreating from all of the holiday hype into a quiet corner to think about the reasons for the season. If they can’t, they simply withdraw and get characterized as a Grinch or a Scrooge!
  • For people with Earth personalities like you, Exhausted in El Paso, the holidays are the biggest of all set-ups. Earth personalities tend to go overboard and often drive both themselves and their family members crazy by trying to do everything, because they think that bigger, better, and more is equal to greater love.

But there is a solution. Of course it’s related to the Five Elements. Wood energy governs extras Earth energy by stabilizing and anchoring Earth, supplying the boundaries and structure that Earth personalities frequently lack.

When Earth personalities try to do too much, they need more Wood energy. They’re aided by Woods’ visionary capacity to communicate clearly, to plan effectively, and to form and enforce boundaries no matter how soft their frazzled Earth heart becomes.

So, to answer your question: start out by assuring your family that you love them. Then, in a linear and practical Wood manner, outline for them what you feel is reasonable for you to do this holiday season, and what you need to let go of. If things on your “needs to go” list are important to your adult children, they’ll have to do those things. That is an option for you, too—Wood personalities are delegators, so you could describe what it takes to create the Christmas they love, and then divide the tasks among you all.

With help from the Five Elements Philosophy, your family should be able to focus the aspects of of the Christmas season that’s the most important: spending time together. After all, the greatest gifts we can give to anybody are our love and our time. Merry Christmas to you and to your family!

Love, Toria