Ask Vicki: Relationship Advice Using the Five Elements

Can She Learn from Her Mother’s Mistakes?

Dear Vicki: My mother passed away last year from liver cancer and as the only daughter in a family of five children, the task of cleaning out her things has fallen to me. I am sorting through dozens of boxes and I have a question about my mother’s relationship with herself. Growing up, I knew my mother as a very sympathetic, loving, but not terribly outgoing soul. Now in her belongings, I am finding dozens of pieces of paper with dreams, partial poems, and stories started but never completed. Based on what I’ve read in your blog, I think she must have been a mix of the Water and Earth personalities. However, as she aged, she became much angrier and more frustrated, which I think is the Wood personality. Is it possible that someone can have a bad temper or other Wood traits, and even die from a Wood disease (liver sits in the Wood element, right?), when their primary nature isn’t Wood? I’m worried because I think I’m a lot like her. Signed: Grieving Daughter


Dear Grieving Daughter: Losing our mother is always hard and I offer heartfelt condolences on your loss. Your mother was blessed to have a daughter who is taking the time to carefully sort her belongings and ponder their meaning.

To answer your question, let me begin by reminding you that we each have all five of the elemental personalities in our energetic make-up. So, your mom did have some Wood energy, just like she had Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal. However, the dreams, partial poems, and ideas for stories that were never finished do suggest that she probably did have a lot of Water energy in her personality. Water is where inspiration sits and your mother was clearly inspired. Water people can also have trouble manifesting things, which means unfinished works of art are not uncommon for them. Although with five children, time could have been an issue for your mother, as well.

Earth and Water

Your mother’s sympathetic ear and loving maternal ways did indeed come from the Earth part of her personality, as did the fact that she had a large family. The Earth element is where the love of family sits and many women with an abundance of Earth energy in their personality are happiest with lots of children. Your fond memories of her also support that likelihood that she had a great deal of Earth energy to offer you. In fact, I suspect she was probably a primary Earth personality with a strong secondary Water. This means that for most of her life she likely felt torn between her Earthy desire to be with her family and her Watery desire to be alone to create.

This Water/Earth duality likely contributed to the temper you mention. As you correctly noted, frustration at being stuck between two forces sits in the Wood element. And if unaddressed – or inadequately addressed – this frustration can create an imbalance in the Wood element part of anyone’s personality. You are also correct that in Chinese medicine, the liver and gallbladder organs are governed by the Wood element, so an imbalance in Wood energy absolutely could create stress for these organs. We also know that your mother had an issue with her immune system given her cancer diagnosis. One arm of the energetic immune system (the Spleen meridian) sits in Earth, so this means that the energy of her Earth element must have been out of balance, as well.

The Model

At this point, I think it’s time to look at what could have been going on for your mother’s energies relative to the Five Elements model.


In the model (graphically represented above), the elements all relate to each other via the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle) and the Controlling Cycle (the big star). And based on what you’ve shared regarding her love of family (Earth), her artistic nature (Water) and her frustration and liver illness (Wood), it’s apparent that during her lifetime, your mother dealt mostly with Controlling Cycle connections. I say this because in the above model, Earth relates to both Water and Wood via the Controlling Cycle (the big star). So, let’s look at how these might have impacted each other, and more importantly, affected her.

The Water part of your mother’s personality would have had little interest in control or structure; Water likes to go with the flow. Yet as a mom, she would have needed some structure to run a household and take care of five children. Those all sit in Earth, meaning that her Earth would have stepped up and controlled any Water desires to create so she could manage her family. This is because Earth controls Water via the big star in the above model. Her ability to do this is another reason I suspect that she was a primary Earth personality.

At some point, Earth’s ongoing battle to control her Water desires to be alone and creative would likely have depleted her Earth energy and made it less able to keep Water in check. And if you remember her as not very outgoing, she probably didn’t have much Fire energy available to feed and replenish Earth (Fire feeds Earth via the big circle in the model). This ongoing depletion of your mother’s Earth energy without feeding from Fire could easily have affected her immune system.

Too Much Wood

Earth’s inability to keep Water in check would have allowed the abundance of Water to feed the Wood part of her personality, creating an excess Wood condition that could easily manifest as frustration, anger, and a vulnerability in Wood organs. That’s because Water feeds Wood via the big circle in the model. In addition, too much Wood energy could reach across the big start and over-control Earth, further weakening your mother’s Earth energy (and immune system). If this dynamic remained in place, her energies could have devolved into a “feed the Wood” machine. But why didn’t her system balance itself?

In the model, when there is too much Wood energy, it is the Metal element that’s supposed to control Wood via the big star. But because your mother’s Earth energy was likely depleted, there wasn’t enough Earth to keep Metal fed via the big circle. That means less Metal available to keep her Wood energy in check. As these imbalances developed into a chronic pattern, you really would have experienced her as being less Watery, less Earthy, and much more of a frustrated, out of balance Wood. And eventually, she became ill.

Help for You

But now, if you think you are a great deal like her, we need to look at what can be done for you so that you don’t take the same path as your mother. And of course, we can use the Five Elements to do this. The beauty of the model is that all of the elements can, and should, be used to keep the whole in balance. During her life, it appears that your mother danced between Water, Earth, and Wood, but was missing the presence of Fire and Metal.

Fire brings fun and movement, which really helps when one feels stuck and angry. Metal brings structure and the ability to compartmentalize the many different aspects of our life to help with balance. If your mother had had more Fire and Metal energy manifesting in her life, she could have used both to manage her excess Wood (Fire consumes Wood via the big circle and Metal controls Wood via the big star). More play time, games, parties, and other fun activities would have been wonderful experiences for your whole family, and it would have built the necessary Fire energy for your mother.

Structuring her life to allow the alone time Water craved for creativity might have helped, as well. Her artistic Water side needed to be honored and Metal would have helped not only by facilitating structure and creating compartmentalized time for creativity, but also because Metal feeds Water via the big circle.

It’s important to remember that we have all five elements in our energetic being because we need all five elements to stay balanced and healthy. The ability to access all aspects of her elemental personality may have made a difference for your mother. But I can promise you that it absolutely will make a difference for you now. Take a close look at the patterns in your own life. Are there representations of each of the elemental energies in the way you live? If not, which ones are missing and how can you add them? I encourage you to view the lessons of your mother’s life as another important gift she has given you and take them to heart. Blessings to you.

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