Ask Vicki: Relationship Advice Using the Five Elements

The Wild and Crazy Idea of Control

Dear Vicki: Your blog post last month regarding the positive aspects of “control” was really interesting, but like you said, having the Earth personality as the personality you relate to on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model is like hitting the jackpot. The Earth people I know are usually gentle and kind. I’d love to have them control me. I’m pretty sure I’m a primary Metal personality – I love structure and process, deeply appreciate detail, and do occasionally have trouble letting go of things – which means the personality that “controls” me in the 5E model is Fire. But too much time around Fire people is really hard on me. They aren’t sweet and “guiding” like Earth people, they seem wild and crazy and even hysterical. How can that insanity be a good thing? Signed: Melted Metal

Dear Melted Metal: You are one of several emails I received regarding last month’s blog. There is definitely a bit of control envy out there. Everyone wants to have Earth energy on their Controlling Cycle! And I do understand. As a primary Wood personality, interactions with Metal people, the element that relates to me on the Controlling Cycle (the big star in the model, below) can feel tough even when their “pruning” is well intentioned.

But there is great wisdom in the Five Elements model! Think of it: A sweet Earth person wouldn’t have a chance of “controlling” a rampaging Wood person because Wood people have way too much structure for the Earth personality to oppose. Plus, Earth people are generally too nice and caring to stand up to the Wood temper. Instead, it’s Metal, the most structured of all elements, that can and does control excessive Wood. And let me just point out that while the Earth element cannot control Wood, the organic and deep-rooted structure of Wood is the perfect control for helping stabilize over-energized Earth. Think of nature: Landslides are impossible on a well-wooded slope.

As a Metal personality, few things will trump your structure. But when you’re in a place of excessive Metal, more structure is the last thing you need. What you really need then is to release some of that obsession with structure. In nature, it’s the heat of Fire that’s perfect for bringing flexibility to Metal. And honestly, in the model (and in nature) no element really destroys another anyway; they just bring balance. Fire decreases the too structured Metal and gives it flexibility. Metal prunes the over-expanded Wood to keep it from toppling. Wood anchors and prevents the Earth from sliding. And Water prevents Fire from burning so hot it burns out, thus destroying itself.

The brilliance of the Five Elements model is that the element controlling you is just what you need to address an over-energized state. But this is still fairly abstract, so let’s look at a few real life examples for the Controlling Cycle relationships not covered last month just to show you how perfect the system can be. We’ll start with your Controlling Cycle relationship.

Fire controlling Metal: A Metal personality graduate student writing his dissertation losses himself in the process of researching and synthesizing material on his topic. He skips meals and works late every night, so risks damaging his health. But if his girlfriend is a Fire personality, she can cajole him into having some fun and relaxing now and then. This not only gives him a much-needed break and rest, but might even provide him with enough flexibility that he discovers new ways of looking at his material instead of the same old way he has before.

Metal controlling Wood: Here’s a perfect example from my life of the wisdom of Metal controlling Wood: Several years ago, my husband and I decided to remodel our old house. I made a list of all the things that needed improving and lobbied hard to start them all at once. My wise Metal personality husband sat me down and, as only a Metal can, pointed out the very valid reasons (time, money, skill sets, schedules, etc.) that we needed a more systematic approach. And of course, he was right. In my Wood enthusiasm to do it all, we would have had the whole house torn up before we had anyone lined up to do some of the important work like plumbing and wiring. We’d also have run out of money months before any of it would have been completed. Instead, we worked through the house one slow room at a time and it was, I will admit, much more sane.

Water Controlling Fire: A young actor lands a leading role in an upcoming Broadway musical and it’s a big hit. Suddenly, he has offers coming in from everywhere and in a way very typical of the Fire personality, he says yes to everything he can. Soon, he is literally burning the candle at multiple ends. Spreading himself too thin, the actor becomes very scattered and starts missing events and flubbing performances. Finally, his mother, a wise Water personality, shows up at his apartment, sits him down, and delivers the healthy big picture warning that he won’t be around to have a long and satisfying career if he burns out in the first five years. She convinces him to join her at the shore for a week where the ocean water (and the mother’s Water energy) helped bring balance back to his life.

Wood Controlling Earth: A primary Earth personality woman is asked to babysit her three young grandchildren for a month. She happily agrees and is soon in grandmother heaven. She cooks for them, bakes for them, and sews each a special new outfit, all the while managing her clothing alterations business. Two weeks into the adventure, her Wood personality husband notices that his wife often gets up at night to make sure the iron is turned off. She also makes more food than necessary because she’s worried the grandkids aren’t eating enough, but then is insulted when he won’t take the leftover spaghetti to work for lunch. At the point she begins calling him at work to inquire what he is eating for lunch (since it isn’t her leftovers), he knows it’s time to tame her Earth energy. He takes three days off and spends them happily settled at home with his wife and grandchildren. The gentle structure his Wood energy brings helps calm his wife, as does the assurances he gives that the grandkids look great, are happy as clams, and certainly don’t seem sick. By the time he returns to work, grandma is back to balance and like any Earth person, able to happily accomplish twenty things at once.

The point of these illustrations is that at a personality level, no element in the Five Elements model really destroys the element it controls. Its presence decreases any over-energy aspects of that element in a much-needed way. And while it probably doesn’t feel like it at the time, people from your controlling element usually give you a gift: They help you return to a state of balance so you can function at your best. For you as a primary Metal personality (the elemental personality that most desires to be in control), the embrace of Fire now and then is a good thing. It keeps you pliant enough to bend when necessary without breaking. It also introduces some fun into your normally very serious world. So, you might consider thanking the Fire personalities in your life and having fun with them now and then. I promise you will be better balanced for it.

Blessings to you!