Ancient Taoists reduced the universe to 5 basic elements which could be used to describe the character of everything from the organs in the body to landscapes to times of year. Each person has all 5 elements in their personality. However, most of us have a dominant element. Here they are, in a nutshell. Which one speaks to you?
This is perhaps the easiest of the elements to grasp since we are an extremely wood society. The balanced wood personality is “confident, assertive, bold, ambitious, competitive, powerful, direct, committed, and decisive.” They tend to be entrepreneurs and achievers. Sounds like our cultural ideal man, and increasingly woman, doesn't it? But too often we see examples of the unbalanced wood personality which is the stereotypical Type A person: “aggressive, arrogant, reckless, stressed, antagonistic, tyrannical, and confrontational.” Anger is the main issue for "excess" Wood types, and in the case of Wood "deficient" types that anger is turned inward in the form of depression. Health problems tend towards stress, high blood pressure, and gallstones.
The balanced Fire person excels at communication and is “lively, charismatic, optimistic, sanguine, aware, tender, empathetic, devoted, enthusiastic, creative, and alert.” Theirs is the stereotypical artist’s or performer’s personality. They bring passion and flair to what they do. Their main issue is Joy (think: nervous giggling) and a tendency towards scatter-brains. In excess, Fire can become erratic and overly excitable. When deficient it can become overly sensitive, infatuated, even suicidal. Health problems are generally related to anxiety disorders or heart problems.
Earth has been the traditional wife and mother personality. This is not to say that men are not Earth, men and women comprise all of the elemental types. Grounded and practical, when balanced earth is the glue that binds all elements together. It is "nurturing, supportive, relaxed, oriented, sociable, sympathetic, considerate, agreeable, poised, and attentive.” As nice as the balanced Earth is, unbalanced "Excess" Earth frets and meddles and can be quite overbearing as that wonderful groundedness transforms into unmovable and impractical stubbornness. When "Deficient", Earth can become clingy and vacillating, too eager to please others and unable to ask for help. Earth is the caretaker and the main issue is over-thinking and worry, as well as a craving for sweets. Health problems tend towards digestive problems and fatigue.
Balanced Metal is “methodical, discerning, scrupulous, accepting, neat, calm, disciplined, honorable, precise, and reserved.” Excess Metal can become the stereotypical “anal-retentive” personality which becomes too restrictive and dogmatic and overly concerned with rules and preserving purity. Deficient Metal can fall into sloppiness and hypocrisy. Metal is very concerned with appearances and order. They tend to fall into two camps, either idealizing antique works of art or new, trendy technology. The major issue for Metal is loss and grief. Health problems tend towards asthma, low immunity, and constipation.
This element is difficult to grasp because it seems to change its form based on the perceptions of the observer. Water maintains its substance while effortlessly changing its form and appearance to suit the situation. Water is adaptable. When balanced, Water types are “candid, introspective, modest, watchful, objective, curious, ingenious, careful, particular, thrifty, sensible, and lucid.” When excess, Water can become "demanding and covetous” and when deficient can completely withdraw from the world. The major issue for Water is fear.
So there you have it folks. It's a neat way to explain and understand people, don't you think? I think I am a fire - earth combo. What about you?
If you think you are unbalanced in one “element” I recommend you see an Acupuncture practitioner.
You might also enjoy this article about relationships and the five elements:
~ Katie Altneu, L.Ac. MSOM