Along with the principles of yin and yang, the theory of the Five Elements also underpin Chinese Medicine. Five Element theory divides the energy and structure of the universe in to five movements or processes. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and they are reflected in the microcosm and macrocosm, there is a close intrinsic interconnectedness between them and they give shape to movement, development, philosophy and personality. It is this latter which fascinates me.
Chinese Medicine looks underneath and asks what is happening to a person on a deeper level. They believe that a person contains all the elements, however there is one element which is constitutionally more imbalanced then the others, and is so named the Constitutional Factor (CF). This imbalance causes us to have repetitive negative states or difficulties expressing certain emotions. It is the veil in how we perceive and observe life and therefore underpins the whole of our existence. Chinese Medicine recognises, (the Western World is only beginning to) that as well as external factors / pathogens which cause disease, internal pathogens; our emotions also do, and indeed maybe the primary cause. Unexpressed, unacknowledged, unrealised, deep seated, ‘buried within’ emotions create unease, tension or incoherence, eventually manifesting as disease in our physical bodies.
Each element is associated with a season. Autumn (just ending) is connected to the metal element; as the leaves fall off the trees, there is a general movement of downwards and inwards. There is a feeling of stripping back, of letting go what no long serves us, of leaving behind the excesses of Summer, of releasing the superficial, the pomp, the ceremony and coming back to what is important and precious to us underneath everything. Metal is something which is small in quantity but of great value and buried deep within the earth. So when in balance, Metal types are honourable, have integrity and have a sense of their inner values which form their landscape. Metal is hard and strong, it gives us structure and boundaries, but it is also malleable; so metal CFs may be neat, precise and ordered but also have an ability to be flexible and open minded. This structure and pliability allows them to be objective, think logically and laterally and act with methodical efficiency. The emotional capacity of the metal element allows them to feel loss and move on, to understand what should be stored and should be discarded, as well as to take in richness and quality from the outside world.
The ability to feel loss and move on is something which cannot be undervalued. Especially in our Western world the feeling of loss can be overwhelming, indeed all other emotions are preferable, even feelings of anxiety, stress, anger, irritation, jealousy. It is revealing and terrifying what we do to avoid and escape loss. It is the fear of loss that keeps us in damaging relationships, that diminishes our self-esteem, that causes us to act out cruelty, to be malicious, to turn to drugs and alcohol, to turn to destructive behaviour. It is possibly for this reason that drug and substance abuse is commonly seen in the Metal CF,
The CF metal seeks a greater deeper value to their life, and they have an endless life long quest to find it. Bound up within this is their greatest fear, that they are not enough and are somehow lacking underneath. They struggle with feeling complete and under stress they will be concerned with whether they have been recognised, whether their imperfections are obvious and to whom, whether they are adequate to the situation, whether they are doing something meaningful. Often they feel unrecognized or misunderstood, they find it hard to accept the very thing they crave for, acknowledgement, and this can leave them feeling isolated and dissatisfied, which can also intensify their search for a connection outside of themselves. For the non-metal type there are solution to these, however for the metal CF these feelings come up again and again, and leads the metal type to develop lifelong patterns or strategies.
So strategies which Metal CFs might adopt are distancing and protecting. According to Chinese Medicine, metal is associated with the skin, which is our first line of defence. Thus if the metal element is weak, they can feel thin skinned and delicate; they may be vulnerable to catching colds and coughs or might appear brittle and unyielding to the outside world. To outsiders they appear rigid and dogmatic in their beliefs and judgements. Compounding this is their weariness of revealing their personal circumstances and what is most precious and dear to themselves. They harbour their secrets and conceal their ‘lack’ with uncanny deftness. Often this coping mechanism means they may come across as arrogant, aloof or distant.
Their feeling of incompleteness can be a determining driver for metal CFs and shows up through their doing things very well or working very hard. They overwork and over achieve. Typically they set very high standards (often seen as perfectionism) which neither the people around them or themselves attain, thus they become critical of themselves and others. Being critical is common in metal CFs, more accurately the male will be critical of those around them, and the female critical of herself. Along with being critical comes being judgemental, nit picking and defensive. It may also mean they never quite achieve satisfaction, that a sense of achievement remains elusive. Therefore they might strive for attention and acknowledgement in order to get resolution on ‘doing well’. Very likely they excel at things which generates attention and acknowledgement, for example making money or succeeding professionally. Money buys better homes, valuable jewellery, and expensive cars. However ‘more’ on the outside does not necessarily reflect the inside and they are back at their incessant question – what is meaningful and how can I be truly adequate in this life?
On the other side of striving, over working and over achieving is resignation and cynicism. They might just give up because whatever they do will not be good enough. Giving up means that they will not be doomed to disappointment. Their efforts to become special and do well are rejected, and in its place cynicism and a tendency to criticize. A general feeling of apathy and inertness might take over.
Due to their sense of lack they will ‘seek’. They will seek both the ethereal and the spiritual, knowledge and beauty. They crave quality and purity, and look for the best and towards the best. This can manifest in many ways, so often they will look good on the outside, dressing well, wearing the best and most expensive clothes, but also on other more complex levels, often changing jobs, profession, spiritual practices, friends. They may appear superficial, erratic and unsettled.
Out of balance their sense of inner values and adherence to boundaries and structure, might mean on one side they are dogmatic, judgemental, unforgiving, and on the other hand this may give way to hypocrisy, dishonesty, a veneer of virtue. It is the veneer of respect, or just respect that they eagerly seek, they are hungry for recognition and approval, but at the same time they reject and disdain it, never quite believing they are worthy.
In conclusion the metal CF has the capacity to be objective, incisive, efficient, with a huge capacity to work hard and to over achieve. They are often seen as highly competent and accomplish beyond the ordinary. They seek for a greater meaning and depth, and therefore come across as erudite, knowledgeable and ‘connected’ spiritually. Like gold they are seen as brilliant, shiny and inspiring. Out of balance they become tarnished, they cut themselves off, and become isolated, hyper critical and judgemental. They yearn for acknowledgement and recognition but ultimately reject it due the the inner voice of unworthiness. They might too, lose their sense of inner value, which gives way to hypocrisy, and they may ‘give up’, resigned to never meeting their ideals or perfectionism. As Emily Griffin so aptly says
“But I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it.”