Applying Five-Phase Theory: Shyness

Now that we’ve discussed each of the five phases a bit on its own, how can it help you in a practical way?  Today we’ll discuss a personality trait that many people possess but wish they didn’t: shyness.  Within Five-Phase theory, where might it come from and what can you do about it?  We’ll need to discuss this through case studies.

Each of three women has been labeled as “shy” and told to get over it at one time or another. A is a Fire type, B is an Earth type, and C is a Water type.

Our Fire woman feels awkward and clams up in new groups or in public if a stranger approaches her to ask for directions, but when she is with family or good friends she is open, gregarious and bubbly.  She often wishes she could feel comfortable around new people more quickly because she genuinely enjoys getting to know people once her initial adrenaline rush subsides.  For this woman, her shyness is actually a dysfunction.  Although she is a Fire type, her Water phase is bubbling up, causing fear.  Since Water controls Fire, this interaction can suppress her natural instinct and desire to connect openly and (within reason, hopefully) trustingly with the world around her.  Because Fire is such an outward-reaching phase, this condition causes her great distress.  Fortunately, she can counterbalance this situation by addressing her fear directly.  This may include some sort of therapy or treatment for the fear itself, but she can also embrace her Fire phase in social situations: discuss the issue with a trusted friend before going to a party, then have that friend along for support and comfort when being introduced to guests she doesn’t know in order to begin the interaction with a feeling of safety and comfort.

The Earth type has a different sort of fear.  She isn’t afraid of the other people, she’s afraid she has nothing to offer.  For an Earth type, always wanting to care and provide for others, this is a disastrous situation.  This sort of feeling may arise from either a deficient state, when her resources are so stretched thin they can’t stretch any more, or from a stagnant state when she has plenty of resources but lacks the drive, motivation or confidence to distribute them the way she desires.  Reconnecting with her innate talent at caring for others in some simple ways can help with either of these imbalances.  For depleted Earth, she may find that she can gradually renew her confidence and sense of self-worth by first caring for herself.  As an Earth person, she will already have a close core of at least a few people she cares for regularly and intensely despite her depleted state. As she recovers her confidence she can enlist their help by spending time in simple Earth-type tasks with them, like cooking a meal together, taking a walk in the fresh air, or even taking time for a relaxing spa day.  These activities will help replenish the Earth person while simultaneously allowing her to see that her friend is also benefiting.  Over time, she can take rebuild her confidence as her resources build.  The Earth woman starting from a more abundant but inert place may benefit from enlisting the help of a more active friend to plan a party in her home.  This will allow her to see her ability to care for others in action, as well as force her to de-clutter her home (which may come to more closely resemble a nest as her energy slows and her confidence ebbs).  Additionally, encountering new people in a space and context in which she feels comfortable and can verify all she has to offer to others will help reinforce the action of reaching out to new people.

Our last case, the Water phase woman, may actually be balanced within herself and simply need to monitor her behavior in terms of the cultural context.  She has plenty of self-confidence and does not impute erroneous bad intentions to strangers, but she simply does not find much attraction in superficial interactions.  Her shyness would more accurately be labeled introversion, and there is truly nothing pathological in it.  It is important to remember that it may be perfectly normal for a person to not particularly seek out interacting with strangers, so long as this does not entail actual rudeness.  The Water phase person, however, can be internally directed to the point where she finds her circle of interactions shrinking.  At this point, it may seem to take more and more effort to interact socially or professionally, and she risks moving out of a balanced state to either a hardened, icy state of excessive Water or a depleted, fearful, dried-out state.  The motivation for staying balanced can, fortunately, be found within the Water phase’s natural makeup.  Water plumbs the depths and keeps seeking truth.  This being the case, the Water woman is perfectly equipped to be honest about why she doesn’t feel like interacting with a particular new person in a particular situation.  Is it coming from a balanced Water place?  If so, if this new person sticks around, she will open up over time.  Is the shyness coming from an icy state of overactive water?  In this case, she may want to remember that each person, however they appear on the surface, may have hidden potential.  Thus, interacting with this new person can become a Watery challenge to find truth rather than a fatiguing social exercise.  If fear is keeping her from interacting, this Water woman can give herself the same challenge of finding something interesting or truthful in each new person with whom she must interact, but enlist the help of a safe friend or make sure she’s in a space where she feels safe and confident when interacting with new people.

These are only three examples, but they illustrate some ways a person’s knowledge or Five-Phase theory can help maintain balance in a practical, useful way.  Please feel free to comment and ask questions about other situations or characteristics you’d like me to discuss.

Posted in Chinese Medicine, Five Phase Theory.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent use of a concrete example of the social (human) functioning to shed a practical light on Five Phase theory applied to type. I enjoy the clarity, simplicity and complexity of your explanations. So many layers to think about. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  2. This is a very intriguing article, Helen. Likewise – the clarity and inquisitiveness of your writing makes these posts very approachable, even to someone who is new to Chinese medicine, thoughts. Look forward to new posts!

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