The Five Elements: Understand Yourself and Enhance Your Relationships with the Wisdom of the World's Oldest Personality Type System

The Five Elements: Understand Yourself and Enhance Your Relationships with the Wisdom of the World's Oldest Personality Type System

by Dondi Dahlin


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


The Five Elements brings the wisdom of an ancient healing system to modern readers, helping them understand themselves—why they do what they do—better.

Dondi Dahlin shows us that we are all born with individual rhythms that go beyond the influence of our genes and upbringing. The five elements originated in ancient Chinese medicine over 2,000 years ago—when scholars theorized that the universe is composed of five forces: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Understanding these elements helps us stay in balance physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. By explaining the efficacy of wood, the depth of water, the joy of fire, the compassion of earth, and the wisdom of metal, this book helps people understand themselves and form lasting connections to others, answering the age-old question of why we do what we do.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399176296
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 206,200
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dondi Dahlin is an award-winning speaker and teacher, internationally-acclaimed dancer, and member of the Screen Actors Guild. With her mother Donna Eden, she coauthored The Little Book of Energy Medicine. Dahlin teaches the five elements at the OMEGA Institute in New York and at Eden Energy Medicine workshops around the world.

Read an Excerpt

My Life with the Five Elements

My friend Kelly had been trying to find love on singles’ websites. She told me that there are lots of questions on matchmaking sites about likes, dislikes, desires, and a person’s job and family that don’t really tell you much about the person. For instance, singles’ Web sites certainly don’t tell you how the person behaves under stress. This may be the most important key to a relationship and is probably the biggest reason for breakups and divorce—because people behave differently when under stress, and many times they cannot see eye to eye. Kelly said, “I wish I could just go onto one of these sites, say that I am primarily a Water/Earth type, and have everyone know what that means. Then I would find my soul mate much quicker and we would undoubt­edly stay together for the rest of our lives!” 

Gain Confidence and Clarity with the Help of an Ancient System

The Five Elements have been a part of my daily life since I was a teenager. My mom raised me and my sister to navigate life by understanding how Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal manifest in the world and in people, and this understanding has truly helped me become who I am today. I have learned how to have patience, understanding, and compassion for people when stress, anger, and frustration could have gotten the best of me. My deep knowledge of this system has strengthened my ability to get along with others instead of letting the nitty-gritty details of life bog me down. It has helped me to negoti­ate tricky situations in work and uncomfortable phases in relationships and to find a deep and lasting confidence in myself.

Growing Up with the Five Elements

My mother, Donna Eden, taught me and my sister the Five Elements when we were young. She said they would never fail us. As a world-renowned healer who can see energies in the body—darkness and light, flowing (wellness) and not flowing (illness)—she knew she what was talking about. My mom has a kind of X-ray vision that allows her to see not just the vibrations and energy of peo­ples’ bodies down to their organs and bones, but also the vibrations and en­ergy of their hearts and souls. She cannot remember when she didn’t see, feel, know, and experience people’s “rhythms” and their primary elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Later, as an adult, she encountered teachers who taught her the formal Five Element system that is described in ancient Chinese medical texts and is fundamental to traditional Chinese med­icine. Only then did she realize what she had always been experiencing. Today, Mom teaches Eden Energy Medicine all over the world, a healing method de­veloped by her based on nine energy systems in the body. The Five Elements is one of those systems.

These days, my sister and I both work closely with our mom as she travels internationally giving workshops to teach and heal people. But when I became a teenager and young woman, I was often perplexed by how different the three of us were from one another. Our mom was born with a double blessing but also a spiritual burden: Not only can she heal people—and feels that she was born to heal people—but she also is an Earth/Fire combination. Strong Earth types are pulled deep from their core to serve people and will give up every­thing to make sure people are happy and that peace resides in their hearts. If Earths are not devoting their time to making people feel good, life just doesn’t feel right. Taking care of themselves always comes second. Like Earths, Fires also love people, and they love feeling joy and pleasure. If they can recruit ev­eryone around them to feel the same joy that they feel, then life is wonderful.

But this pressing need to give, help, and heal has a downside, too. Mom’s urgency to comfort and help people comes from a deeply spiritual place that she has had since she was born, and it cannot just be turned off by logic. Mom would take needy people into our home and give them money, food, and what­ever else they asked for, even if they were total strangers and even though we didn’t have much money to begin with. As a teenager, I started to move strongly into my Wood element, and I found myself angry and frustrated. I was starting to form the strong opinions that typically come with being a Wood. One of those opinions was that people needed to take responsibility for themselves. Plus, in the early eighties we were living on food stamps and government-issue cheese blocks, so how could we take total strangers into our home and give them our precious food?

When I was young, I didn’t understand my mom’s Earth/Fire. As a Wood, my tendency was to think that people who do good should be rewarded and peo­ple who don’t should be punished. As I came to understand the Five Elements better, I realized that it is actually torture for Earths not to help others. They simply cannot bear the pain of seeing someone suffer or struggle. I have seen Earth types (my mom included) wither and weaken if their ability to serve people or animals is curbed or hampered in any way. My mom and the Five Elements taught me that it is not fair to stand in judgment or to see the world in black and white—ever. 

Growing up, I also saw that my friends didn’t have a system like the Five Elements to explain or depersonalize normal but challenging life events. We were all experiencing our parent’s divorces, peer pressure, the confusing surges of hormones, and first romantic relationships. When parents started divorcing—as mine had done—my friends would cry at school. They seemed lost. Divorce is never pain-free, but I seemed to have more space in myself to accept my parents’ divorce because I was familiar with the Five Elements. I understood that my mom’s Earth and my dad’s Wood were at odds (see the Button Pushers, pages 233–35). When my dad was angry or even enraged, I saw that he was a stressed-out Wood/Fire. When my mom was emotional and panicking, I saw that she was a stressed out Earth/Fire. Not only were they from different generations with different values, but their elements were different, and because of this they weren’t able to resonate with each other and be a healthy couple together.

Are You Balanced or Imbalanced?

In this book, we talk about balance and imbalance and what it means to be a balanced Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, or Metal. Simply put, balance is the har­mony of your body and mind. To have balance is to not be saddled with chem­ical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or psychological issues. It is to have wholeness, harmony, and joy in the mind, body, and spirit. Imbalance might be repressed emotions or a physical illness that is limiting the full potential of your personality and your authentic self, to shine.

In each phase of my life, the Five Elements have showed me that other peo­ple’s imbalance has little to do with me. It’s not a comment on my worth or even their feelings for me. I can still care for them and make clearheaded choices. For instance, when a dear friend decided that she would end our friendship because I didn’t have time to do daily meditation with her, I under­stood that it was her Metal out of balance. Metals have a lot of need for rever­ence, and if you don’t share their cherished ideas and standards, on their terms, they can get put off. My busy life simply didn’t allow me to revere her the way she required. Because I am familiar with the Metal element, I didn’t take her decision personally. Similarly, when I once spent time with a friend who scheduled the entire day with bike rides, walks, and exercise, followed by parties all night, I knew this was her Fire energy, not a test to see how much endurance I had. If I hadn’t known the elements, I might have assumed that she was competing with me. When a Water boyfriend went into a place of self-pity where I seemed to have no impact, instead of thinking it was about me, I understood that this is often what imbalanced Waters do. When my Wood fa­ther was incredibly stern and spoke to me in black and white terms, I knew it was his Wood element making him seem angrier than he actually felt. And, when my aunt always seemed to be upset that I didn’t visit her more, I realized that it was her Earth needing to serve and make me happy, not just a relative guilt-tripping me. In fact, conflicts and differences are rarely personal. More often they are brought on by elements being out of balance.

The Five Elements have filled a gap for me, a gap that for many people is filled with unnecessary guilt, shame, fear, frustration, and sadness. I’ve watched friends and acquaintances struggle and suffer because they don’t have this easy and helpful system to help them understand, through the chal­lenging times, themselves and others, or to let them really embrace the good times and good connections. As a person who spent most of my life in show business in performances around the world, the Five Elements also helped guide me through hectic schedules, unknown cultures, intense criticism, and the extreme competition of working on stage and in film and television.

I’m deeply grateful for my mom’s early teachings. Instead of letting my true elements be destroyed by school or home life, she taught me to embrace them and to be proud of my elemental makeup. And she was right: Through count­less personal, social, and business relationships in my life, the Five Elements have never failed me. Rather, this system has helped me to excel in most ev­erything I ever attempted—and to be OK when I didn’t. It has “saved” my life more than once. Ultimately, it helps all—without exception—to foster a truer and deeper acceptance of themselves and others than they could possibly mus­ter on their own.
An Ancient System from China

The system of the Five Elements began with acupuncture, a healing practice that grew out of a four- to five-thousand-year-old Asian medical tradition. In The Inner Canon, a two-thousand-year-old medical text, Chinese physicians and scholars theorized that the universe is composed of forces represented by Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal—the Five Elements. They proposed that human behavior, emotions, and health are influenced by these elements and that people’s personalities can be distinguished by them.

One of the reasons that this system is hard for us to comprehend in the West is because the innate energy, intuition, and personal rhythm that we are born with is often destroyed by family, school, and society.

Professor J. R. Worsley (1923–2003) is credited with bringing Five Element acupuncture to the West. After receiving his doctorate in acupuncture in Asia in the fifties, he founded the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in England in 1956 and, by 1975, also had a location in the United States. Worsley taught that every human being is born with an imbalance in the Five Elements and that that imbalance is the underlying cause of illness. If you can find the imbalance, you can cure the illness and prevent other illnesses. He also taught that imbalances in the five elements could influence more than just physical health—they had an impact on the extent to which one grows socially and emotionally to become more self-aware and, ultimately, happier. He was clear that he was passing along a system that was practiced for thousands of years in China and was based on laws that do not change and will not change. He also warned that we are more complex than just five types and that it’s important not to draw conclusions based on categorizations. Judgments and labels based on categorizations lead to faulty conclusions.

Worsley taught that ultimately it was possible to recognize the authentic self through an understanding of the Five Elements. Understanding this system and how your elemental combination affects your life can bring enlighten­ment and freedom because it can lift you out of judgment. He wanted his stu­dents to love one another and think beyond separateness to the true heart and soul of the person.

Why Haven’t I Heard of the Five Elements?

Chances are you have heard of acupuncture, an ancient Chinese system for bringing the body back into balance by using hair-thin needles on different parts of the skin to activate certain acupressure points. You might also have heard of feng shui, a method for balancing the energies in rooms and spaces so that it can flow freely and assure health and good fortune for the people in that space. Embedded in these systems is the theory of the Five Elements: both acupuncture and feng shui draw almost exclusively on its wisdom.

However, you may not have heard much about the Five Elements them­selves. We can trace this back to Chairman Mao Zedong, the Chinese dictator who dominated China for much of the twentieth century. He came into power in 1949 and by the 1960s he had suppressed the Five Elements and feng shui, as well as many other cultural and spiritual practices in China—anything that would promote individuality. He then created “traditional Chinese medicine” (TCM), which is not actually a historical method but a grouping of unrelated and sometimes competing modalities, so he could have one unified medicine. In his quest to “modernize” China, he attempted to erase the past because such ancient systems as the Five Elements—a system that recognized people as indi­viduals and helped them to lead happier and healthier lives—threatened his agenda. He sought to make everyone think the same, feel the same, look the same, and be the same so he could completely control them. Mao’s desire for ultimate power over his people seems to be the reason why he collapsed the vast country’s five time zones into one (which is a huge problem today), all because he wanted people to eat their rice at the same time.

It is said that Chairman Mao deeply understood that feng shui has the power to make people wealthy and powerful. He worried that someone might use it to produce an emperor to take his throne. Therefore he burned and destroyed many documents, buildings, and artifacts that recorded the ancient wisdom of the Five Elements and feng shui. Much of the tradition’s history is gone forever.

The Five Elements Expand Your Compassion

Even so, thanks to the work of people like Professor J. R. Worsley, and the brave people of China, knowledge of the Five Elements survived the reign of Mao. The system is uncomplicated, straightforward, and deeply enlightening, help­ing us to stay in balance physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally—or to return to balance after unhealthy living, illness, stress, or other distur­bances. Once you know the tendencies of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal, you also start to understand the pulse of certain eras, the architecture and emotional feel of buildings, the culture and heritage of countries, the de­meanor and personalities of animals, and even the political climates and atti­tudes of certain parts of the world.

At first, you may feel that the elements put people (or situations) into cate­gories or boxes, or stick shallow and arbitrary labels on them. In my experi­ence however, when you start working with this system, it forces you to reexamine and expand what you think you know about people and events. It squashes our generalizations and our assumptions, reminding us that every­one and everything is an individual and everyone has a different rhythm. For example, it’s easy for a Water, who spends a lot of time ruminating and think­ing about life, to get depressed or feel overwhelmed under stress. A Wood’s likely response to stress, on the other hand, is to become angry and aggressive with people. A Fire will need lively, energetic people with fun activities to keep him or her in balance. An Earth will want supportive friends and family around to help out. And a Metal will probably detach from people and things while under stress.

Once you understand that everyone has a challenge with his or her domi­nant element, and reacts to stress in their own way, then you no longer feel alone in your experiences. The elements remind us that we are all human, we are all flawed, and most of us have a buckling point when we’re stressed. The elements will help you forgive yourself and others when that buckling point comes. An awareness of them will ease your tendency toward judgment and allow you to feel true admiration and appreciation of yourself and all human beings.

I believe that the Five Elements can enable us to think beyond separateness. This is something I deeply appreciate about them. While we don’t all have to be friends, we can have a true understanding of one another, knowing that we are all connected through human experience. Knowing this makes life and relationships less stressful. It naturally takes us beyond the influence of our genes and our upbringing. It’s like having a life raft that will help you to stay afloat and not crash into the rocks. You can also offer your life raft to others to prevent needless pain and suffering for them, as well.

What to Expect from This Book

The personality tests developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers have helped businesses everywhere build teamwork among their em­ployees, not to mention helping people find their true vocation in life and true love on dating sites. The enneagram (nine type) system popularized by Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, based on work by G. I. Gurdjieff and an­cient authors, has provided a useful model for understanding human person­alities. Likewise, the Five Elements will empower you to understand yourself and engage with others in a way that is immediate, practical, potent, and last­ing. It will create a new understanding of all relationships and cultivate a hap­pier you.

This book is for you if you have ever thought to yourself:

·                  “I can’t believe she said that!”
·                  “In a thousand years, I wouldn’t have done what he did!”
·                  “That’s so unbelievable!”
Or if you have:
·                  Wondered why people do what they do
·                  Been confused about why people say what they say
·                  Wanted to cry, scream, or laugh hysterically because of how people act
·                  Been confused about why your partner never changes or your brother, mother, or sister behave the same dysfunctional way again and again
·                  Not known how to talk to someone because they are so different from you
·                  Been shocked speechless by the way someone has treated you
·                  Been interested in feeling less misunderstood, angry, or alone
·                  Been interested in having more ease and more of a sense of humor in life
The Five Elements can help you figure out people and situations so that you aren’t perplexed by them anymore. The concept will help you be able to talk to people, understand events, have true compassion, and go through life without taking everything so painfully to heart. It gives you a key to being able to ac­cept and let go, rather than be in judgment and hold on. It invites you to be authentic, to connect with others in a way that you may not have experienced before, and to let go of limiting beliefs.

As you learn, you’ll be able to sit back, breathe, and understand that all peo­ple have their own limitations (especially under stress), even when they are trying their very best. You’ll be able to connect with others and break through energy barriers that are there even when our eyes cannot see them. This sys­tem will bring you peace, joy, and an understanding that can help you every­where with everyone—in your workplace, at home, and in your social life. It’s a proven way to make your life easier and less challenging.

In fact, understanding the Five Elements will help you become your best self.

NIKE • Just Do It.
·        WATER Let’s have dinner while we talk about doing it.
·        WOOD It’s done. I did it yesterday.
·        FIRE Woo-hoo! Everyone’s doing it!
·        EARTH Can we do it together?
·        METAL It’s not about doing; it’s about being.

Discover your element at

Customer Reviews