It is worth remembering that, since each of us is composed of a unique combination of all the five elements, and each element expresses every one of the five emotions, there are in effect 25 possible expressions of the different emotions. The five principal categories which tradition associates with a particular element, such as joy for Fire and fear for Water, are therefore modified when it is not a Fire person expressing joy or a Water person expressing fear. When a Metal person expresses joy or fear, those expressions of joy or fear will be shaded by grief, Metal’s dominant emotion, and therefore will express themselves in a different way from a Wood person expressing joy or fear, or a Fire or Water person expressing joy or fear.
It is therefore not simply a matter of observing joy or fear expressed to their fullest in Fire or Water people, but of having experience of observing these emotions in people who are not Fire or Water. We have to begin to differentiate the type of joy or fear being shown, however much this may be buried beneath the dominant emotion of another element. Fire or Water will show these two emotions in their purest form, since they pour out straight from the organs controlled by these two elements, whereas joy shown by an Earth person or fear shown by a Metal person will be modified by the patina of sympathy or thoughtfulness Earth throws over all it does and the patina of grief which Metal shows in all it does. In other words they will show an Earth or Metal-type joy or fear, which will be quite different from joy or fear expressed in pure form by Fire or Water.
In trying to gain a foothold in the tricky world of interpreting the emotional signatures of an element, we therefore have to look carefully at all the different possible nuances of emotional expression. We have to bring to this all the knowledge of the elements we have accumulated so far to help point us in one of the five directions. We can do this in retrospect, as it were, by looking carefully at a person whose element we are sure of, and observing how they express the emotions of the other four elements, not just their own. How, for example, does a Metal person express their anger or their sympathy, or a Wood person their grief or their fear? Such an exercise is a very useful way of expanding our library of pointers to the different elements.
Unfortunately words are inadequate tools to describe such subtle distinctions, so regretfully this blog is the only answer I can give to the request of another acupuncturist who asked if I “could perhaps say something about the different responses you have to the control of Wood and the control of Fire. I have a patient who is like a blazing log stack, a wonderful human in there but very controlling, and I can't come down on a CF”. Sorry I can’t help you more than this, Kate, except to encourage you to focus your emotional antennae a little more each time you see this patient. Something about the nature of what you see as his/her controlling character will eventually point you to one or other element (which may after all prove to be neither Wood nor Fire, just to confuse you further!). But give it time! We’re usually, if not always, in more of a hurry than our patients.