Jung on the Enantiodromia: Part 1--Definitions and Examples
I use the term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. C.G. Jung (1949)
In the philosophy of Heraclitus it [enantiodromia] is used to designate the play of opposites in the course of events—the view that everything that exists turns into its opposite…. C.G. Jung (1949)
This essay arose from several recent experiences, in classes and in individual sessions with my students, when it became clear to me that Jung’s concept of the enantiodromia was unfamiliar, and some of the insights that Jung drew from this concept were not only unfamiliar but surprising, perhaps even shocking to my students. In this essay I will define what Jung meant by the enantiodromia and consider its relation to the opposites. In Part II I will discuss one of Jung’s insights that my students have found surprising and In Part III I will consider another example of the enantiodromia that has provoked sober reflection.
Definitions of Enantiodromia
Jung got many of his ideas from ancient wisdom, including his use of the concept of the enantiodromia. It was not his concept: It comes from the work of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose philosophy was predicated on the constancy of change. Heraclitus recognized that
All is flux, nothing stays still. Nothing endures but change.
but change is not chaotic. It takes a certain form in that it operates along continua. To describe this form Heraclitus coined the term enantiodromia.
It is a compound of two Greek words: enantios (“opposite”) and dramein (“to run;” dromas, “running”). So enantiodromia is a “running to the opposite,”or “a running counter to” something. In Heraclitus’ philosophy enantiodromia is used “to designate the play of opposites in the course of events—the view that everything that exists turns into its opposite.” Jung offered other examples from Heraclitus:
… the principle which governs all the cycles of natural life, from the smallest to the greatest.
Fate is the ground/basis of enantiodromia, the creator of all things.
It is the opposite which is good for us.
… what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.
The way up and the way down are the same.
In multiple places in his Collected Works Jung describes the enantiodromia as:
…the transformation of the hitherto valued into the worthless, and of the former good into the bad.
… the terrible law that governs blind contingency, which Heraclitus called the rule of enantiodromia (a running toward the opposite)…
… a fundamental law of life—enantiodromia or conversion into the opposite;…
Why so many citations? Because Jung recognized the value of the concept in explicating the workings of the psyche. It is not just some relic of ancient philosophy but
… a psychological law which is unfailingly valid in personal affairs….
… the most marvelous of all psychological laws:” the law that describes “the regulative function of opposites…
When he defined enantiodromia in Collected Works 6, Jung described how he uses the term: “I use the term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time.” Jung came to realize, through personal experience, in his own life and the lives of his patients, that this emergence of unconscious material always occurs when an extreme one-sided tendency dominates the conscious life. Over time an equally strong countertendency builds, eventually breaking through conscious control. When
… anything of importance is devalued in our conscious life, and perishes—so runs the law—there arises a compensation in the unconscious… No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity….
The more an attitude is repressed, the more it acquires a fanatical character, and the nearer it comes to conversion into its opposite, i.e. to an enantiodromia.
Here’s an example from my own life experience: Twenty years ago, with absolutely no idea of what I would be getting myself into, I agreed to be the executor of my mother’s estate. In that capacity it fell to me to clear out her house and sell it when she died in 2002. Having lived in the house for 53 years, my mother had accumulated a lot of stuff, but even more taxing was the fact that, at the time I went to sell the house, the local Building Inspector insisted the house come up to current codes! The result was 2 full years of sorting, packing, throwing out, working with various contractors, dealing with town officials, architects and moving companies—a nightmare of activities that kept me in my Sensation function. From my dreams I could see that this was getting very one-sided, and, familiar with the concept of the enantiodromia, I knew there would come a conversion to the opposite: Eruptions of intuition—imaginative, creative outpourings from my unconscious. And so there were, one of which led to the founding of the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. Knowing about this psychological law, I was not surprised by these eruptions, and was able to create space in my life to take advantage of them.
Which brings us to an important point: If you know about the phenomenon of the enantiodromia you can use it to good purpose. You can also keep it in mind so as to consciously avoid falling into one-sidedness. Knowing about it also helps explain the “peculiar dynamism” that goes along with psychological extremes. Extreme one-sidedness builds up a tension, and the more extreme the position, the more easily it can shift to its opposite. I recall this well during the 2 years I had to tend to my executor duties: How often I wanted to sit and daydream, or get lost in a meditation, or take to my desk to write! My intuition was crying out for attention in this interval. All that kept me from falling into it was my consciousness of what was going on and the promise to myself that I would give it time in the future.
Jung described my situation back in 2002-2004 when he said:
…the only person who escapes the grim law of enantiodromia is the man who knows how to separate himself from the unconscious, not by repressing it—for then it simply attacks him from the rear—but by putting it clearly before him as that which he is not.
In those two years I was not able to indulge my intuition. Having to meet the deadlines set by the town, the architect, the contractors, the movers, I couldn’t strike a better balance in my daily life. My dreams let me know this.
There are other ways in which knowing about the enantiodromia can be useful. For example, it can explain why it is so important for the ego to keep its integrity, by not identifying with one of the opposites, i.e. why it is important to learn “how to hold the balance between them.” Living a balanced live—not falling into one-sidedness—means we won’t have to experience the overwhelment and lack of control that an enantiodromic experience involves. Jung also felt that if a person knows about the enantiodromia he or she can avoid becoming a “mass man,” i.e. someone absorbed by the opinions and tendencies of the collective unconscious. This is particularly relevant in the context of our current political reality, which William Butler Yeats described with eerie prescience 91 years ago:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As our government grows more and more polarized (with politicians being one-sided and acting at the extremes), too few people in leadership positions in our political arena are able to “hold the center” and keep a balance between the “red” and “blue” opposites. Where will all this lead? We will consider our collective future in light of the principle of the enantiodromia in Part III of this essay.
It should be noted that, while we can be aware of the enantiodromia and its usefulness, we can never really understand it. Jung was emphatic on this point:
I must emphasize, however, that the grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, and what good may very possibly lead to evil….
Jung then advises “… a cautious and patient waiting to see how things will finally turn out.” What we might think of as something bad may turn out for our benefit, and what we plunge into with high hopes of some great outcome could very well come up a cropper. Best to be careful, deliberate and patient.
Examples of Enantiodromian Opposites
Peruse volume 20 of Jung’s Collected Works and it becomes obvious that opposites were a big part of Jung’s thinking. One hundred nineteen pairs of opposites are listed in that Index of Jung’s work, and all of them can be related to the concept of the enantiodromia. Some of the pairs of opposites are obvious, e.g. the spatial opposites, like above/below, high/low, upper/lower, inside/outside; the directional opposites of north/south and east/west; the temporal opposites, day/night, early/late; the evaluative opposites, good/evil, virtue/vice, costly/cheap.
Less familiar are opposites like: action/non-action (as embodied in the classic Chinese concept of wu wei); chaos/cosmos; classic/romantic (in the history of Western art and culture); culture/nature; diastole/systole (in physiology); doubt/faith; idealism/materialism; Promethean/Epimethean (from the Greek myth of the two Titan brothers of very different temperaments); and megalomania/inferiority.
Some pairs of opposites Jung drew from his studies of alchemy—albedo/rubedo (white/red), dragon/tiger, eagle/toad, fire/water, gold/silver (masculine or solar conscience/feminine or lunar conscience), King/Queen, Sol/Luna (sun/moon), unity/quaternity, yellow/green—and to appreciate just how these are opposites requires delving into his essays in Collected Works, volumes 12,13 and 14.
Other opposites relate to Jung’s psychology: anima/animus, ego/shadow, Eros/Thanatos, Extravert/Introvert, instinct/archetype, love/will to power, matter/psyche, society/personality, spirit/soul, unconscious progressiveness/conscious regressiveness.
Jung also offered examples of the enantiodromia in the lives of famous persons in Western history, like St. Paul, once a persecutor of Christians who became one of the most important spokespersons for the new religion; and Friedrich Nietzsche, who first loved Wagner and later came to hate his music. Jung also cites Swedenborg’s shift from erudite scholar into a seer as an example of the enantiodromia. An unnamed example is the “American businessman” who came to analyze with Jung after he retired. Before his retirement his sole focus had been on his work. After he retired, he fell into anxiety and hypochondria, in the face of which his doctors had no cures. Recognizing the enantiodromia that was at the root of his problem Jung was able to help him.
Two of Jung’s pairs of opposites merit deeper discussion. One of these has occasioned surprise in my students, the other bleak foreboding. We will take these up in Parts II and III of this essay.
Jung, C.G. (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press
________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1979), General Index to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, compiled by Barbara Forryan & Janet Glover. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Liddell & Scott (1978), An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
 Collected Works 6, ¶709. As has been the convention in these blog essay, Collected Works will hereafter be abbreviated CW.
 Ibid., ¶708.
 Diogenes Laertius, bk. IX, sect. 8.
 Liddell & Scott (1978), 258 and 212.
 CW 6, ¶708.
 All these Jung cites in CW 6, ¶708 and note 37.
 Ibid., ¶453.
 CW 10, ¶164.
 CW 11, ¶526.
 CW 10, ¶175.
 CW 7, ¶111.
 CW 6, ¶709.
 CW 10, ¶175.
 CW 5, ¶581.
CW 7, ¶112.
 CW 8, ¶425.
 “The Second Coming,” written in 1921.
 CW 9i, ¶397.
CW 20, pp. 496-498.
 For a detailed description of these two temperaments, see Keirsey & Bates (1984), 39-57.
 CW 6, ¶709.
 CW 7, ¶75.