Are We Experiencing an Enantiodromia Now?

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.



Are We Experiencing an Enantiodromia Now?



“Old Heraclitus, who was indeed a very great sage, discovered the most marvelous of all psychological laws: the regulative function of opposites. He called it enantiodromia, a running contrariwise, by which he meant that sooner or later everything runs into its opposite…. Thus the rational attitude of culture necessarily runs into its opposite, namely the irrational devastation of culture.”

Jung (1943)[1]


“We should never identify ourselves with reason, for man is not and never will be a creature of reason alone, a fact to be noted by all pedantic culture-mongers. The irrational cannot be and must not be extirpated… ”

Jung (1943)[2]


“Wisdom never forgets that all things have two sides, and it would also know how to avoid such calamities if ever it had any power. But power is never found in the seat of wisdom; it is always the focus of mass interests and is therefore inevitably associated with the illimitable folly of the mass man.”

Jung (1956)[3]


“And at the present time, too, we are once more experiencing this uprising of the unconscious destructive forces of the collective psyche. The result has been mass-murder on an unparalleled scale. This is precisely what the unconscious was after. Its position had been immeasurably strengthened beforehand by the rationalism of modern life, which, by depreciating everything irrational, precipitated the function of the irrational into the unconscious. But once this function finds itself in the unconscious, it works unceasing havoc, like an incurable disease whose focus cannot be eradicated because it is invisible. Individual and nation alike are then compelled to live the irrational in their own lives, even devoting their loftiest ideals and their best wits to expressing its madness in the most perfect form.”

Jung (1935)[4]



In an earlier essay[5] I noted the current curious phenomenon of many people holding beliefs and ideologies that are irrational, i.e., not in their self-interest–what Jonathan Metzl calls “dying of whiteness.”[6] In a recent conversation a Jungian analyst raised the point that this widespread irrationality we are witnessing in America now could be an example of an enantiodromia: “the rational attitude”[7] of our Western culture running “into its opposite, namely the irrational devastation of culture.”[8] which Jung warned us about many decades ago. This essay teases out his observations and offers suggestions on how we might navigate the years ahead. But first some definitions are in order.


Definitions of Key Terms


Enantiodromia. Jung took this Greek term from Heraclitus, his favorite ancient pre-Socratic philosopher.[9] The roots mean “opposite running,”[10] and Heraclitus thought of it as a “running contrariwise, by which he meant that sooner or later everything runs into its opposite….”.[11] Jung regarded the enantiodromia as “the most marvelous of all psychological laws: the regulative function of opposites,”[12] which can explain how “the stream of generation and decay never stands still.”[13]

Jung used the term as a “psychological concept”[14] and saw it at work in myths, legends, fairy tales and the lives of his patients. In a typical situation a patient would find that he could not “go any higher along this road,” and then had to “realize the other side of [his] being, and climb down again.”[15] In myths the “dragon changes into pneuma”[16] and the dummling of the fairy tale turns out to be the hero who finds the treasure or saves the princess.[17]

As individuals, we do well to remember this “fundamental law of life,”[18] because our personal shadow “contains within it the seed of an enantiodromia, of a conversion into its opposite.”[19] For example, if we are Extraverted by nature, over time we might find that we begin to enjoy more quiet time or solitude as we age,[20] just as the Introvert might find it helpful, even agreeable, to have others around in the elder years. Jung gives individuals a tip for how we might escape “the grim law of enantiodromia:”[21] by learning

“how to separate [ourselves] from the unconscious, not by repressing it–for then it simply attacks [us] from the rear–but by putting it clearly before [us] as that which [we] are not.”[22]

If we can remain conscious of our shadow side–that part which “we are not”–then it need not give us problems.

The enantiodromia works on the collective level just as powerfully as it does with persons. Jung was explicit that

“In accordance with the principle of compensation which runs through the whole of nature, every psychic development, whether individual or collective, possesses an optimum which, when exceeded, produces an enantiodromia, that is, turns into its opposite.”[23]

The key here is “when exceeded,” that is, when a person or a society has developed a habit or used a function to an extreme, we can expect to see a reaction, in the form of the opposite.

Reason, rationality and rationalism. This is very pertinent to our contemporary situation for, as a global society, we have used a function to an extreme: the function of Thinking, with the emphasis we place on reason, rationality and rationalism. “Reason” is “the ability to think and draw conclusions, to discuss logically, to support our ideas with reasons;”[24]rationality” means “the possession of reason; reasonableness;”[25] and “rationalism” is defined in the dictionary as “the principle or habit of accepting reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct.”[26]

Jung was less neutral in his definitions and discussions of these terms. He wrote, for example, of reason as limited because it excludes “the irrational possibilities of life”[27] and it condemns “as unreasonable everything that contradicts it or deviates from its laws, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.”[28] As for rationality, Jung defined it as “an apotropaic defense against superstition,”[29] and he noted how “the rationality of well-meaning thinkers”[30] can master “only one side of fate,”[31] not both, resulting in the world wars and “mass murder without parallel.”[32]

Jung was most critical when he referred to “rationalism,” which he labeled as “soulless,”[33] a feature of modern life that “depreciates everything irrational,”[34] “reinforces a narrow materialistic outlook,”[35] “robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity,”[36] promotes “distorted thinking, which takes the place of psychologically correct thinking,”[37] and leads us to think that “we can block the source of fear by pointing to its unreality.”[38] In short, rationalism to Jung “is no guarantee of higher consciousness, but merely of a one-sidedness.”[39]


Jung’s Relevant Observations


Why was Jung so critical of rationalism? For several reasons. First, because–true scientist that he was[40]–Jung recognized that rationalism and the science linked with it are playing the game with only half the deck: ignoring, denigrating or dismissing feelings, irrationality and the reality of the psyche:

“…rationalistic opinions come unexpectedly close to neurotic symptoms. Like these, they consist of distorted thinking, which takes the place of psychologically correct thinking. The latter kind of thinking always retains its connection with the heart, with the depths of the psyche, the tap-root.”[41]

“…the rational attitude of the conscious mind, which recognizes only intellectual enlightenment as the highest form of understanding and insight. Naturally this attitude never reckons with the fact that scientific knowledge only satisfies the little tip of personality that is contemporaneous with ourselves, not the collective psyche that reaches back into the gray mists of antiquity and always requires a special rite if it is to be united with present-day consciousness.”[42]

“…in the era of scientific rationalism, what indeed was the psyche? It has become synonymous with consciousness.”[43]

“Modern rationalism is a process of sham enlightenment and even prides itself morally on its iconoclastic tendencies…. Therefore, for this enlightened stupidity, there is no non-conscious psyche.”[44]

“Notwithstanding our rationalistic attempts to argue it out of existence, psychic reality is and remains a genuine source of anxiety whose danger increases the more it is denied.”[45]

Rationalism manifests “distorted thinking,”[46] cuts off its practitioners from their heart and their feelings, and offers only “sham enlightenment,”[47] not the real thing.

A second reason Jung was critical of rationalism and rationality is because of their destructive implications for our lives:

“The further we go in the direction selected by reason, the surer we may be that we are excluding the irrational possibilities of life which have just as much right to be lived.”[48]

“…the rationality of well-meaning thinkers; it ordained not only the destruction of the accumulated arms and armies, but, far beyond that, a mad and monstrous devastation, a mass murder without parallel – from which humanity may possibly draw the conclusion that only one side of fate can be mastered with rational intentions.”[49]

“…the rationalism of modern life, … by depreciating everything irrational, precipitated the function of the irrational into the unconscious. But once this function finds itself in the unconscious, it works unceasing havoc, like an incurable disease whose focus cannot be eradicated because it is invisible. Individual and nation alike are then compelled to live the irrational in their own lives, even devoting their loftiest ideals and their best wits to expressing its madness in the most perfect form.”[50]

“…one of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and become a mere abstract number in the bureau of statistics. He can only play the role of an interchangeable unit of infinitesimal importance. Looked at rationally and from outside, that is exactly what he is, and from this point of view it seems positively absurd to go on talking about the value or meaning of the individual.”[51]

“The really dangerous people are not the great heretics and unbelievers, but the swarm of petty thinkers, the rationalizing intellectuals, who suddenly discover how irrational all religious dogmas are. Anything not understood is given short shrift, and the highest values of symbolic truth are irretrievably lost.”[52]

“…the rationalistic hubris which is tearing our consciousness from its transcendent roots and holding before it immanent goals.”[53]

The predominance of rationalism in modern thinking is leading us to dismiss or denigrate the “irrational possibilities of life”[54] which hold so much joy, creativity and vitality. Rationalism has led us to assume we can handle complex situations–like war[55]–with purely “rational intentions.”[56] It can wreak havoc, by forcing us to “live the irrational”[57] in our lives, even as it robs us of our individuality and makes our leaders describe us–valuable human beings–as “fungible,”[58] “mere abstract numbers”[59] which are of “infinitesimal importance.”[60] It has fostered a spiritual crisis, as more people fall away from symbolic systems that can provide a rootedness and spiritual sustenance in daily life.[61] And in its pride “divine Reason”[62] severs us from our transcendent roots,[63] leaving us prey to all sorts of vague fears, bizarre notions, and virulent conspiracy theories.

Finally, Jung was critical of rationalism because it has become so dominant in our modern world, being linked with “enlightenment,”[64] labeled as “divine,”[65] “modern”[66] and “enlightened”[67] and regarded now as “…a scientific theory that simplifies matters …a very good means of defense because of the tremendous faith modern man has in anything which bears the label ‘scientific’.”[68] And Jung saw this dominance as very dangerous. Which leads to our next section.


Jung’s Warnings


Jung’s works are full of warnings about our contemporary situation–warnings that are even more valid now, fifty years after his death–fifty years in which “the rationalistic temper of our age”[69] has only gotten worse. Thanks to the materialism of scientism (the current degenerate form of science),[70] the contemporary individual who hazards a gaze “into the recesses of his own mind”[71] discovers “a chaos and …darkness there which everyone would gladly ignore,”[72] because “science has destroyed even this last refuge; what was once a sheltering haven has become a cesspool.”[73] Few indeed are those who recognize the wellsprings of creativity, the soul-nourishing inspirations, and the invigorating guidance that lie in the unconscious.

Rationalism would have us “identify ourselves with reason,”[74] but Jung warns us that “man is not and never will be a creature of reason alone,… The irrational cannot be and must not be extirpated…”.[75] We need the unconscious, with all its irrationality and seeming nonsensical dreams and nightmares, in order to be whole beings. Falling into “an acute one-sidedness … most seriously imperils the psychic equilibrium,”[76] i.e. threatening our psychological and physical health.

Rationalism dismisses dreams as meaningless, but Jung knew that “dreams have a meaning, to which the rationalistic temper of our age has hitherto given short shift.”[77] In so doing, it deprives us of so much richness in life, as well as cutting us off from valuable guidance and creativity. Our dreams can help us discover and work with our shadow side in private ways which are so much easier and less problematic than doing so in outer life (e.g. when co-workers or new in-laws are people we can’t stand). Thanks to our bias toward rationality “we just will not admit the shadow, and so the right-hand does not know what the left is doing.”[78] This ignorance can create embarrassing scenes in life!

In our “overvaluation of ‘scientifically’ attested views,”[79] we look up to “the really dangerous people [who] are not the great heretics and unbelievers, but the swarm of petty thinkers, the rationalizing intellectuals, who… give short shrift”[80] to “anything not understood”[81] by the rational mind. Jung warns us that, by this truncated way of living “the highest values of symbolic truth are irretrievably lost.”[82] And Jung knew that it is just these values that could remedy the current ills that plague us-on both the individual and the collective level.

Which brings us to Jung’s warnings for the collective, our global society–“global” because what Jung predicted back in [get date for 18-689] has come to pass: “…I see how China (and soon India) will lose her old culture under the impact of materialistic rationalism,…”.[83] There is now no part of the world that has not felt the impact of the domination of rationalism. All the major countries of the world now buy into the emphasis on reason, logic, rationality, meaning that a growing imbalance is building and “an enantiodromia in the grand style is to be expected.”[84] Jung suggested that this might “well be the meaning of the belief in the coming of the Antichrist.”[85]

Because he recognized Heraclitus’ concept of the enantiodromia as “an inexorable psychological law,”[86] Jung saw “the coming of the Antichrist is not just a prophetic predication”[87] but as an “inner necessity”[88] which will bring with it “destruction and vengeance”[89] and a “dark end which we have still to experience, and before whose–without exaggeration–truly apocalyptic possibilities mankind shudders.”[90]

Jung knew his Bible (as a pastor’s son) and he notes how the author of the Book of Revelation spoke of the reign of Satan,[91] the deus absconditus, which would begin at some point in the future. Jung timed this shift to the Enlightenment,[92] which some historians call “the Age of Reason,”[93] and Jung saw it as the second part of the Age of Pisces (two fish),[94] the first being the interval of Christ, when humans had a vertical orientation focused on God, followed by the second period ruled by Satan, when the orientation shifted to the horizontal, with a focus on material physical reality and the world of men, rather than God.[95] Jung warns us that

“The enantiodromia of Heraclitus ensures that the time will come when this deus absconditus shall rise to the surface and press the God of our ideals to the wall.”[96]

and on some unconscious level we have an “intimation” of this, which

“now steals upon modern man through the by-ways of his mind, chilling him with fear and paralyzing his faith in the lasting effectiveness of social and political measures in the face of these monstrous forces.”[97]

In the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January we got a taste of such forces, and in the very poor handling of the covid-19 pandemic we got an example of the “lurking danger of chaotic individualism”[98] in the refusal of so many millions of Americans to wear masks.


Are We Experiencing an Enantiodromia Now?


For some 500 years our civilization has put a premium on reason, logic, thinking, and rationality, which led over time to the dominance of rationalism. This emphasis, Jung knew, was fostering a growing reaction, according to Heraclitus’ idea that an emphasis on one orientation would give rise to manifestations of its opposite.

Thanks to the widespread dissemination of computers and the social media that this has fostered, we have seen (especially over the last 5 years) multiple manifestations of irrationality–just what one would expect, given the over-emphasis on rationality that has marked (marred?) our civilization. When people seriously entertain a belief that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria,[99] or that Donald Trump won the 2020 election,[100] or that “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media”[101]–clearly we are justified in interpreting such irrationality as the enantiodromic reaction to our excessive rationality. What to do?


How Our Future Might Unfold


Lest we think (with our vaunted reliance on reason) that we can figure out ways to head off the chaos and unpleasantness that Jung foresaw, Jung reminds us that “the counterbalancing is even done against our will,”[102] which makes the consequences more fanatical and catastrophic. Ultimately, an excessive reliance on rationality

“works unceasing havoc, like an incurable disease whose focus cannot be eradicated because it is invisible. Individual and nation alike are then compelled to live the irrational in their own lives, even devoting their loftiest ideals and their best wits to expressing its madness in the most perfect form.”[103]

In such a pass, can we rely on our political leaders? Jung was not optimistic on this score as he reminds us that “… those occupying the highest positions in the government, where all the power is concentrated…. are more likely, … to be the slaves of their own fictions.”[104] Rather than look without–to politicians, priests or professors–Jung would have us look within, to get in touch with the Self, our inner wisdom, our creative Source which contains both reason and non-reason, transcending the limits of time and space.

Jung had an intimate relationship with the Self. From decades of personal experience he knew empirically that the Self is wise, reliable, that part in each of us that we can trust. But trust is not built in a day, which is what Jesus understood when he urged his followers to “lay up treasures in Heaven.”[105] Given the materialism of our culture, most readers of this passage in Matthew focus on the “treasures” but Jung would have us emphasize the verb: “lay up” implies time–a long-term process of dialoging with our inner guidance, our intuition, our wisdom–which gradually leads to the development of trust.

Because the Self operates outside time,[106] our inner wisdom can foresee what is coming, serving to protect us, if we align our ego will to its will and attune to its guidance. Jung would have us record, reflect upon and trust our dreams, amplify dreams with “active imagination,”[107] and watch outer life for synchronicities and opportunities. The future is likely to be chaotic, challenging and full of dangers, but if we rely on the Self we can be safe and know “the peace that passes understanding.”[108]




Brinton, Crane, John Christopher & Robert Wolff (1960), A History of Civilization, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Edinger, Edward (1999), The Psyche in Antiquity, Book One. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jackson, Derrick (2004), Rumsfeld’s fungible facts,” Chicago Tribune (April 26, 2004).

Jaffe, Greg & Jose Del Real (2021), “The broken families of QAnon,” The Washington Post, reprinted in The Week (March 19, 2021), 36-37.

Jung, C.G. (1970), “Psychiatric Studies,” Collected Works, 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1973), “Experimental Researches,” Collected Works, 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), “The Psychogenesis of Mental Disease,” Collected Works, 3. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (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.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. 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.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kang, Cecilia & Sheera Frenkel (2020), “PizzaGate Conspiracy Theory Thrives Anew,” The New York Times (June 27, 2020).

Liddell & Scott (1978), An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mueller, Tom (2019), Crises of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud. New York: Riverhead Books.

Sharp, Daryl (1995), Who Am I Really? Toronto: Inner City Books.

Tart, Charles (2009), The End of Materialism. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.




[1] Collected Works 7 ¶111. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] Ibid.

[3] CW 14 ¶470.

[4] CW 7 ¶150.

[5] “Jung on the Irrationality of Dying of Whiteness,” archived on this blog site.

[6] This is the title of Metzl’s book; see the bibliography for publication data.

[7] CW 7 ¶111.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Edinger (1999), 32.

[10] Enantios = “opposite” and dromos = “running;” Liddell & Scott (1978), 258 & 212.

[11] CW 7 ¶111.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CW 6 ¶708.

[14] CW 18 ¶1597.

[15] CW 9i ¶433, note 48.

[16] Ibid. ¶624.

[17] Sharp (1995), 67.

[18] CW 11 ¶526.

[19] CW 9i ¶488.

[20] The current pandemic gave Extraverts an incentive to experience solitude and with it, the opportunity to explore and get to know their “inner city,” with its various inhabitants like the shadow, the anima, animus, puer, senex, as well as the Self. From the many lamentations I read in the press, I fear most Extraverts did not avail themselves of this opportunity.

[21] CW 7 ¶112.

[22] Ibid.

[23] CW 13 ¶294.

[24] World Book Encyclopedia, II, 1621.

[25] Ibid. II, 1614.

[26] Ibid.

[27] CW 7 ¶72.

[28] CW 13 ¶294.

[29] CW 18 ¶759.

[30] CW 7 ¶73.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] CW 10 ¶355.

[34] CW 7 ¶150.

[35] CW 10 ¶355.

[36] Ibid. ¶501.

[37] CW 8 ¶808.

[38] CW 5 ¶221.

[39] CW 9i ¶697.

[40] See CW volumes 1-4, for examples of Jung the experimental scientist; his most noted experiments dealt with the word association test he devised.

[41] CW 8 ¶808.

[42] CW 12 ¶68.

[43] Ibid. ¶562.

[44] CW 5 ¶113.

[45] Ibid. ¶222.

[46] CW 8 ¶808.

[47] CW 5 ¶113.

[48] CW 7 ¶72.

[49] Ibid. ¶73.

[50] Ibid. ¶150.

[51] CW 10 ¶501.

[52] CW 7 ¶24.

[53] CW 9ii ¶346.

[54] CW 7 ¶72.

[55] One of the most stellar examples of the rationalist approach to war was Robert McNamara’s team of Ivy League economists and technocrats who ran the Vietnam War, with disastrous results; see Mueller (2019), 72-89.

[56] CW 7 ¶73.

[57] Ibid. ¶150.

[58] Donald Rumsfeld described American soldiers fighting in the Iraq War as “fungible.” The word means that one thing may be replaced by another, which is fine when it refers to widgets, but dehumanizing when it refers to unique individual human beings; Jackson (2004);

[59] CW 10 ¶501.

[60] Ibid.

[61] CW 9i ¶645.

[62] CW 7, p. 124.

[63] CW 9ii ¶346.

[64] CW 5 ¶113.

[65] CW 7, p. 124.

[66] CW 5 ¶113.

[67] CW 11 ¶81.

[68] Ibid.

[69] CW 7 ¶24.

[70] For more on scientism and its features, see Tart (2009), 24-25, 241-242; cf. my Revisioning Science for multiple essays on the defects in scientism.

[71] CW 10 ¶164.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] CW 7 ¶111.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid. ¶24.

[78] CW 10 ¶653.

[79] CW 8 ¶426.

[80] CW 5 ¶339.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] CW 18 ¶689.

[84] CW 11 ¶694.

[85] Ibid.

[86] CW 9ii ¶77.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

[89] CW 11 ¶717.

[90] Ibid. ¶733.

[91] Rev. 20:1-10.

[92] CW 12 ¶562.

[93] Brinton et al. (1960), II, 49-87, provides a description of the Enlightenment and its focus on reason.

[94] CW 9ii R231.

[95] Ibid. ¶150.

[96] CW 6 ¶150. Could the current distrust of science by some people be a sign that it is loosing its hold?

[97] CW 10 ¶164.

[98] CW 11 ¶444.

[99] Kang & Frenkel (2020);

[100] This irrational notion led hundreds of deluded people to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

[101] Jaffe & Del Real (2021), quoted in The Week (March 19, 2021), 37.

[102] CW 14 ¶470.

[103] CW 7 ¶150.

[104] CW 10 ¶500.

[105] Matt. 6:19.

[106] We can easily recognize this from our dreams, in which long-dead parents and friends appear, or, in a “prospective” form, we dream of a person we haven’t seen in a while and the person turns up in our outer life the next day. The most startling (and rare) form of a transcending-time dream is the precognitive dream, which shows up in outer life exactly as we dreamt it earlier.

[107] Jung describes this process of concentrating on a dream and dreaming the dream forward, i.e. watching it alter and noting the alterations. Cf. CW 14 ¶s 706,736, 749 & 752-3; CW 7 ¶s 350-1 & 357-9; and CW 4 ¶s 415-418.

[108] Phil. 4:7.

Leave a Reply