An American Mystagogue

Enantiodromia- A Cautionary Tale



       “Enantiodromia. Literally, “running counter to,” referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.”
~ Carl Jung

While there are many interesting facets to the unique system of terminology constructed by psychotherapist Carl Jung, one concept in particular has always held a strange position in my mind, namely that of “enantiodromia“, which Jung defined as seen above as the tendency for unconscious opposites of conscious fixations to emerge over time. When I first read of this term I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and so set forth to observe the world around me as well as my own past and memories to discover if I could find the evidence of such an emergence.

It didn’t take long to realize that on a social scale, I could see enantiodromia everywhere. A social movement would be started, usually prompted by good reason, only to become bloated and end up transmogrifying into what used to be its opposite. I would see other individuals who were so fixated upon a certain personal archetype become usurped by a tendency to become their complete opposite while under duress. However, it was within myself that I could see the case being made for the existence of enantiodromia most clearly. What I was focused on consciously, volitionaly, was almost always the opposite of my habits; in other words, my ideal being was opposite of my habitual being. What and who I wanted to be was contrary to who I actually was. This is all well and fine if you can keep conscious both aspects of yourself, but the second you forget that you aren’t your ideal self, is when enantiodromia seems to occur.

It is a funny thing that in this day and age, when information and knowledge is so plentifully available that the most obvious sings of ‘unconscious emergence of opposites’ is seen in the ‘eclectic’ or ‘heterodox’ of ‘spirituality/religion/ideologies’. Why do I say this?

When you have the ability to choose your ‘ideology’ or ‘spirituality” (Note: I detest the term spirituality, but I will be using it here in lieu of another term) and to, even more than choose from a large list of them, have the ability to actually cut-and-paste these ideologies or spiritualities into your own system of thought, you get a freedom that many humans have not desired nor sought; in this freedom lies a seed of unconscious striving. When you have the ability to choose your own ‘spirituality’, most people, whether they realize it or not, seem to choose a ‘spirituality/personal philosophy/ideology’ that is actually quite contrary to their ‘habitual self’ or ‘unconscious self’ and instead focuses primarily upon their ‘ideal self’. Who they want to be, rather than who they are.

This could be said to be useful, in fact I shall say it is indeed useful, but only insofar as one actually keeps their eye upon their habitual self just as much as their ideal self. A pitfall that is commonly fallen into, especially for myself even presently and in the past, is that ideal self is never going to be Who You Are. It will always be something to strive for. But to completely ignore Who You Are presently, that is, habitual self is to run the risk of becoming exactly what you seek not to be.

Now, I don’t mean to actually imply ‘habitual self’ is always or permanently ‘unconscious’, only that it retains a high risk of becoming so when one chooses to focus on what they want to be, rather than what they are. It could even be said that the ‘choice’ of eclectics/heterodox ‘spiritualists/ideologists/philosophers” often reflects, rather than who they ‘are’ in the present, who they actually ideally wish they could be. Someone who feels dis-empowered in general may take on a philosophy of power, someone who has been self-sacrificing may take up an ideology in which selfishness is a virtue, someone who is self-destructive and at the whims of their compulsions may pick up a religion based on moderation, someone who is hateful and whose life has been affected negatively by this hate may choose a spirituality of compassion. In a way, the ideal self, often the goal of any pro-active ideology, ends up the opposite of what they habitually are. This is not always the case, but since the habitual self is so often unconscious within individuals, they wouldn’t be aware that what they are actively pursuing is because of what they currently lack.

When the ‘habitual self’ becomes unconscious, or ‘shoved under the rugs’ in lieu of a worship of “ideal self”, this poses problems. Namely because the habitual self is where most of a persons actual power lay, in the present. It is what gets them out of the bed in the morning, how they approach the day, and for the most part (contrasted with ideal self) it is what decides where they put their energy in a given day. In short, to ignore who “we habitually are” in favor of a romanticized version of ourselves will ensure that not only do we actualize at least some aspects of ‘the ideal self’ but also that we will be prone to enacting lifelong habits that we try to fight against. In short, an overabundance of conscious focus on the ‘ideal self’ will result in the emergence of ‘habitual self’. They are both important to be watched vigilantly.

For another example of enantiodromia, William Blake’s  Urizen mythos, is useful. It can be seen in the form of the Orc-Urizen cycle. Orc, embodying passion, revolution and ‘youth’, inevitably overthrows Urizen who embodies law, reason, and ‘elderliness’. Orc then becomes, at the end of the cycle, Urizen, and the whole process is started all over again with a new embodiment of Orc overthrowing the former-Orc, current Urizen. I consider this an archetypal representation of Enantiodromia. (More Information on the Urizen Mythos here  and here).

Perhaps it is not a very common occurrence, I could indeed be seeing what I have experienced myself projected upon others. But I think from the unconscious nature of the emergence of opposites, it would be tricky enough for anyone to notice at all, and I hope that the concept at least hastens people to look critically at what exactly they believe they are, so that perhaps the wolf slinking around the corner does not devour them completely. Though perhaps that is exactly what their actions, as have mine, call for.

~ Seth Moris

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