You know the old one: “Road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It’s far more than an effort to explain why things can go bad in a million different ways, even if the intention behind them was good. But, if this is true, its opposite is also true: We have no idea where tiles of not such good intentions may subsequently pave the way to when accumulated. All things seem to be zig-zagging back and forth between good and bad trying to find balance. Having been alive for a while now, you’re pretty much familiar with the eternal struggle for homeostasis that consists of madly overshooting and going into overkills on either side of the good-bad dipole.
Enantiodromea is a concept that one of the best and most in depth psychiatrists of all time spend quite a bit of time on. Coming from the fusion of Greek worlds enantiosis – opposite and drums – running course, a road, path, it would translate as something like “running counter to”. The meaning behind it is that, sooner or later, anything led to its extreme will transmute into its opposite, the thing it defines itself against. The concept harks back all the way to the ancient cornerstone philosophers such as Plato who said “Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites” and Heraclitus who displayed this principle repeatedly in his characteristic deep riddles and statements on life and reality, where opposition and conflict were reoccurring themes. Jung credits Heraclitus for discovering “the most marvellous 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.” Jung himself was of course more concerned with the reflections of this universal law on the human psyche and spoke of enantiodromia as the psyche’s own search for equilibrium and „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 counter position is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.” Extremist tendencies in any direction have a way of getting flipped into the very things they were running from. Things that get locked into their own too narrow domain over time develop a powerful counterforce, a shadow entity that wants to break through in a desperate attempt to level out, as this is most conducive to mental health and the condition of life which tatters between the opposites as well. It’s a concept very similar to the truths that I Ching speaks of where yang in its extreme form morphs into yin and vice versa.
In Jung’s case enantiodromia is a sort of battle ground within an individual, a war, the constant tug of war between conscious and unconscious. The conscious things are under our control, they are privy for introspection and acting upon, but the unconscious makes up the most of the psyche. It’s deeper down and often unavailable to us to rummage through, although it finds a way to peek through the conscious via emotions, strange faux pas for which we have no idea where they came from, idiosyncrasies, compulsions, slips of the tongue… He believes that when the conscious has built up something into an extreme, the shadow of that starts growing in the unconscious, until it swells up enough to break through. The thing is not to deny the show once you taste its existence and it enters the realm of knowable. Jung states that the only way to reach the state of internal completion, to feel whole in oneself and complete what he calls “the path of individuation”, is to incorporate the opposing archetype within your psyche. To not run for the dark parts but acknowledge and accept. This is the only way to not appear and act in the world in a fragmentary way, always running from something and it is also a stellar moral achievement of a good psychoanalyst, who can’t tackle the darkness of others if he hadn’t accepted and incorporated his own.
Seemingly good paths can often lead to hells. Seemingly hellish circumstances and battles are often the necessary conduits to good and wholeness. Avoidance breeds neurosis and splits and the only way out is through. Judgement is the opposite of acceptance. Only at the point where we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of anyone in any possible circumstance, are we free of judgement and complete. After all, a playwright Terence wrote, many many dawns ago: “I am human, and nothing human is alien to me.”