Full Circle POV

Nurturing a holistic, integral point of view for greater leader and team effectiveness and member well-being.

Archive for the tag “Opposites”

A Principle of Opposites

Two souls, alas! reside within my breast
and each is eager for a separation:
in throes of coarse desire, one grips
the earth with all its senses;
the other struggles from the dust
to rise to high ancestral spheres.

Goethe, Faust, Part I (Trans. Atkins, p.30)

Jung was very aware of the tendency of human consciousness to perceive in terms of polarities, paired opposites, and how preferences of consciousness (Ego/Persona) have a determining role in the ways in which people perceive the world, interpret what they perceive, and take action. To further understand the dynamics of polarities within the conscious and unconscious it is necessary to introduce a principle of opposites that is key to Jung’s thinking on the psyche.

Shapiro and Alexander (1975) describe it well in these excerpts specifically related to their research on Extraversion and Introversion, but applicable to any polarity:

The principle of opposites states that the two attitudes are polar opposites found in each individual. One pole is located in consciousness, the second in the unconscious. The relation between the two poles, it is postulated, in [sic] a function of the degree of “dominance” of the conscious pole. Dominance means a one-sided employment of the conscious attitude, which prevents the expression of the opposite unconscious attitude in consciousness. With minimal dominance, when the unconscious attitude occasionally expresses itself, it does so in a compensatory or complementary way. It adds to or rounds out the conscious attitude in the latter’s service. With increasing one-sidedness of the conscious attitude, however, the suppressed unconscious pole has a more opposing and destructive relation to its conscious opposite. It then “irrupts” or intrudes in an “archaic,” infantile, and inappropriate manner. This suppression of the other side and its subsequent uncontrollable release is the heart of Jung’s conception of neuroticism. (p. 38), and

…”opposite” in the principle of opposites is in the sense of opposition….There are different states of tension between them resulting in varying “working” relations from complementarity or servitude to open combat…. [The “opposites”] run counter to each other. Each has its own independent mode of operation, and the relationship between the two can be variable. (p. 39)

Jung was grounded in a both/and perspective born of his extensive clinical experience and research. For him, both sides of any polarity exist as dynamic potentials within the psyche. Unfortunately, as the principle of opposites explains, there is a universal, natural, and very problematic tendency to split opposites that leads to the over-emphasis of one in the conscious Ego/Persona and the neglect of the other which falls into the shadow.

See full citations in the Bookshelf

Two Doors

Full Circle POV Lexicon: Polarities

Polarities are interdependent, opposite motivational values that are equally important over time in order for a system to function most effectively. The pair of values in a polarity are inextricably linked; they are archetypal, universal in all people, everywhere.

Breathing is an excellent metaphor. We absolutely need both inhalation and exhalation. Make the decision to only inhale. That works for a bit until our body, life shall we say, overrides our intent and forces us to exhale. Choose to only exhale, wait a bit, and life does it’s thing, forcing us to inhale. Inhalation and exhalation cannot happen at the same time, although the circular breathing of horn players comes close. There is a rhythmic oscillation between the two, too much of one or the other causes a disturbance.

Polarities are not a continuum. How do you adjust the amount of inhalation or exhalation on a continuum? They are opposites that are both required.

The breathing metaphor is simple enough, no argument about which is more preferred or better than the other. But, what about the polarity of stability and change, perhaps two sides of a larger archetype of sustainability? By personality and socialization (persona shaping), we tend to have our individual and organizational/collective center of gravity in one or the other. Think about conflicts you might have had with another person about which of those should prevail. You will both be very good at advocating for the one you prefer and think is essential, and lay out, readily, the logic and benefits of that preference. You will both be equally adept at pointing out all the flaws, the danger even, in the other approach. It seems self-evident to both sides. Least likely is seeing how your preference could actually be the undoing of the endeavor.

Other examples of interdependent motivational values are competition/collaboration, action/reflection, quality/cost, other-focused/self-focused

Consciousness naturally assigns a good/bad value judgment on the polarity and organizes and acts accordingly, more often than not without question. Our actions reinforce our preference and simultaneously repress the other necessary counter value. We see the one as good/desirable/wise, the other as bad/undesirable/foolish or dangerous. The one becomes reinforced as a Persona/Ego guiding value, the other is repressed or forgotten and slips into the Unconscious (Shadow). The natural benefits of the other are lost.

Here’s a grand statement: Life will not allow exclusive preference for one value in a polarity without forcing the other value back in to the mix. System disturbance will always ensue; it’s a given.



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