Renowned Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl G. Jung, viewed tension between opposites as a fundamental dynamic in the human psyche. The ‘problem of the opposites’, as he referred to it, became the centrepiece of his psychological theory, so much so that he came to identify opposing energies as the ‘ineradicable and indispensable preconditions of all psychic life’.
For Jung, the ‘problem’ developed when one side of the opposites (positive/negative, superior/inferior, masculine/feminine, fixed/volatile etc) is favoured while the other is dismissed and buried within the unconscious where it accumulates energy. When this happens, conflict between the conscious ego and the unconscious invariably arises.
However, rather than accepting this as an inevitable and unchangeable outcome, Jung also championed the idea that this underlying conflict could be transformed into constructive, ‘creative’ tension. Instead of burying or attempting to solve the unfavoured opposite, he thought that if we hold each polarity the process of individuation occurs, facilitating the birth of an entirely new, integrated attitude of self awareness.
The benefits of learning to hold the tension of opposites are immense. For one, it creates space for opposite ideas, feelings and behaviours to peacefully coexist. We can become more flexible, tolerant and loving. It can enable us not only to see the flaws in our own personality, but also those of others, turning us into more empathetic and emotionally intelligent beings.
That being said, it is not always easy to consistently hold the tension of the opposites. For example, if someone we know well, who has been kind and compassionate to us in the past, occasionally displays negative traits that affect us, it can be difficult to bring the positive qualities to mind.
Nevertheless, the more we practise and strive for the expanded perspective brought about by holding the tension of the opposites, the more harmonious we will become with ourselves and those around us. Typical opposites encountered in everyday life include the following:
- Inner masculine/inner feminine
- Distancer /pursuer
- Structure/free form
- Image/authentic self
- The myth of independence/romantic myth
- Death of the old form/rebirth
So how can we transform these opposites into creative tension? One effective method is via the help of a trained Jungian analyst. Jungian analysts make it their life work to attain a profound understanding of who they are. They then apply the same approach to their clients, encouraging an exploration of diverse aspects of the personality and the way in which they can coexist. This applies not just to undesirable characteristics but also the positive, unacknowledged potential repressed and buried within the unconscious.
Seeking the help of a Jungian analyst can transform the polarity that exists in our lives into a more balanced creative tension. Whether struggling with a relationship, career or even just looking to better ourselves, developing our tolerance, understanding and flexibility can be of great benefit in everyday life.
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