Opposites – Psychologically, the ego and the unconscious. (See also compensation, conflict, progression and transcendent function.)
There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites. [“Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 178.]
There is no form of human tragedy that does not in some measure proceed from [the] conflict between the ego and the unconscious. [“Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung,” CW 8, par. 706.]
The Tension and Spark of Opposites
Whatever attitude exists in the conscious mind, and whichever psychological function is dominant, the opposite is in the unconscious. This situation seldom precipitates a crisis in the first half of life. But for older people who reach an impasse, characterized by a one-sided conscious attitude and the blockage of energy, it is necessary to bring to light psychic contents that have been repressed.
The repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. The conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites. [“The Problem of the Attitude-Type,” CW 7, par. 78.]
Transformations of Energy
This in turn activates the process of compensation, which leads to an irrational “third,” the transcendent function.
Out of [the] collision of opposites the unconscious psyche always creates a third thing of an irrational nature, which the conscious mind neither expects nor understands. It presents itself in a form that is neither a straight “yes” nor a straight “no.” [“The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 285.]
Jung explained the potential renewal of the personality in terms of the principle of entropy in physics, according to which transformations of energy in a relatively closed system take place, and are only possible, as a result of differences in intensity.
Psychologically, we can see this process at work in the development of a lasting and relatively unchanging attitude. After violent oscillations at the beginning the opposites equalize one another, and gradually a new attitude develops, the final stability of which is the greater in proportion to the magnitude of the initial differences. The greater the tension between the pairs of opposites, the greater will be the energy that comes from them … [and] the less chance is there of subsequent disturbances which might arise from friction with material not previously constellated. [“On Psychic Energy,” CW 8, par. 49.”]
Conscious and Unconscious Opposites
Some degree of tension between consciousness and the unconsciousness is both unavoidable and necessary. The aim of analysis is therefore not to eliminate the tension but rather to understand the role it plays in the self-regulation of the psyche. Moreover, the assimilation of unconscious contents results in the ego becoming responsible for what was previously unconscious. There is thus no question of anyone ever being completely at peace.
The united personality will never quite lose the painful sense of innate discord. Complete redemption from the sufferings of this world is and must remain an illusion. Christ’s earthly life likewise ended, not in complacent bliss, but on the cross. [“The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, par. 400.]
Jung further believed that anyone who attempts to deal with the problem of the opposites on a personal level is making a significant contribution toward world peace.
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves. [“Christ, A Symbol of the Self,” CW 9ii, par. 126.]
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.
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