Home Useful ideas Diagrams, Models, Concepts Enantiodromia

Jung got many of his ideas from ancient wisdom, including his use of the concept of the enantiodromia. It was not his concept: It comes from the work of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose philosophy was predicated on the constancy of change. Heraclitus recognized that

All is flux, nothing stays still. Nothing endures but change.

but change is not chaotic. It takes a certain form in that it operates along continua. To describe this form Heraclitus coined the term enantiodromia.

It is a compound of two Greek words: enantios (“opposite”) and dramein (“to run;” dromas, “running”). So enantiodromia is a “running to the opposite,”or “a running counter to” something. In Heraclitus’ philosophy enantiodromia is used “to designate the play of opposites in the course of events—the view that everything that exists turns into its opposite.” Jung offered other examples from Heraclitus:

… the principle which governs all the cycles of natural life, from the smallest to the greatest.

Fate is the ground/basis of enantiodromia, the creator of all things.

It is the opposite which is good for us.

… what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.

The way up and the way down are the same.

In multiple places in his Collected Works Jung describes the enantiodromia as:

…the transformation of the hitherto valued into the worthless, and of the former good into the bad.

… the terrible law that governs blind contingency, which Heraclitus called the rule of enantiodromia (a running toward the opposite)

… a fundamental law of life—enantiodromia or conversion into the opposite.

Why so many citations? Because Jung recognized the value of the concept in explicating the workings of the psyche. It is not just some relic of ancient philosophy but

… a psychological law which is unfailingly valid in personal affairs….


… the most marvelous of all psychological laws:” the law that describes “the regulative function of opposites…

Jung described how he uses the term: “I use the term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time.” Jung came to realize, through personal experience, in his own life and the lives of his patients, that this emergence of unconscious material always occurs when an extreme one-sided tendency dominates the conscious life. Over time an equally strong countertendency builds, eventually breaking through conscious control. When

… anything of importance is devalued in our conscious life, and perishes—so runs the law—there arises a compensation in the unconscious… No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity….

The more an attitude is repressed, the more it acquires a fanatical character, and the nearer it comes to conversion into its opposite, i.e. to an enantiodromia.

If you know about the phenomenon of the enantiodromia you can use it to good purpose. You can also keep it in mind so as to consciously avoid falling into one-sidedness. Knowing about it also helps explain the “peculiar dynamism” that goes along with psychological extremes. Extreme one-sidedness builds up a tension, and the more extreme the position, the more easily it can shift to its opposite. 

Examples of Enantiodromian opposites:

Opposites were a big part of Jung’s thinking. One hundred nineteen pairs of opposites are listed in that Index of Jung’s work, and all of them can be related to the concept of the enantiodromia. Some of the pairs of opposites are obvious, e.g. the spatial opposites, like above/below, high/low, upper/lower, inside/outside; the directional opposites of north/south and east/west; the temporal opposites, day/night, early/late; the evaluative opposites, good/evil, virtue/vice, costly/cheap.

Less familiar are opposites like: action/non-action (as embodied in the classic Chinese concept of wu wei); chaos/cosmos; classic/romantic (in the history of Western art and culture); culture/nature; diastole/systole (in physiology); doubt/faith; idealism/materialism; Promethean/Epimethean (from the Greek myth of the two Titan brothers of very different temperaments); and megalomania/inferiority.

Some pairs of opposites Jung drew from his studies of alchemy—albedo/rubedo (white/red), dragon/tiger, eagle/toad, fire/water, gold/silver (masculine or solar conscience/feminine or lunar conscience), King/Queen, Sol/Luna (sun/moon), unity/quaternity, yellow/green.

Other opposites relate to Jung’s psychology: anima/animus, ego/shadow, Eros/Thanatos, Extravert/Introvert, instinct/archetype, love/will to power, matter/psyche, society/personality, spirit/soul, unconscious progressiveness/conscious regressiveness.