So, enantiodromia is a word that’s really good to have awareness of stored in your body as well as your brain. The word itself was coined by Heraclitus, the “weeping philosopher” in ancient Greece, about 2500 years ago. He was also known as Heraclitus, the Obscure. Sadly, that’s often the fate the study of philosophy provides a person.
As for “avatar,” since James Cameron’s 2009 movie of the same name, I’m guessing many people only know them as blue-bodied animatrons with wide eyes and smushed noses. The word actually has its roots in Hindu spiritual philosophy and refers to supreme beings who descend to earth and take human form with the intention to be of service to humankind. And not only joyful service.
My combining here of avatar and enantiodromia is essentially intended to refer to the people in our lives who stir up all kinds of intense energies in our brains and bodies. Usually, but not always, they’re significant others. Avatars often stir great lower chakra energies in addition to powerful heart connections. Initially. Then comes the enantiodromia part of the relationship. Enantiodromia, as Heraclitus conceived it, was the tendency for all imbalanced energies to pulsate themselves over to the opposite extreme. Thus day fades into night; joy morphs into sorrow; love erodes into indifference. Unless, of course, awareness is brought to bear.
One thing of great interest to me in this regard, is that all of us begin life enantiodromically. Our brain begins growing most of its connections in the first years of life, primarily on the right side, holding significant areas on the left in reserve for when the language window opens at about 18 months. This is a significant period in our development, and it’s that network rebalancing that I believe is most responsible for the experiences parents call “The Terrible Twos.” Part of what makes them terrible is kids now have two wildly growing hemispheres along with words to express needs and they can also locomote, requiring much more parental time and vigilance to keep them safe and healthy.
Here’s one other significant impact of enantiodromia early in life: because the right side of the brain is the first to develop, according to “Einstein of Attachment” researcher, Allan Schore, it becomes the default center for recording and storing early overwhelming experiences. From mother’s anxious moments, to her commanding voice, to experiences of hunger and fatigue – it all gets buried away primarily in structures on the right side of the brain. I’ve written about the memories stored here without benefit of language before. They’re called: The Unthought Known.
The Table has Been Set
To the extent these early experiences are traumatic and disorganizing to the network, and to the extent they become associated with our early caregivers, they set the stage for many of the relationships we will form throughout the rest of our lives. These relationships frequently end up triggering early traumatic memories (as well as pleasant ones – otherwise there would be no relational draw in the first place). But since those surfacing memories from the past rarely announce themselves as such, it takes some understanding and awareness to be able to make the connection. But more importantly, we need to understand that the significant other who just tosses the dirty dishes in the sink for the “maid” to clean up, whom we feel some small degree of rage towards and might secretly like to strangle – our emotional upset has little to do with that person. They are energy gifts from the universe, meant to help us get a grip, do some necessary internal repair work and grow some increasing network capacity. They are those wonderful growth opportunities provided by our Enantiodromia Avatars.
Job #1: Regulating Hyperarousal
For the most part, the memories such significant people trigger for us are manageable, depending greatly upon our early beginnings. If we experienced significant abuse or neglect as a kid, then odds are the “healing journey” is going to be a much more challenging one than if we were only occasionally yelled at and sent to our room for a timeout.
What makes primary relationships often so challenging is that our brain isn’t organized to allow us to easily connect the dots between dirty dishes at age 33, to being forced to sit at the table for hours until all the food on our plate was gone at age 5. But there is very often a connection with every emotionally challenging experience in our early lives to events triggering upsets in the present. And the clue to the connection is often the degree of upset we feel. Using the dishes example, if there’s no emotional charge, we can simply ask our partner, “Can you please be more mindful and put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher so I don’t have to do it?” The partner’s response: “Absolutely. Sorry. It’s just a bad habit left over from childhood. I’ll make it part of my mindfulness practice.” End of discussion.
Ahhh. Wouldn’t it be great if every kitchen discussion could actually proceed with this clarity of expression and intent? Dream on little broomstick cowboy.