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It has long been understood that any value, quality, or attribute exists in relation to its opposite. So, “up” has meaning in relation to “down”, “poor” has meaning in relation to “wealthy”, “dry” has meaning in relation to “wet”, and so on. The ancient symbol of the Yin/Yang visually depicts a “whole” which is composed of the joining of opposites. A healthy (as opposed to “unhealthy”) understanding of polarities accepts the simultaneous existence of both polarities, and the range and complexity of potential that this creates. We may choose to act in a generous or selfless way, knowing that we are also capable of choosing to act in a self-serving way. Given different circumstances and different self-states, we may choose to act differently at another time.

We get into trouble when we try to define ourselves or others rigidly with one polarity to the complete exclusion of the other. In doing this, we restrict our range of possibility, and we actually empower the opposite polarity. So, the person who can only be saintly will be hounded by feelings and thoughts of the sinner. Or he may attempt to rid himself of those thoughts and impulses by projecting them onto others, where the other can be scorned, rejected, or persecuted. The attempt to separate one polarity from the other is doomed, and it leads to failure, imbalance, and a lack of wholeness. We all know narcissists who present to others and attempt to present to themselves an image of largeness, power, and significance. Those of us with some psychological awareness will also be aware that these people are plagued by feelings of emptiness and insignificance. The more they try to puff themselves up, the more they fear being seen for their inferior polarity – and the more they have to puff themselves up.

We also know that what many think of as “maleness” is often thought of in stark contrast to what is thought of as “femaleness”. So toughness is seen as male, while tenderness is seen as female. But what happens to the male who has sensitivity? If he can accept his inherent polarities, he will develop a sense of depth that allows for both qualities to live together and enrich each other. If not (or if his environment cannot) he has to alienate his tender emotions, or his need to lean on another, and perhaps, seek to find a woman who can be dependent, nurturing, and “emotional” but not strong or rational. Each partner gets to be a two dimensional part of themselves, which is then robbed of the depth and balance that a fuller, broader identification would allow.

So, polarities are not a problem; they are a given. The attempt to separate polarities, to quarantine them, or to obliterate the unwanted polarity is a problem. It robs us of our wholeness, it prevents fluidity, and it rigidifies us into fixed Character Styles that only allow us restricted possibilities in living in the world and experiencing our selves.