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Opposites: Finding the Power in Polarity


There are opposites in our thoughts (Success – Failure) and our emotions (Happy – Sad). We often think of them as antonyms and independent and contrary to each other. However, they are actually connected because the way in which they are relative to each other is essential to our understanding and experience of each pole. This relationship also means that each one is not definitively good or bad.

This is often represented by the concepts of Ying and Yang ☯️. According to this ancient Chinese philosophy opposite forces are seen as interconnected and counterbalancing. 

In opposites, each is partially defined by the other, which means you get a greater sense of meaning from considering them together. Doing so is also motivating and empowering.

Opposites in Thinking

Here are some common opposites that occur in our stream of consciousness.

  • Yes – No
  • Always – Never
  • Good – Bad
  • Success – Failure

There are many others like black-white, up-down, and in-out, but these are less frequently used in the judgment we make about ourselves or others. Each one contains elements of the other. When we say ‘yes’, ‘always’, ‘good’ or ‘success’ it is placing a claim on something fully. This in turn speaks to turning away from another relative aspect equally completely. For example, when we say yes to a healthy diet we say no to less nutritious options.

When we categorize in these terms we seek evidence that is in alignment to support our position and frequently overlook data that points the other way. The story of the stallion illustrates how we often don’t acknowledge other possibilities. It also shows that a gift or blessing can be found in whichever position you take. This is something that we can use to guide more supportive thinking.

For example, consider the difference between “I never get the outcome I am looking for” and “I always get an outcome that supports my growth”. Or “Each mistake demonstrates my failure” versus “Each mistake brings me closer to success”. When using these extremes consider wording them in a way that is expansive rather than disempowering. Notice the complementarity that incorporates the opposite in the uplifting statements! When you use them in this way, they support your ability to change and learn.

Opposites in Emotion

Emotions have polar opposites too.

  • Anger – Passion 
  • Anxiety – Excitement  
  • Boredom – Interest  
  • Confusion – Clarity 
  • Contempt – Admiration  
  • Depression – Solitude 
  • Disappointment – Fulfillment  
  • Envy – Gratitude 
  • Fear – Courage 
  • Frustration – Acceptance  
  • Grief – Compassion  
  • Guilt – Liberation  
  • Jealousy – Passion  
  • Loneliness – Appreciation 
  • Pessimism – Optimism  
  • Sadness – Happiness  
  • Shame – Confidence  
  • Worry – Faith  

Each one has light and shadow sides. Sometimes, we suppress an emotion because it is painful. This means that we lose the benefit of the gift it offers also. We have to be willing to allow ourselves to experience and learn from painful emotions in order to claim the opposite polarity. Each negative emotion is a prompt to more fully embody its positive counterpart. when we acknowledge and allow each painful emotion it opens the door to drawing from the opposite. For example, when we acknowledge and allow our feelings of jealousy we discover where to focus our passion and so on.

One way to support a more balanced interconnective approach to our thoughts or emotions is to consider what you gain or lose from one polarity. Then look at what you gain and lose from the other end. This also provides clues to actions you can take to achieve the gains and warning signs to avoid losses.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay