The Greek gods of mythology are archetypes of human behavior. Apollo represents order, light, music, and rationality, while Dionysius (the god of wine) represents revelry and release of inhibitions. Our culture is founded on Apollonian values of order; yet, we see many Dionysian eruptions of excessive release. Conscious awareness of both the benefits and risks of excessive Apollonian order or Dionysian freedom allows us to navigate our lives through the pitfalls of excess. Each archetype has value, but taken in excess, can cause harm.
Different types of Order
Order and freedom are two of many deep-seated needs that often conflict with one another. Thus, people tend to favor one to the exclusion of the other. Some experience a need for order in terms of their physical surroundings, requiring that everything in the home and the office be clean, neat, and organized. Some may adhere strictly to a financial budget and require that every dollar is accounted for. Some experience the need for order in terms of schedules and careful planning. Others are concerned that their roles in relationship are well defined. Finally, order may be experienced as a need to clearly understand the world around us. For instance, rather than simply going out and skiing, the order seeker may be driven to understand everything about the technology of the equipment and the sport first.
Benefits of Order
Having order in one’s world benefits a person by making life predictable, safe, and comfortable, while appeasing the fear of chaos and turmoil. Good planning and organization allow for more efficiency and productivity.
Problems from Excessive Order
Yet, excessive emphasis on order drives out freedom and vitality. Too much order can lead to rigidity and lifelessness.
On the other hand, those who favor freedom value creativity, spontaneity, and reject being encumbered by rigid structures of schedules, budgets, house-cleaning, or conventional rules. They may prefer intuitive thinking rather than academic study. They prefer to be moved by inspiration rather than time constraints. They don’t mind having a friend over if the house is messy. They might want to be generous or buy something because it delights them despite the condition of their finances. Their biggest fear is that life may become rigid, lifeless, and boring from too much control.
Problem with Excessive Freedom
While freedom from structure allows for vitality and unpredictability, excessive freedom leads to chaos and frustration. When others can no longer count on you, their disappointment saps some of that sought-for joy of life. Too much freedom with spending can lead to financial ruin; too many missed appointments leads to loss of work and friends. Too much of anything life-enhancing can become harmful.
When both partners favor freedom excessively, the relationship may start with great fervor and passion, but over time, can disintegrate into chaos and disappointment. When both partners favor order excessively, the relationship may look good from the outside (nice house, good jobs, money in the bank), but it may become sterile and lifeless on the inside. When partners polarize, favoring opposite values, there is either great dissension or passive resignation to their differences.
Ideally, each partner in a relationship makes the effort to grapple with the tension of the opposite needs for order and freedom within their own selves. It’s always helpful to integrate opposite qualities in small doses. If you are used to buying dinner for everyone and buying what you like on a whim, try restraining yourself now and then.
A benefit of integrating both values is that it’s easier to understand and communicate compassionately with your partner. For instance, when one person understands the depth of the need for order and the fear of chaos underlying the desire for a spotless house, she can approach her partner with understanding of that need, while attempting to point out her need for a little looseness and relaxation.
The ideal balance of Apollonian and Dionysian energies is not a happy medium between the two. At work, for instance, being on time for appointments is generally preferable to a come-as-you-please attitude. On a date, however, sticking to a 10PM bedtime when the full moon is out and a romantic breeze is blowing might be a bad idea. Life ebbs and flows, and the appropriate proportion of control and release, which depends on all the surrounding circumstances, is in constant flux.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
“The Voice Dialogue Series” (CDs), by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone.“The Rational Mind” (CDs) by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone.