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  • Tony Georgiadis

I want to change things. But I don't know how.

Many of us, if asked, "What is it that you would like to change about your life?", might be able to come up with a variety of responses, ranging from changes related to our jobs, relationships, and ourselves. We might want to break a bad habit, change a job we are indifferent about and pursue a more fulfilling one, or simply introduce a new habit.

However, it is increasingly common to hear that many of us don't know how to apply change in our lives; perhaps we don't have the energy to do so, or we lack the motivation.

I will take this as an opportunity to speak to two interesting ideas that Freud wrote about in his work "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" in 1920: Eros and Thanatos.

On the one hand, Eros refers to the life instinct, an inner psychological force that keeps us alive, allows us to keep surviving and growing, and gives us pleasure. For instance, when feeling hunger or thirst and acting upon it, the life instinct is at play. When engaging in fun activities, allowing space for joy and bliss, it is the life instinct that motivates us.

On the other hand, Thanatos refers to the death instinct, an inner psychological force that sits opposite Eros and conflicts with it. It is usually linked to destructive or self-destructive behavior. A literal example that demonstrates the death instinct is suicidal thinking. However, there may be other symbolic representations of the death instinct in our day-to-day lives. For instance, knowing that an addiction is negatively impacting our health and not choosing to take action to address it may be behavior based on our death instinct. These two forces are constantly battling each other. And it is another part of ourselves that sits in between—let's call it the mediator—who tries to negotiate between the life instinct and the death instinct.

You might wonder, so the life instinct is good and the death instinct is bad, right?

Not exactly. Either of the two can be potentially harmful depending on how it manifests in our lives, as well as the impact it has on our physical and mental health. Having said this, acceptance of our death instinct and acknowledging its existence, being in touch with our own and others' mortality, and sacrificing some of our own pleasure sometimes for others can all lead to a sense of rebirth, enhanced creativity, and significant contributions to our societies and communities.

On the other hand, if no negotiation can occur between Eros and Thanatos, and Eros always wins, we might find ourselves overindulging in pleasure, which might leave little space for deeper thinking, connecting to others, and honoring the wide spectrum of emotions that reside within us. Too much indulgence (Eros) that remains unintentional might even sometimes lead to more Thanatos (an overindulgence that can be harmful). It is hence important for the mediator to negotiate on our behalf by doing some more 'feeling' and 'thinking' on the matter. This comes at a price; we will have to courageously confront our instincts, which may bring up intense feelings of anxiety and distress, depending on our own past psychological trauma.

Returning to the initial question of this article, here are a few questions to think to ourselves; what might be the reason we are unable to apply change in our lives? How much life instinct and death instinct do we feel within us at any given time? Is there perhaps a tendency where we tend to choose one over the other? How are Eros and Thanatos manifesting in our lives, and how is our internal mediator negotiating between the two? Are we stuck in one state always? Perhaps, some food for thought.

Thank you for reading, till next time.

Tony Georgiadis - Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor (MBACP)

Author: Tony Georgiadis - Therapist and Counsellor in London and Online

In person and Online Counselling and Therapy


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