Over nearly a century, a vast corpus of psychological research has underscored the salience of mental flexibility for optimal mental health and life satisfaction. This concept is often discussed in connection with the “Dionysian Personality Style,” a term adopted by David Spiegel, an eminent psychiatrist and a professor at Stanford University.
DIONYSUS, APOLLO, AND ODYSSEUS: THREE WAYS OF BEING HUMAN
Spiegel, drawing on the profound philosophical and cultural history of the ancient Greeks, chose to typify the dichotomy of mental flexibility and rigidity using the characters of Dionysus, Apollo, and Odysseus. Each of these Greek deities represents distinct personality types, with Dionysian signifying mental fluidity, and Apollonian and Odyssean representing a more rigid style of thinking.
The Dionysian personality type, as suggested by its name, corresponds with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, pleasure, and festivity. People who display this personality type are often perceived as spontaneous, impulsive, and emotionally expressive. They revel in the richness of experiences and are open to exploring different perspectives, thus embodying mental flexibility. This quality allows them to adapt to changing situations and make peace with the inherent unpredictability of life. Consequently, they are more likely to achieve higher life satisfaction and mental health stability.
Contrastingly, the Apollonian personality type, associated with Apollo, the god of truth, prophecy, and order, reflects a propensity for orderliness, predictability, and rationality. Individuals with an Apollonian tendency prefer structure, rules, and order in their lives, often leading to a rigid cognitive style. Meanwhile, the Odyssean personality type, tied to Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, known for his wisdom and strategic thinking, exhibits similar rigid traits. These personalities often find it challenging to cope with life’s uncertainties and changes, predisposing them to various mental health issues and struggles with fulfillment.
Although the Apollonian and Odyssean types are not intrinsically problematic, the rigidity they exhibit may limit individuals’ ability to adapt to life’s ups and downs. It is this cognitive rigidity that can hinder emotional well-being, manifesting as inflexibility in thinking patterns, rigid behavior, and difficulty in processing and adapting to new information.
THERAPIES THAT WORK ON MENTAL FLEXIBILITY/RIGIDITY
Hypnotherapy, used alongside third wave mindfulness-based strategies, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), have proven clinically effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues. All of these therapies offer techniques to foster the mental flexibility that characterizes the Dionysian style and, as well as various Enneagram personality types associated with Dionysian functioning.
For instance, ACT used with hypnotherapy or alone, has been effective in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even chronic pain. MBCT, blending cognitive therapy techniques with mindfulness strategies, has shown promise in preventing relapse in depression and managing conditions like bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. DBT has demonstrated effectiveness in treating borderline personality disorder, self-harming behaviours, and eating disorders.
All of these therapies encourages us to embrace our thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them. This is often done by integrating acceptance strategies, mindfulness, and commitment to personal values, enabling us work work on and develop our own mental flexibility.
All the therapies mentioned above, including Hypnotherapy, ACT, DBT, and MBCT, have made significant strides in challenging and reshaping rigid cognitive patterns associated with the Apollonian and Odyssean personality types. Despite ACT having the word “Acceptance” in its title, the essence of all these therapies is fundamentally about acceptance – accepting one’s thoughts and feelings, embracing the uncertainties of life, and choosing actions in alignment with one’s values. This process helps individuals engage more fully with their present circumstances and fosters a more adaptable mindset. This approach aligns well with the Dionysian style’s core tenets, which encourage mental fluidity and promote psychological well-being.
Psychological flexibility entails open-mindedness, acceptance of one’s emotional experiences, adaptation to situational demands, and commitment to behaviours that align with one’s values. Hayes argues that this flexibility is essential for mental health, as it allows individuals to adapt to varying situational demands, reconfigure mental resources, shift perspective, and balance competing desires, needs, and life domains.
Furthermore, the core principles of ACT and other therapies, including hypnotherapy modalities – acceptance, cognitive defusion, present moment awareness, self-as-context, values, and committed action – all contribute to promoting this psychological flexibility. By learning to accept and not avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings, we learn how to better handle our experiences more productively.
Cognitive defusion (especially when done in hypnotherapy) helps in detaching from unhelpful thoughts, reducing their impact and influence. Being aware of the present moment, we can engage fully in what we are doing instead of getting lost in our thoughts about the past or the future. Understanding one’s self-as-context, helps us to maintain a sense of self even amidst changing thoughts, feelings, and roles. And by identifying our personal values, we can endeavour to live lives that are meaningful and satisfying to us. Lastly, committing to action allows us to make significant changes and move in directions that matter to us.
The psychological insights provided by the works of Spiegel, Hayes and others offer powerful strategies for understanding ourselves and those around us. The dichotomy of Dionysian, Apollonian, and Odyssean personality styles presents an insightful perspective on the human mind, illuminating the intricate interplay between our inherent personality traits and life satisfaction.