Entropy is defined as: (1) a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system; (2) lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder; and, (3) in information theory, a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.
Developed in the context of thermodynamics, most psychologists feel entropy does not have an equivalent or synonym in mental health or psychology. Yet it is appealing and many, including Carl Jung, have attempted to draw parallels in the area of psychology and mental health.
Many human problems can be characterised as the result of negative energy being permitted to continue or even flourish, which then ‘trends to disorder’. Take the well-known concept of passive-aggressiveness in relationships, or the failure to communicate assertively.
Of all communication styles this one tends to be the most damaging, short of outright violence, because it does not allow for correction or adjustment in relationships. Rather, it facilitates further misunderstanding and conflict.
One can see the parallels to entropy. A method of ending this trend to disorder is to ‘de-triangulate’ by simply removing oneself from the conflict, especially when it originates between, and therefore is owned by, other individuals. Doing so alters the outflow of negative energy.
One could argue that, of all human problems, suicide may be the ultimate conclusion of the process of unchecked, or un-reversed, entropy. The sufferer seeks release from unbearable pain, a very understandable motivation for any of us. One could characterise all attempts to help the sufferer as methods of checking or reversing a trend toward oblivion.
Reversing the trend could be called, in such an example, the restoration of hope, of order, of positive energy. Most of the time this approach works, thankfully. Many times, the reversal of this entropy comes from outside the individual, through the acts of supportive individuals or systems.
Sometimes these attempts fail. The sufferer continues to wage the battle or lose it, on their own. But even when we are totally on our own, altering the conduit of negative energy is still possible.
In the final throes, we may still choose to take responsibility for arresting the entropy in our lives. Without that, the energy may pass unchecked, and survivors tell us this is exactly what happens. The sadness, the pain, the wound, opens up a hole in the universe for those left behind. Even for those who were not known by the lost loved one. This hole never closes fully. All of us, all of humanity, suffer from the loss of gifts that are not manifested in our world. A world that desperately needs all gifts.
If you or someone you know is suffering, please call or chat online with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit their website.
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Dr Lee Keyes is a licensed psychologist and an Emeritus Director and Consultant with Keyes and Polychronis Consulting.