Archive for March 2013
It’s Easter Sunday morning in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. This means that in two weeks from today I will be flying home with my wife to Canada. But of course, there is more to Easter Sunday than a calendar reminder for me. I have chosen a photo I took two days ago, the view from behind the small church in Puerto Morelos, with a statue of Mary beneath one of the lattice windows of the church. I haven’t attended any Easter service since 1993 when I attended the service in Avignon, France. Somewhere along the way, I lost the connection with my French Catholic heritage. However, I never did lose the resonance with the mysteries of soul and spirit that certain days are able to evoke.
Today is the official day of a new season of life, for me, an annual resurrection like some phoenix bird arising out of the ashes of the old year. The warmth of the sun urges flowers to appear, stirs animals and birds to come together for unconscious procreative purposes. As I meditated this morning, I felt the stirring as well. What new manifestation of my self will arise from the tomb of who I was, what new consciousness will burst forth into the sunshine of rebirth.
A child, such as the type of child that I was who either adopted or was thrust into the role of mediator or go-between within the family, internalizes the idea of being the good child of the family, one who carries the shadow, the families secrets as a personal burden. I found out early that I was different from everyone else. Others could be messy, but my being special carried the responsibility of cleaning up the mess. Rather than going to a parent, siblings came to me with their problems for that is what my parents did. Not knowing any better, I took on that burden rather than shouting out, “But I’m just a kid!” That’s the problem with magical thinking. Powerless to avoid the burden, one comes to believe that this is the way it is supposed to be, that this is the kind of person one really is.
Typically, a child that takes on this role will engage in relationships with others in school and in play that reinforces the patterns.
“Thus the problem of powerlessness subtly works its way through the life of an individual. One may even go so far as to choose – if that is the right word, for it is surely and unconscious choice – to have relationships only with weak or wounded persons so that the template of care-giving is served.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 25]
When one becomes of an age, one finds that one is being attracted to some young women, but not others. As I reached that age in high school, I found that my female friends as well as my male friends were the obviously wounded souls, those who were rejected by their peers – consciously and unconsciously rejected. Of course, I didn’t understand what was going on within me and within them; all I knew was that with these friends, I was important. I held their trust, their pain, their secrets without divulging anything from my own past. All that existed was the fact that I was there for them as I was for my siblings and my mother.
As a male leaves childhood and youth, there is usually also a time for leaving the home and his mother. However, regardless of the distance travelled from home, and mother, a male can never leave his mother-complex. The complex buries itself deep into the psyche, into the unconscious where it lays dormant. And when does it show up? Typically, when one falls in love. One finally meets that one special person who allows all the self-beliefs, conscious and unconscious, to be held by her, held unconsciously. Jung calls this the dance of projection and hooks, a dance that goes in both directions at the same time. One doesn’t fall in love by accident. Somehow, the psyche senses the presence of a psyche with which it can mate, that is, have a hook which is prepared to catch certain kinds of projects. A man needing to be in control, finds a woman who needs to be fathered. A man needing to be nurtured, finds a woman who needs to mother. It isn’t as simple as all of that – but then again, it is really that simple if one could just set aside thinking and the illusion that one is really in control of the self.
“Many therapists will recognize this common pattern in a relationship, a ballet of approach and avoidance, where one partner needs reassuring closeness and the other is more comfortable with distance. One draws close, seeking assurance, while the other, feeling invaded, draws back, raising the anxiety level of both. In the latter’s need for protective space is the desire to do what the child could not do, that is, keep the intrusive Other at bay and preserve a fragile psychic integrity.” [pp 25-26]
It sounds kind of messy. And I know from living this dance, that it is very messy indeed. At some point, someone has to wake up and see what is going on in the relationship. And when that happens, the relationship as it was, is no more. I quickly must say that it isn’t the end of the relationship, necessarily, it is the end of the relationship as an unconscious ballet of approach and retreat.
“. . . the capacity to suffer wounding and learn to adapt to it is crucial to the development of self. . . We have wounds, and the clusters of energy that accompany them, because we have a life history. The deeper question is whether we have the wounds or they have us.” [Hollis, The Eden Project. p. 21]
The wounding – are we victims of our woundings; or, do we use these woundings to craft the unique individual we are?
So, getting back to my own story which is not so unique as all men have a story that includes a mother-complex, it is important to note that how a man is wounded has a huge impact on how one responds to life and to relationships to life, particularly to the women in our lives. Our mother-complexes exist because we have parental imagos, that is, we all have images of parent – mother and father – regardless of ever having had a particular relationship with one’s unique biological parents. Present or absent, a relationship exists within the psyche. Positive or negative experience, presence or absence, too muchness or not enoughness – all help to colour that image we unconsciously build of parent and of our future relationships to both men and women.
“Children are driven unconsciously in a direction that is intended to compensate for everything that was left unfulfilled in the lives of their parents.” [Jung, CW 17, par 328]
To understand the unconscious image we build of mother and father, we not only include our experiences, but as Jung tells us. we have all the unconscious inheritances of those images within those we engage in familial relationships. The unlived lives of parents influence their way of being with their children. All this and more all mixes together in an unconscious mess, a shadow image that becomes our foundation for what it is to be mother and father. As well, it serves to create the roadmap for relationship.
My story of being a child to a woman who was also wounded as were her parents allows me, at this point in my life to understand and accept better the wounds inflicted unconsciously. That said, I was a child.
“If I have found myself essentially powerless against the Other, and what child has not, then how am I to comport myself in order to manage this distress? If I have routinely been invaded by abuse, verbal, emotional, sexual, or have more commonly been at the mercy of the moods and emotional vagaries of the parent, so I am inclined to identify with the Other.” [Hollis, p. 23]
Identifying with the Other, in my case my mother. James Hollis, in his book, The Eden Project, exposes the raw truths and how response to wounding makes its way into relationships and life in general. With abuse, one either learns to be controlling or to be pleasing. I fell into the pleasing mode of managing my response to abuse.
“Since the child felt powerless in the face of the Other who was yet the source of well-being, so it learns to be pleasing, to be mollifying or overly responsible for the well being of others. What is called co-dependence is one such anxiety management strategy. If I am responsive to the needs of the Other, the, possibly, the Other might be there for me. ” [Hollis, p. 24]
As I read these words, I was shocked. How had Hollis got inside my head? These words exposed me, left me feeling naked and vulnerable. I thought, “Now everyone will know the truth about me, that I am a defect, not really a caring person at all, but someone who acts this way simply to keep the darkness of abuse barricaded. As the eldest child, I was the one who brothers and sisters would go to for help. I became the alter parent. I took care of my mother’s needs and found that what I did was never enough as more and more was needed. As an adult I became the trusted “go-to” teacher, the one to whom others would tell their sad tales knowing that I cared and would support them. I was the mediator between students, between staff and even for others in the community. I took it all on yet somehow knew that it was never enough. My childhood survival tactics translated into the tactics that I would use as an adult. And, as to be discovered in another post, into the tactics that I would bring to relationship to the woman who became my Magical Other.”
I am ready to go on with what I had begun last day, looking at how my Mother Complex makes its appearance in my life and how it influences my relationships. Though I do find myself going on and on about the technical stuff, the ideas and words that I have learned through my study of Jungian psychology, I do so so that as I present my case study, I will have in place a foundation to understand and present the case study. As expected, any case study must begin with the child and the mother. Since it is the child who will have the mother complex, the central focus shifts to that child, through the lens that the child uses to decode and understand the world. Now, to be fair, one has to realise that a child is just a child and does not have the mental faculties needed to objectively analyse the world. So, what will emerge through the lens of a child is just a version of reality. Of course, that version of reality does have its roots in the experiences that the child has in relationship to his or her mother, and for this particular case, the relationship that I had with my biological mother.
For the next part, I will relate some of the known story. My mother was a young teenager when she became pregnant with me which resulted in her having to get married to my father before I was born. Becoming pregnant resulted in her being tossed from her home, a quiet Protestant anglophone home, and having to learn to live in a boisterous and rowdy French Catholic home. She didn’t know the language or the culture. She had been rejected and thrown away by her own culture, her own father (and mother). Not long after the marriage, my father left to chase his dreams in the wild west, hoping to become rich and famous in the process. The scene isn’t a pretty one in which a young teen-aged girl/woman could feel confident and positive. So how does this find its way into the psyche of a young infant?
“. . . the infant reads the world in other ways to figure out what it is saying. As early as six weeks, infants have been fount to mirror their parent’s face, emulating fear, depression, joy and so on. In this process, the child not only seeks its own grounding in some elemental reality, but also assumes the emotional reality of the Other. . . ” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 19]
My mother was depressed, often withdrawn into herself as the world swirled around her in what she could only see as chaos. It’s not the best way to bring a child into the universe, but as someone important to me is prone to say, “Shit happens. Get over it and get on with life.” Life indeed goes on and the process of building a mother-son relationship continues. Now, it is important to understand that children are prone to magical thinking, thinking that not grounded in reasonably in reality. This magical thinking sees the child interpreting the world as centred around him or herself. I will give an example: Dad went away and left Mom alone and sad – something I must of done or said or not done or not said made Dad leave Mom. The child is not old enough to be able to understand the bigger picture, but has no doubt that since he or she is at the centre, he or she must have caused the negative result. But time, changes all of this. An infant becomes a toddler and then a child ready to participate in a larger world, larger than the hot-house of the biological family.
“In addition . . . there are other experiences that have a huge impact on future relationships . . . the wounds of too-muchness and not-enoughness, engulfment or abandonment.” [p. 20]
It seems that no matter what we do as parents, what children experience is some sort of wounding of the psyche. The best that we can hope for as parents is to be “good enough.” Perhaps good enough is good enough. Was my mother good enough? Before I answer that question, I do have to say that she, like every woman that becomes a mother, could only do as well as she could. It is a rare, extremely rare woman who doesn’t do her best possible to be a mother. Now, as I experienced and interpreted being mothered, I would have to say it wasn’t good enough. I don’t blame her. She did her best.
“But it is nonetheless inevitable that the prime source of wounding to the child will be the parents. Since we are human, our less than perfect nature will necessarily impinge upon the child and leave its imprint forever.” [p. 20]
And it is this imprint that we carry with us that will influence our relationships to men and women in our adult lives. And, it is vital that wounding does occur as it is through wounding that one is pushed to learn and adapt and survive and perhaps even thrive as individuals. So, I don’t blame my mother. But that said, there is still the issue of a mother-complex to uncover.
Grow up! Stop being a two-year old! Stop being such a baby! Be a man! What kind of man are you? Stop asking my permission! Grow some balls!
Before I even begin to write this blog post, I realise that it will take quite a bit of space and time to get it all said. After the last post, about the need to be authentic and transparent, I know that this is one area that I need to stop avoiding. Every man who has ever been in a relationship, if that man is honest with himself, knows that his partner is more than just a physical person. I am married, yet at times I become a child with my wife. Consciously I know she is my wife and that I am enjoying her physical and psychological presence as my wife, as my love-mate. Yet there are things going on beneath the surface that we both become dimly aware of – something uncomfortable lurking beneath the surface. And we may or may not give voice to what we sense. My wife has no problem telling me that I leave her feeling as if she is my mother rather than my wife at times. that I have, at least for a moment, become a child. At times I hear her call me Papa, moments where I am a dependable authority who will make the good decisions needed for the questions that are ready to be asked. Both of us shift out of our relationship as husband and wife, and become mother and father and for the most part, we are unaware that it has even happened. And truth be told, we both vehemently deny the appearance of the inner child into our relationship with each other. In other words, we are normal people in a relationship, not unlike every other relationship that exists in some fashion.
What has appeared for both of us, are complexes; a mother complex for me and a father complex for her. We all have complexes and they almost always show up in our relationships with people; intimate relationships, friend relationships, work relationships, community relationships. Whenever we find ourselves reacting with energy to another person, a complex has been activated. There are all manner of complexes that lurk beneath the conscious surface. But rather than try to list most of them here, I want to focus on just one, the mother complex. Why this complex and not a different complex? Well, it is this complex that is messing up quite bit of my psychic life – and actively since the death of my mother just over a year ago. With that said, it’s time to begin.
Before there comes into being, a mother complex, there is something beyond our personal experience of mother. Of course there is the instinct of mothering in each woman and of being mothered, by all infants. The role seems to exist outside of the limits of any one, single female. C.G. Jung called this bigger than life mother, the Archetypal Mother. It is the psychic source from which each woman takes her turn, should life allow, at being a mother whether it is intentional or not. Even women who never bare children slip into the role of mother, sometimes consciously, most times unconsciously, during her life. Every child exists because there is a mother. So much for the background of the mother archetype. If you want a fuller understanding, the pdf that is linked above will likely provide enough before heading into the depths of Jung’s work for a more complete understanding. It is enough for now to say that in spite of the reality of my biological mother, there is/was more going on within me which has made its way into my relationships.
Daryl Sharp, in his book, Getting To Know You, takes some time to explain how complexes such as the Mother Complex, limit our ability to relate to another person.
“To the extent that we’re still unconscious of ourselves, so we are limited in our ability to relate psychologically to another person.
Let me put it another way: whatever aspects of ourselves we’re not conscious of, we’re apt to see in someone else. The question is, are we then relating to that person at all, or to an unconscious side of ourselves?” [Sharp, p. 29]
There is so much more to say, but I have to be patient and approach this without trying to say it all at once. But before I leave today’s post, I want to end with some words from Jung, words which will serve as a direction sign post for where this will take me, as well as where I have already been.
“Complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance; they produce disturbances of memory and blockages in the flow of associations; they appear and disappear according to their own laws; they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way. In a word, complexes behave like independent beings.” [Jung, CW Volume 8, par. 253]
Being a psychotherapist doesn’t make one immune to the descents into the dark side of one’s being. Doctors get sick and priests have crises of faith. So it is for therapists who wrestle with the demons of the psyche. Much of the issues that come from crises of faith and descents into the darkness of the psyche have to do with transference. Listening to, being attuned to, engaging with, and simply being with parishioners and clients-patients activates something in both parties.
As the professional opens doors, the contents of those they work with often serve as triggers and at times find themselves hooking into the psych of the professional. For a while, the priest becomes the father, the god-like being he stands in place of as mediator. The same is true for therapists who become either father or mother, again becoming a saviour, god-like for their patients. The professional holds the contents as if they are sacred (which they indeed are) taking some of the weight from their parishioners and patients. Taking the weight, they allow space for breathing and with that breathing, an opportunity to find some healthy release and with that release, an opportunity to heal.
But there is a cost to the therapist and to the priest – that cost must be paid. There is a need for the healers to find someone to whom they can turn to work through their personal stuff that get activated in holding and dealing with the stuff of their parishioners and patients. I have found myself bending almost too far and so needed to find the resources that I needed to recharge my batteries. But in the space in between holding too much and release from that too much, I have my own crisis of faith, of psyche, of self. The healer must take his or her turn at being healed again, and again, and again. To be a good priest in being able to handle the crises of his parishioners, the priest must have lived and survived his own crises – only then can he be in tune with and thus serve as a healer. The same is true for a therapist – in order to heal, one must have been broken and then gone through the process of being healed.
In today’s professional world of psychotherapy there is no guarantee that the therapist has been there and done that. The only guarantee (usually) is that the therapist has attended classes and achieved certification. The have learned well from books and have practised using the appropriate skills. And as consumers of therapy, there is a tendency to look at the certificates and hope for the best. Who would trust an older man or woman without the certificate?
In my career as a school principal at various schools, I found that some of my best staff, being able to work with students and help them learn, to relate, to connect – were not trained teachers. Some were parent volunteers, some were trained to assist with special needs students (or at least be willing to work with these students as an aid). Some of the worst people I have had in my schools had good education, high marks on their transcripts, and had attended very reputable colleges of education at high calibre universities. I learned as a principal that needed to look beyond the certificate and find the person standing behind the certificate.
As a therapist in need, I, like my clients, need to find someone to trust so that I may work in a safe containing relationship to heal myself. It isn’t enough just to download onto a different healer, to transfer my stuff onto a guru or analyst or bishop or . . . There is an apt expression that comes to mind – “Physician heal thyself” –
“The phrase alludes to the readiness and ability of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or willing to heal themselves. This suggests something of ‘the cobbler always wears the worst shoes’, i.e. cobblers are too poor and busy to attend to their own footwear. It also suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so and, when sick themselves, are no better placed than anyone else.” [The Phrase Finder]
“One has no right to talk about the last stage until he has accomplished the second one. One has no right to talk about the oneness of the universe until he is aware of its separateness and duality.” [Johnson, He, p. 8]
The second stage, the “imperfection of middle life” stage is where most of us get stuck and stuck hard. I have met a number of people holding all manner of belief systems that claim they are well into the third stage of enlightenment, people for the most part much younger than I am. I don’t mean to be judgemental, but most of these people are grasping and squeezing the rituals and the status of “enlightenment” that is awarded by participation in a particular belief system such as Ascendant Masters, Scientologists, Mystics, and so on. The New Age movement is rife with all sorts of esoteric belief systems that promise a way out of the messiness and discomfort of the imperfection of middle life.
To be honest, I can’t lay this all on the New Age movement for fundamentalist religious participation promises the same thing, promises enlightenment if one suspends all critical thinking and accepts the theology of the particular religion as the “Word of God.” And if one begins to doubt, the community of faith will rally around and pray for one to regain certainty, total and complete trust in the faith. One learns to deny one’s inner doubts, one’s own questions and even the stirrings of one’s own body. One learns to deny self, to deny the authority of self, to deny the evidence of the senses. And in that embracing of denial, one becomes a fanatic claiming enlightenment through faith and with that enlightenment, power. Men who gravitate to fundamentalism become blind to themselves as they cast their shadow and the shadow of their chosen people onto others who have not embraced their faith.
Our human history is a sordid, violent and angry history made by men who step into the role of the enlightened without having dealt with their personal imperfections. We have fought wars with God on our side, feeling justified in committing any and all dark behaviours on the heathens, on those who by definition of not being enlightened, are the mindless peasants and minions of the devil, of Satan.
For a man, even in our modern and more liberal societies, becoming aware of the dual nature of being a man, the dual nature of the universe as he sees and senses; and then accepting that dual nature which in turn changes his behaviour, even his manner of being present in the world – life becomes more problematical in relation to these fundamentalist groups be they religions or New Age movements. As a man becomes aware of his inner feminine, his manner of relating to the world is altered. He becomes a bit softer and gentler. Now a soft and gentle man becomes a target for those who feel threatened. Men feel their own masculinity being threatened, often seeing that softness and gentleness as signs of homosexuality. Women who are in relationships with these soft and gentle men feel their space being invaded and even their security being threatened – who will then protect and provide for them if their man stops being manly?
Yet, as Johnson points out, there is no way to enlightenment that does not cross completely through the messiness and complexity of middle life. One must abandon the blind obedience to dogma, to any given philosophy in order to be able to wrestle the demons of his inner darkness to a draw, to find balance between the darkness and light, to find that space between breaths – the field of true enlightenment.