Through a Jungian Lens

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Anatomy of a Mother Complex – Pt 3

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A Great Kiskadee in flight

A Great Kiskadee in flight

“. . . 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.”


2 Responses

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  1. interested in your moms experience with mother similar experience left me grateful to not be included by these scorners..who still feel superior for not having personal experience or compassion, kept infantile


    March 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    • I will (hopefully) talk about her experience with “mother” but it will be difficult as she was loathe to talk about anything in depth, lived life denying just about anything and everything and preferred her own constructed version of reality until the very end when she knew that it was our last hour together. For her, all darkness of the past was was denied and forgotten, at least when one tried to engage in conversation.


      March 31, 2013 at 3:53 pm

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