Through a Jungian Lens

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The Deep Roots of a Complex

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“We cannot get rid of our complexes, simply because they are deeply rooted in our personal history. Complexes are part and parcel of who we are. The most we can do is become aware of how we are influenced by them and how they interfere with our conscious intentions.” [Sharp, Digesting Jung, pp 10-11]

I have to tell you that this doesn’t go down well with me. I mean, a healer is supposed to heal and we should be able to fix people up again so that the problem goes away. If we all have complexes and we can’t get rid of them by some means of psychotherapy, analysis, life coaching or drug therapy, what’s the point?

Perhaps when it all comes down to it, the point is simply to find some way of understanding. Like a toddler, we are constantly asking “Why?” to all the things that go on around us and within us – things for which we are honestly confused. In my own experience, I find myself totally drained of confidence as well as energy once a complex has retreated leaving me to pick up the pieces and to carry on with my life. I am left trying to explain to myself and to those who have been witness to the moment of what afterward seemed like being tossed around in a storm at sea with a life jacket or life boat.

“Why did you say . . . ?” asks one who had been witness. “I didn’t say that?” “Yes you did. Your exact words were . . . “

And when confirmation comes from others, you feel shame for what you don’t remember saying, for something you would never intentionally say.

“A complex . . . behaves life a partial personality. When we want to say or do something and a complex interferes, we find ourselves saying something quite different from what we intended. Our best intentions are upset, exactly as if we had been interfered with by another person.” [Sharp, Digesting Jung, p. 11]

In order to better understand this idea, think of someone you know who has had a bit too much too drink at a social event. You can likely recall how the alcohol seemed to bring about a change in personality so that the person becomes more talkative, more morose, more of a clown, more of a Don Juan. Perhaps she dances on top of a table shameless in her behaviour, or perhaps he retreats to a corner as though distrusting of everyone. It isn’t the alcohol that is acting out. The alcohol simply broke down the walls behind which we have banished our complexes. Of course, it isn’t only alcohol that lets our inner shadows to escape confinement.  Depression weakens the boundaries as well. And surprisingly, building the walls too thick with too many layers and too many locks for which we have thrown away the keys also invites complexes to emerge.

When the stuff within us that grew out of our traumas as children gets too buried, even forgotten, it is important to realise that what has been buried and denied doesn’t simply cease to exist because we have forgotten it, or because we say, “I don’t let the past bother me anymore.” Rather, that which is pushed down so deep that we forget its very existence in our earlier lives, sits in those depths building up pressure. For a long time we don’t feel that pressure. But one day, we begin to sense some sort of unexplained heaviness, lethargy, dullness or even uncalled for sadness. We typically shake it off with comments about the weather, a flu, or some disagreeable person with whom we had dealings. We take a drink of scotch, or go for a run, or eat some ice cream to shift the mood.

But the mood returns again and again, gaining in strength. And one day, a complex erupts and all hell breaks loose around us. When we come back into our heads and see the damage, we are shocked to the core. Do you think a man who loves his woman intentionally and consciously beats her? When faced with his terrible deed, he is as shocked as we are. He promises that this will never happen again and believes it as he loves her and has never thought of hurting her, never. But we know that it will happen again and again until he is convinced that there is something deep within himself that needs to be addressed and understood. Simply putting him into jail doesn’t fix the problem.

Of course, complexes aren’t always so dramatic. Sometimes they are a positive face of a person that would otherwise remain hidden. You’ve seen that as well in others. A brute you know from work somehow becomes gentle when with his grandchildren, playing as if he was not much older than them. Where did this gentle and lovable man come from when in every other circumstance he has been a authoritarian bully, never listening, disdainful of his employees?

I want to return once more to Sharp’s words for today’s post so that one can perhaps gain a bit more understanding about complexes.

“An early trauma is often at the root . . . What may happen in response to a painful traumatic event is that the ego dissociates. The self-regulating function of the psyche is activated and creates a complex that dis-remembers the event – it gets buried among the detritus of ongoing life. Like any other complex, it lies . . . in the unconscious until something happens to trigger it.”  [Sharp, Digesting Jung, p. 11]

I think I will have to return again to this topic as I can’t just let it hang here, unfinished. I have to uncover more, expose more if it is ever going to make any sense at all.

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Written by Robert G. Longpré

January 20, 2014 at 6:52 am

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