1. How can one get rid of a complex?

  2. The question implies that complexes are always negative, and therefore must be gotten “rid of.”

    And I must admit, this was my view also, until I recently compared one of Murray Stein’s definitions of “complex” with the definition in Andrew Samuels’ Jungian dictionary.

    Then I thought about the predominance and realities of my own negative father complex, and came to the conclusion that complexes really cannot be gotten rid of.

    Rather, the best we can do is to confront, negotiate and/or wrestle with them, and ultimately to incorporate them into our personalities in the most workable way possible. Of course, all of this implies that we are at least somewhat aware that we have a negative complex to begin with.

    In Murray Stein’s The Principle of Individuation, a complex is definitely something to get “rid of.” On page 111, he states that a complex is “a festering emotional wound, often mostly unconscious, that has a life of its own. It harbors resentments, hurts, and angry and hurtful intentions, and it bubbles to the surface in spontaneous and often surprising ways. Complexes are the motivators of much psychological behavior. These unconscious engines of behavior and feeling were the most important discovery of Freud and Jung.” And further in his book, on page 139, Stein warns that the “complex has a will of its own—one that is often stronger than the ego’s capacity to resist.”

    Now, given Stein’s definition above, a complex is definitely something analogous to a skin wound that we must keep clean and exposed to air and sunlight (consciousness)—in order to get rid of it.

    However, I would suggest that our psyches really cannot forget or get “rid of” a serious emotional wound once it has been experienced. As the following Samuels dictionary definition suggests, the ego must somehow learn to develop a relationship with the negative complex, perhaps like a caring parent would comfort a disturbed or upset child:

    “It is also important to remember that complexes are quite natural phenomena which develop along positive as well as negative lines. They are necessary ingredients of psychic life. Provided the ego can establish a viable relationship with a complex, a richer and more variegated personality emerges. For instance, patterns of personal relationship may alter as perceptions of others undergo shifts.”

    • That’s interesting, Rick. I think I agree. The damage we suffer, like prima materia, perhaps, through understanding and compassion, can be transformed into a potential treasure. I think that’s a positive thing to believe. It may be hard, but the prize is worth it.
      Suffering and damage are inevitable – I would not want to suggest there’s a PURPOSE in it, but just as healed bones are often stronger at the join, so perhaps our psyches can be?

  3. Good point, Issy. I’m not a medical doctor, but if it’s true that a broken bone heals stronger at the break, that’s what I’m trying to say about how the psyche can heal a psychological injury.

    In other words, the negative aspects of the complex can be reconciled if the “cast” is set properly and the psyche is given the time and environment it needs to heal the “break”. Another good analogy may be how immunities develop in the body after a patient is inoculated with a form of the disease that won’t overwhelm the body’s defenses.

    But I’d like also add that I think our attitude towards a psychic wound is very important because it determines whether or not the wound heals properly, or in the case of inoculations, whether immunity develops.

    For example, if we think we’re expected to “get rid of” the complex, or “get over it” or “get through it,” this kind of implies that we should leave the complex behind, forget about it, or maybe dominate it. And if we can’t, we may feel even worse because we’ve failed to do this.

    I’m not even comfortable with the commonly used phrase in psychoanalysis called “depotentiating a complex.” To a suffering or immature ego, this phrase is likely to be construed as an inability to repress the complex, and repression is the last thing a complex needs. It needs to be understood and reconciled.

    I’ve also read that some schools teach that if a psychic wound heals, it’s normal for the wound to remain sensitive to the stimuli that caused the original wound. Again, to an undeveloped ego, this may be taken in the wrong way, and cause the ego to think it has a right to self-pity whenever it re-experiences the negative feelings and emotions associated with the complex. Now, the patient also has a “victim complex” in addition to the original injury.

    So, maybe a better way of dealing with a complex is to encourage the ego to continually look for opportunities to invite the complex into a relationship, or in other words, to mindfully “ask” the ego how it feels about: (1) the original injury, (2) the relevancy of its habit of continually re-experiencing the injury, (3) how other injuries are similar or different from the impact of the original injury, (4) what the ego can do to temporarily or permanently change the environment to allow the complex/wound to heal, (5) when the ego feels that the wound has healed sufficiently, etc.

    The final point I’d like to make is that this force in us that “asks” (or begs) the ego to reconcile the complex is the Self. In effect, the Self is constantly pleading with the ego to keep the “ship” stabilized, and always yearning for the entire organism to be whole, integrated, related and harmonized.

    This powerful energy center in the body is fairly foreign to Westerners and radiates or “thinks” from the heart area. It is what C.G. Jung refers to as the “fourth story” (chakra 4) in The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1932 by C. G. Jung (page 40). This internal drive from the heart area also involves the drive to individuate and is more powerful in Jung’s view than the sexual drive (chakra 2) and the will to power (chakra 3).

  4. That’s fascinating stuff, Rick. I’m really glad you responded. The Victim mentality issue is of great interest to me – I think that’s a big problem for many who have suffered some kind of psychological damage or illness. Self pity and the sense of being hurt by big bad others can seem to be more reassurng to the ego but is actually just making the situation far more unhealthy – and takes you further away from the goal of individuation.

    One thing I’m thinking now – does the process of communication with a complex perhaps help to progress the integration of the shadow and spur the transcendent fuction into action? It seems to me that as one addresses an issue, one sees its complexity and realises how many perspectives and colours it has. One can’t chop bits off, so one reconciles and holds the opposites together… and that’s how one moves toward healing.

    Am I on the right track at all?

  5. Issy, as long as you understand I’m not an expert, and that I’m kind of free-lancing here, I’d say you’re on the right track.

    After reading your second paragraph a few times, and after consulting with Samuels’ dictionary definitions of “shadow” and “transcendent function,” I agree with your comments.

    I also must tell you I’m responding to your comments from my understanding of a book entitled “Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System” by Anodea Judith, Ph.D, which references only one of Jung’s books in her bibliography, which is entitled “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1932,” edited by Sonu Shamdasani.

    In addition, this may sound hokey, but my thinking has also been affected by the teachings contained in the meditation/bio-feedback product called “Healing Rythms” produced by the Wild Divine Project (

    With that as a background, regarding Jung’s “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga,” although it’s the only book by Jung in Judith’s bibliography, I think it’s the most important because within it Jung provides us Westerners with a bridge to Eastern thought. I think it’s a great bridge, too, because we can freely go back and forth, and both traditions can learn a lot from each other, and “tweak” each other’s philosophy/psychology.

    Under the system Judith describes in her book, there are seven chakras or energy centers in the body, and Jung seems to agree with this. Jung describes the heart chakra in his book as the “fourth story” and Judith describes it as chakra #4 in hers. This chakra seems to be where the “transcendent function” occurs, i.e., the energy center that “reconciles and holds the opposites together,” as you say. Also, as Samuels explains in his dictionary, the word “transcendent” is “expressive of the presence of a capacity to transcend the destructive tendency to pull (or be pulled) to one side or the other.”

    Under Judith’s chakra system, the heart chakra is the key energy center, and as suggested above, its “job” is to kind of passively intermediate between the 3 lower realms and the 3 upper ones. (Westerners don’t normally view the heart chakra as the key or central energy center, and I think that’s a big part of our problem. We usually consider mental intelligence or the brain area to be the central place.)

    The three lower energy centers are (1) our roots in prima materia, which I think ties us into the archetypes; (2) our sexual drive, Freud’s main focus; and (3) the gut area, from which our will to power originates, an energy center which reminds me of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s focus.

    The three upper energy centers are (5) the throat area, (6) the eye area, and (7) the top of the head, or seat of “consciousness.”

    I believe that the 3 lower chakras represent the “shadow” aspect of our lives, which Samuels quotes Jung as describing “the thing a person has no wish to be,” i.e. our “dark side.”

    In short, I think the beauty of Jung’s psychology is that he recognizes that the three lower energy centers cannot be ignored or repressed. They must be welcomed, understood and carefully integrated by the psyche, or else we will have problems.

  6. Thank you so much, Rick, for taking the time to give such an informative reply. That book certainly sounds interesting!

  7. You’re welcome, Issy, my pleasure. Besides, it helps me better understand my own complexes as I discuss them.

    At the risk of over-staying my welcome, I’d like to tell you about one more (free online) book to enhance an understanding about complexes. It’s entitled “Evolution and Archetype: The Biology of Jung,” by John Ryan Haule, available at:

    John is a Jungian analyst from the Boston area and is awaiting a contract from Routledge Press, but informed me that it’s all right for others to access his book for now. I learned about the book after attending one of his seminars a couple weeks ago.

    Complexes can be very stubborn and irrational things for the ego to control and John has some interesting theories on how to handle them.

    In Chapter 7, entitled “Complex, Neurosis and Healing,” he explains that complexes kind of burn paths in the brain, and their automatic nature is caused by the fact that when the offending stimuli re-appear to the unsuspecting ego, and the complex is “constellated,” there was no time for reflection, and no time for the brain to take what John calls the “high road” path. Instead, the brain automatically takes the emergency “low road” and dispatches hormones, which means we’ve lost control. (In his book, he specifically names the parts of the brain involved.)

    As I understand it, the solution is to become increasingly conscious of one’s reaction to the stimuli, perhaps through mindfulness, meditation and/or analysis. In other words, the ego must become sufficiently quick at noticing the offending stimuli so as to give the brain a chance to take the “high road” and prevent it from sending a signal to the glands to produce (survival-based) hormones. (And depending on the kind of complex, I think there are several glands in the body that create different kinds of hormones).

    To help conceptualize what I’m talking about, if you’ve ever watched the Dog Whisperer on TV, Caesar Milan teaches that to prevent a troubled dog from acting badly, it’s important to nip the dog’s bad behavior in the bud–i.e. before hormones are released–or else it’s too late. For example, the dog (ego) may need a (non-violent) “nudge” from the owner (Self) as soon as the dog’s ears begin to rise, or the dog begins to stare intensely, or adopts an aggressive posture, etc.

    Otherwise, if we don’t catch the signal in time, the complex will “constellate.” The idea is that eventually the dog (ego) learns to control the negative aspects of the complex.

    It may sound crude to compare our reactions to our complexes with dog behavior, but I think you get the idea.

  8. Thank you very much! And the dog analogy makes perfect sense. I’ve bookmarked the book too.

    Much appreciated, Rick.

    Mindfulness is interesting, in fact, the whole concept, as with Eckhart Tolle, of focussing on the moment not the contents of mind. The kind of detachment that offers, if practised, from the habitual responses, is definitely useful.

    I guess it’s what our mother’s told us – count to ten! But rather more considered.

    I find hypnotherapy useful also to help, presumably in ‘rewiring’ to send my response on the ‘high road’.


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