In many myths, a dark destructive force, whether Zeus or the Devil, often appears in an ambush-like manner, thwarting the hero’s best intentions. This negating, often judging and disdainful force causes chaos, often stunning the hero into a disheartened place. Psychologically, this destructive force is called a complex.
Complexes are deeply rooted in us and can be sourced back to our childhood. They are a collection of associations, ideas, opinions and beliefs that are grouped around sensitive feelings.
Apple pie, ballet and the smell of hair dye may be bundled together with the feeling of acceptance forming a Mother complex. A Father complex may be composed of the smell of Jack Daniels, a messy room and the feeling of humiliation.
The activation of a complex is always marked by the presence of some strong emotion, be it love, hate, anger, anxiety or sadness. When our ‘buttons have been pushed,’ a complex has usually been activated. Tears begin to swell. We may ‘fly off the handle’ for no apparent reason.
Complex energy is separate from our usual personality and thus, we are usually unconscious of it. However, it appears when triggered from outer associations. When activated, we speak and act and feel out of the complex, not how we want. We later think, ‘What was that all about?’ When complexes arise we often feel “as if something came over me” or “Wow, there’s a lot of energy around that!”
When we over identify with specific roles and tasks, an elevated amount of energy around the persona or situation is created. The resulting complexes may be an Organizer, a Teacher or a Martyr Complex. The Inferiority Complex shows up as a devaluing of our needs and a difficulty in expressing our points of view and our desires.
How can you identify your complexes? Due to the strong feeling toned nature of the complex, a good place to start is to become aware of where you are emotionally charged. This may range from becoming slightly agitated when hearing someone talk about a certain topic, to times when you seem to be ‘taken over’ with anger or sadness by something.
Complexes also act as distracters when activated by situations or people associated with the initial complex. Thus, they appear unconsciously through misreading words, forgetting or transposing people’s names, pausing mid-sentence and other slips-of-the-tongue. This is the theory behind word association lists used in psychological testing.
Although complexes are often short-lived, sometimes a complex takes over for a longer period of time and we may lose libido, feeling depressed or ‘in a funk.’ In spite of our conscious efforts or intentions, complexes have a life of their own. Jung described the power of complexes with the idea that “complexes can have us.” Although we cannot get rid of complexes, we can learn how they influence us.
Ideally, when we become aware of our complexes, we can at least defuse and shorten their hold on us, with the intent of making choices and behaving from a more conscious place.