Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 2
In my first post on self awareness and the most stressful life events, we looked at some of the complexes that can assail us in stressful situations: but just what exactly is a feeling-toned complex?
And, how can dealing with a complex enable me to better deal with stressful situations, including the most stressful life events? Jung tells us,
“All human beings have complexes. They constitute the structure of the unconscious part of the psyche and are its normal manifestations. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it. …Experience shows us that complexes are infinitely varied, yet careful comparison reveals a relatively small number of typical primary patterns.”
For Jung, unlike Freud, all complexes have an archetypal core or root. A complex comes about because one of the great archetypal themes of human life has been touched upon. There are many of these but some of the key ones are:
The names of these archetypes might make them seem quite abstract, but they are very concrete in the way that they impact us.
Example: The Hero Archetype
“The hero archetype” might seem like a very abstract idea, but it certainly impacts people in concrete ways.
Example. Consider a child, male or female who, in line with the parents’ conscious or unconscious expectations, is raised to be a “hero child”.
Such a child unconsciously carries the expectations of the family and its values, hopes and dreams. The child moves through life, meeting expectations, sacrificing for the family, and shelving what he or she really thinks, wants and feels, in favour of the family’s idealized picture of who he or she should be.
In major life transitions, a person may realize he or she is living out the family’s idealized career choice — doctor, lawyer, accountant, clergy, police, you name it — or defending parents’ or siblings indefensible behaviour, for the sake of “doing things right for the family.” The individual unconsciously takes on the characteristics of “the hero” (even the superhero) and ignoring his or her own life needs for “the greater good” (or the family’s distorted version of it).
But the hero archetype is inhuman. Heroes are figures of myth, not actual human beings. Heroes such as Achilles or Hercules in Greek myth, Cúchulainn in Irish myth or the Babylonian Gilgamesh are often at least half-gods.
The hero archetype gets called forth in times of extreme stress, when individuals respond in a heroic manner to a particular challenge to the group, e.g., a soldier whose courage saves the lives of those in his platoon.
But a person can’t live in hero mode.
A “family hero” driven by a complex pays an enormous price. He or she may face extreme hardship in dealing with the most stressful life events (e.g., serious illness or death of a family member) but also risks living inauthentically, never as truly her- or himself, but some archetypally-tinged version of others’ expectations.
Becoming Aware of Complexes
This example shows how an archetypally rooted complex can run the show in the most stressful life events, and, often depleting and alienating a person from who they actually are.
Jung and others showed that a complex works as a “splinter personality.” When in its grip, I’m consumed by its concerns and unaware of myself as a complete person. When complexes have us, we can find ourselves saying and doing completely out-of-character things.
Awareness of powerful complexes often only occurs gradually. If we become even somewhat conscious of the presence of a powerful complex in our lives, it can be quite a disturbing event. Complexes are best dealt with in /a-midlife-transition, where they can gradually be made conscious, and their power to take us away from our real selves defused.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst