What Are Complexes?

According to Jung, some people develop complexes — related groups of emotionally charged ideas, thoughts, and images that exist in the personal unconscious and may be positive, negative, or somewhere in between — in reaction to their early childhood environment or experiences. For example, someone could have a healthy mother complex focused on nurturing, a negative mother complex focused on destruction, or for most people somewhere in between. Complexes can act as a subpersonality, and the more negatively charged complexes, or disruptive behaviors a person has, the more neurotic or psychotic that person becomes.

One goal of Jungian therapy is to bring any unconscious and disruptive complexes into consciousness so the patient can limit acting-out behaviors in favor of more balanced, expansive choices. Enneagram coaches or therapists using the Enneagram as a resource for understanding human psychology may opt to identify and disrupt a patient's ego patterns as a way to help a client become more aware of undiscovered resources that her limited or fixated ego boundaries have excluded from her awareness.

Jung's concept of a personality complex is a grouping of repressed or suppressed urges that correlate to an ongoing theme. You could have a father complex, a mother complex, an abandonment complex, a power complex, and so on. A complex creates convictions and impulses that usually appear in behaviors that consciously or unconsciously express the needs of the complex. Sometimes a complex may develop as a separate persona, or alter ego.

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