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A Start to Understanding Complexes

April 18, 2014

I’ve spoken a lot about the “archetypes of the functions” according to John Beebe’s model, but I’ve been reading a lot to slowly try to get a better handle of Jung’s concepts, and found stuff that really clarifies what these things we have been assigning to the functions (to give each function a “role” for each type) really are.
Of course, the archetypes mentioned for the eight function-attitudes are not all that there are. There are hundreds of archetypes, which are “ruling patterns” man has picked up since the beginning of time.Hence, they are said to be “collective“.  When  personalized for each ego, they then become what are known as  “complexes”.

The “Ego” itself” is an archetypal complex (the ruling pattern of “the conscious “I”), and the larger Self is an archetypal complex as well, representing psychic “completeness”. The “Shadow”, which Beebe associated only with “functions #5-8″ is the archetypal complex dealing with the unconscious in general, and particularly what we project onto others; usually negative, but also positive as well. Hence, we both “box” and “hug” our shadows, either fighting “enemies”, or adoring (or resenting) someone who has something we’re jealous of because we haven’t integrated it within ourselves.

So not too long ago, ( I cited this book which put things in an interesting way that really helps us understand what these parts of the ego are.

Ego Strengthening and Ego Surrender p.9
Diane Zimberoff, M.A. and David Hartman, MSW

Most people do not understand that  we are a loose confederation of fragments of identity rather than a single permanent and unchangeable ‘I’.
Every thought, every mood, every desire and sensation, says ‘I’. There are hundreds and thousands of small ‘I’s, usually unknown to each other, and often incompatible. Each moment that we think of saying ‘I’, the identity of that ‘I’ is different. We become lost into that identity when it dominates our thoughts, then into the next when it takes over. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly (Ouspensky, 1949, p. 59; Ram Dass, 1980, p. 138). Anyone who has meditated knows how resurgent the chattering mind can be.

He then gives four ways to think of these “I”s:

Absorption in identity – confining one’s attention to narrow segments of reality; e.g. “dumb blonde”, family identity, etc.
Higher/lower unconscious – lower: damaging experiences from every developmental age; higher: transpersonal “peak experiences”
Ego-states – e.g. “mad at mommy”, “eager to please”, etc.; father can play “peek-a-boo” with child one moment, and then respond seriously to an emergency the next. Complexes – e.g. ego (center of conscious identity), father, mother, hero, child, anima, animus, victim, etc.

At any given moment, one ego state has “executive” control.
The separation of ego states is “differentiation”. When differentiation is extreme, the ego states becomes the multiple “personalities” of dissociative disorders. Like I know someone online who apparently has DDNOS, and this concept helps me understand the condition.
(DDNOS is the partial case, where the person can remember one from the other. Full DID is the most extreme case, where they don’t remember one from the other. It really is like totally separate people). So the personalities include a main online video persona, a more reserved one who holds the real name, an embodiment of rage likened to the Hulk, an African themed figure, a flirt, straight, gay, opposite gender, opposite race, etc. (Beyoncé and some other celebrities are said to have some sort of sub-personalities as well).

A lot of people can identify with those; according to Jungian theory, everyone likely (many of them will be forced into unconsciousness and thus, the Shadow), but the difference is, that while they can take “executive control” at times, they don’t become so prominent that we don’t own them as fully “us” even when thinking about it.
That’s what makes them split off into other “personalities”. While these characters are not themselves classical archetypes; they can certainly be matched to them. Most characters (fictional, such as the Hulk, or otherwise) will fit an archetype (or in modern lingo, “trope”). The ego states represented are all a common part of human experience. Hence, a character embodying this will be a “ruling pattern”.
So we used to think of “split personality” (or “multiple personality disorder”) as so “out there”. (I think of the old school rap group UTFO’s rap “Split Personality” which basically made a kind of joke out of it).

But the concept of the multiple “I”s in everyone makes it seem not so strange at all. They are the same “ego states” we all have, but they just “dissociate” them more, where most people don’t.
Complexes can also become “autonomous”, where they take executive control at certain times. The best given for this is addictions. One “I” pledges to never touch the stuff again, but then some other “I” begins the familiar reasoning “just one more; just one, then I’ll stop”, “no one will ever know”, etc. Then, it’s successive “I”s keep pushing it further, until one finally says “heck with it”, and just indulges.

There’s also the other condition I recently mentioned (, “malignant narcissism”, where to maintain a “persona” of being a good person who’s victimized by others (when he’s really the one victimizing those he’s blaming, and they are simply at most fighting him back), and are yet confident and self-assured, the people like this experience “extreme inner dissociation, then fall into an infinite regression of being in denial about being in denial, which is to say, they are continually hiding from themselves.” They “seem confident and self-assured, but are, in reality, covering deep insecurities and fears through an inflated self-image.”

Malignant narcissists are unwilling and unable to experience their sense of shame, guilt or sin, as their narcissism doesn’t allow these feelings. This inability to consciously feel their “negative” feelings is at the root of the dynamic in which they dissociate from their own darkness, blaming and “projecting the shadow” onto some “other.” This splitting off and projecting out their own evil results in always having a potential enemy around every corner, which is why malignant narcissists tend towards paranoia. Malignant narcissists continually “need” an enemy and will even create new ones to ensure that they don’t have to look at the evil within their own hearts. They react with aversion to the reflection of their own evil. (

So to maintain this “I”, who’s all good and on one hand strong and self confident, and on the other hand wrongly persecuted by others, usually just for being so good (think “they hate America because of our freedom”), they have to separate off and deny the “I” that has victimized others, that they could not stand consciously owning as “I”.

So when descriptions of the Shadow speak of “disowning unacceptable parts of ourselves”; it’s the negative ones amongst THESE states being referred to. Or at least, ones our egos SEE as “negative”, even if they really might not be.

So regarding this complex we’ve been hearing a lot recently, “the Victim”. Ego Surrender p. 20 mentions

A particularly strong complex is the victim, which fights back when attempts are made to release it. An example is a woman who did some personal work on taking back her power only to find herself hours later flat on her back and helpless. It looked as if “the victim” complex was literally threatened by her healing attempts and proceeded to let her know who was in charge. She definitely appeared to be possessed by the victim.

Much of America, from politics to the Self-help industry (which often crosses over into Christian teaching) officially, openly despises this archetype. They speak out strongly against it when they see it in others.

Self-help teachers and coaches (and also religious teachers) have to prove that their philosophy “works”, and is “simple”. So you hear a big emphasis on terms such as “choice”, and negative forecasts of what will happen if this “simple choice” is not made (everything from “you’ll stay trapped in this cycle”, to getting “worse”; being “given over” to something, and even up to no less than Hell).
While they may be correct that choices have to be made in life, they still often gloss over natural weaknesses many people may have. But “no excuses” can be allowed when you have a “solution” you need to sell. It must be proven to “work”, and if it doesn’t, it must be the fault of the person who tried it. They didn’t really “try”. Or “you don’t ‘try‘; you just ‘do‘!”

This tough talk is underlied by a shadow of fear; from the need of survival in their field. This is a suppressed motivation in all these “no excuses” motivational teachers who insist they are teaching “black and white” “truth” that is put forth as being as absolute as “life and death”.

Another big area is politics, where people try to blame welfare for our economic problems, and insist the issue is masses of people “playing victim” or “whining” so that they may get “free handouts”, where it’s so “simple” to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. (It can be done online in a few clicks, it’s claimed). Exaggeration accompanies the suppression, just like the “so simple there’s no excuse” of self-help.

The same people will don this strong macho rugged “frontiersman” collective persona, pointing back to the past “when men were men”, and “God, guns, guts, glory” reigned.
They sound so strong and tough saying all this, but actually end up engaging in pure victim talk themselves! They are claiming to be “tread on” by all these “takers” and a “tyrannical” government supporting them, and that their “victimology” is part of this grand plot to destroy their nation, which is being carried out. All their rights are being taken away, they’re now the “minority” even, and they need their guns (including all sorts of assault weapons) to protect themselves from all these threats.

They think it’s different because their complaints are “legitimate” (i.e.“truth”), while the others’ motives are ulterior. But that doesn’t change that it’s still a Victim archetype that is loudly disowned and projected onto others. (And again, a lot of exaggeration gets involved, so that it’s never completely the truth).

So the “Victim” is a largely unacceptable archetype that most people do not see in themselves, and yet despise in others.
I imagine the part of us that would just accept life the way it is, is another archetypal complex, which we would also suppress. Perhaps “the Servant” or “the Martyr”. (A list of a bunch of them:

That’s when the Victim and others would come up, to defend our wants, but we likely imagine this is the Hero (a more positively connotated archetype) defending our legitimate rights, rather than a “victim”, which conveys “weakness”.
It’s like one “I” will consider accepting something, but then this other “I” will rise up and smack the first one down: “No, don’t take that lying down! [i.e. from the outer threat or disappointment] What are you, an idiot? Demand your rights. Raise your voice and show that you’ve been wronged by someone, rather than it being “just life”.

(I’ve been dealing a lot with this struggle in my “mid-life” stage). Then, another complex, “the Judge” will often rise up to name a “perpetrator” and judge the person’s motives. The Judge is usually described as turning inward, to condemn ourselves. Like think of a woman and her looks. With me, it will do that when I thought I had or should have had a handle on the situation. When it’s things totally out of control, then the Judge will turn outward, usually at someone “not caring” or doing it “on purpose” when it “didn’t really have to be this way”.

I realized this is why I liked the Scrappy Doo character so much. He burst in and changed a rut the Scooby series had fallen into, and also embodied the persona I wished I could live up to, defeating bullies who came after his passive uncle. (I’m talking second and third season. The first season character was truly more annoying and less useful). So I projected a Hero and Warrior(Opposing Personality) complex onto him.
But everyone else (likely going by that first season version only) projects the all-out “Demonic personality” on him, seeing him as an evil destroyer; and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. (They don’t realize the series had already gone downhill, and was even facing cancellation before they brought him in. I could see projecting the Trickster on him, but people’s reaction was clearly Demonic, to the point he has become such a universal negative trope, and a villain the other characters all don’t want to think about).


I’ve also seen it pointed out that it’s all about our social identity. We stand in “the light” of adaptation to social expectations, and this is what “casts” our “shadow”. That’s why an archetype that has a negative connotation, such as “weakness” (such as the Victim) is disowned. It doesn’t “look good” to social expectations. An angry complainer we do assume looks a little better, but then, it gets quickly called out as “whining”, which is a pejorative basically dismissing it again as a “Victim”.

Like to mention two of Beebe’s function archetypes, the Opposing Personality doesn’t really oppose the Hero; it opposes the Hero’s way of adapting to the outer world. So when we’re confronted by an outer situation that is blocking our genuine potential, we need the aggression of the OP to overcome the obstacle rather than defer to an existing power structure. (Hence, the OP dealing with the facing and overcoming of “obstruction”).
I know a lot of pain and frustration would be eliminated if I didn’t care so much about what others might think, or even the view I want to have of myself as “not taking no junk”.

So I’m supposed to tap into the “I” that relies on total objective logic instead of the subjective logic I argue with, which would be a critical inner “ETJ” type that really wouldn’t care what others think. (And Te would work in tandem with Fi that can have an inner sense of worth allowing me not to more properly evaluate the universal worth of what people feel. But that latter one is so far from ego consciousness, it’s very hard).

Also, the Senex actually embodies the human drive to develop an ego to begin with, so it is usually constellated when the dominant function has become too one-sided, where we take our knowledge for granted and feel most certain, making us the least reflective and short-sighted. This will harden into a brittle ego-centricity around the power of “I know”.
This will form the “authoritarian” sense the Beebe camp associates with the archetype.
So then, it’s when this is challenged, we will naturally feel negated, and likely become aware of this feeling through the perspective of the “sixth place function” (auxiliary in the opposite attitude), and then possibly react to the person posing the threat in a “cranky” or “witchy” way.

So this is like the “meta-‘I'” that pushes our dominant world-view, to the near exclusion of everything else. It then perceives affronts from the 6th function, so it’s almost as if the ego has so wrapped itself up in the dominant attitude, that both the dominant and auxiliary take on it’s character. This would be why there has sometimes been a debate (among those who try to really get back to the heart of Jung), as to which attitude the auxiliary should be in, or whether the tertiary (which is naturally the dom. attitude) is really a “second auxiliary”, and as prime example, what Jung’s type really was. “NiTi”, TiSe[Ni] NiFe[Ti], TiNe, etc.
(In other words, a person for whom this is happening to a lot may think his Senex function is his auxiliary, but since the Senex is the same attitude as the dominant, and the auxiliary must be the opposite attitude, then he —or those helping him with his type— may think that function is his tertiary instead. This will end up changing one of the letters of his type code, like an INTP thinking he’s ISTP because of an apparent “TiNi”. I never had this problem, because my auxiliary and true tertiary {NeSi} are so strong, Ni ended up as my weakest function).

So likewise, the Hero is the “I” that tends to come up to save the day through our dominant function, and the Parent is the “I” that tries to help others, through the auxiliary, and the Child (Puer) is the “I” that will want to find relief, or may childishly look up to others, through the tertiary. The anima/animus, being further down in consciousness; at the “border” of the unconscious even (and thus harder to think of in terms of “I”), is our sense of completeness through “otherness”.

You can also go the other way from the ego states being too dissociated. The states are marked by “boundaries“, so another problem a person might have is these boundaries being weak or eliminated. This is said to be psychosis. I’ve also heard the Demonic Personality complex associated with the removal of these ego boundaries, such as what people undergo during severe trauma, or shamanic initiation. The Self then takes over, and threatens the ego with destruction through dreams or visions, or at least tries to double-bind it (Trickster complex). The complexes are probably not so much “I”s then, as it’s the Self and not the ego dispatching them.
When really advancing in the process of “individuation”, they can do the same sorts of things to try to force the ego out of using the preferred perspectives all the time.

I’m still trying to square this away with Beebe’s use of those two complexes, where the ego basically turns to them against others. I guess, loosely, they can represents “I’s” that feel double bound or threatened with destruction from others through the associated functions, and then react as we project them onto those others.

I’ve also heard it suggested that “the Self” is probably what Jung considered “the Soul”, which is an indiscriminate vessel containing everything that happens to us. So it may be that individuation is to recognize these multiple “voices” of the soul.

You also read a lot of “possession” of or “identification” with complexes (Which is what defines “inflation” mentioned above in one of the quotes). Jung cited as saying “It’s said that people have complexes. But what people don’t realize is that complexes can have us”.
A paper I just read (on dreams, and it was one of those printed out classroom type presentations) described “identification” as an assumption that “it’s all that one is” (i.e you’re “nothing without it”).
Hence, even though you can still refer to yourself as “I”; if you feel you haven’t lived up to your Persona, for instance (the outer mask we wear to the outside, which Beebe also associates with the dominant, along with the Hero), they you’ll feel “I’m  nobody/nothing [no "I"], because I’m not {strong, beautiful, popular, successful, etc.} enough”. You’ve basically negated any “I” outside of the Persona, even though the Ego is still there as a separate entity.

So this is how to think of what we are describing when we talk of these internal “characters” that we understand all eight functions through. It should hopefully make it easier to understand and be able to recognize those strange parts of us that “use” unusual functions in certain situations.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on Dandy's Dream Review and commented:
    This is a very good explanation of the “Ego Complex”

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