Healing the Mother Complex or Learning the Power of No

images-1Beware. Many therapists, social workers, ‘do-gooders’ and ‘good mothers or fathers’ have a raging mother complex lying underneath the calm, kind exterior, and it’s a killer. This complex knows no gender boundaries and can be equally present in both  men and women. In my blog on The Inner Community, I talked about complexes in general, and how they can raise their ugly heads when you are least expecting it.

Well the mother complex can be one of the most surprising and disturbing of all the complexes, because it seems so, well, out of character. And when the mother complex is raging, you don’t want to be around. If it is raging in you, walk out that door. If it is raging in a significant other, walk out that door. Wait until the waters have calmed down before you try communicating, and if you are the one grappling with it, do everything in your power to try and understand it. The ONLY way to dismantle or at least disempower a complex is to bring consciousness to it.

Here’s how you know if you have this one running in the underground of your psyche. A big part of your conditioning has taught you to ‘turn the other cheek’ and put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. You feel that you should be good and kind to others even if that means you put your needs aside, to your own detriment. You are much better at discerning the needs of others than you are at identifying your own needs and desires at any given moment.  You do, do, do for others and then inexplicably feel burnt-out and resentful. You feel guilty when you do assert your own needs, and then are especially guilt-ridden and hurt when others get annoyed that you aren’t being the ‘good mother’ anymore.

When you are caught in the great mother complex, you become so focused on the needs of others that you are not in touch with your own needs. In other words, YOU are not taking care of YOU. On some level, you have abandoned your own inner child and feel hurt and angry that no one is taking care of you the way you are taking care of others.

So here’s the deal. Ultimately we all have to become responsible as mature adults for taking care of our own needs. It is unfair to put that responsibility onto someone else. Of course it is lovely when we have the time, energy and grace to extend to others in kindness and with a generosity of spirit,  but when it comes out of obligation and a big ‘should’ for too long, there is hell to pay.

Another problem that surrounds this complex is that if it has been a large part of your persona (the image you present to the world), the people around you come to expect you to always be there as the good mother. When you stop buying into this image of yourself and begin to become more authentic, it can feel like a rude awakening to those who want you to continue in your old role. However, the individuation process wants you to be in touch with your deeper Self and purpose, and not be trapped in any persona. You will know when you are not being authentic and true to your Self when you feel that you are going through the motions because of expectations from others. You might begin to feel a fierce rage and frustration because you feel trapped in this role.

So what to do? In the myth of Amor and Psyche Psyche (which means soul in Greek) has to journey into the underworld. She has been given many impossible tasks by the raging Aphrodite. (In this story she is not the beautiful goddess of love, but the raging mother). In this final and horrifying task, she has to journey to the heart of the underworld and meet with Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. She is given some very sage advice before she embarks on this journey. She is told that many poor souls will clamor most piteously for help, but she will have to remain focused on her task and refuse to help any of them. If she extends her hand to help them, she will be dragged down and all will be lost.

This seems like shocking advice to Psyche because it runs against the grain of everything she has been taught. But she also realizes that the transcendent help she has been receiving all along in order to accomplish the superhuman tasks that Aphrodite has set for her, is the only thing that has been getting her through. So she follows the advice and is able to get to the heart of the underworld, meet Persephone and then return to the world above. In other words, Psyche had to learn the power of her No in order to deal with the raging mother.

So this is the lesson. You must dig deep into the heart of your complex and journey into your own underworld. You must understand it in yourself. If you are feeling an inner rage, then something is afoot, and only consciousness can bring it into the light of day. You have to take responsibility for your own feelings and stop blaming others. If you are operating out of a mother complex, you have to realize it and get in touch with your needs and your feelings and then determine what action you need to take. If it means saying no to what others have traditionally expected from you, try to do so in a kind but clear and firm way.

You may have to negotiate your way out of this. It is not an easy journey for you or for those around you, but tremendous growth and new responsibilities for everyone are in the offing.  As they come to terms with you as a full person, and not just the good mother, they will begin to see you differently and to respect you in a new way. It may be a rocky road in the beginning, but it is a journey worth taking.

How do I forgive?

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How do I forgive?

This was a question that again came into focus as I talked with an old client I hadn’t seen in many years. Deep woundings of the psyche can fester for years, and probably even lifetimes. They are like the deeply entrenched psychic tattoos that simply don’t go away. And so how can we heal these wounds – can they even be healed? Or do they just scar over as we try to move on with our lives? Sometimes we see individuals who are so scarred, and therefore so armoured, that the scarring interferes with their abilities to have and to hold close and intimate relationships.

I think these are deeply personal soul issues that shape our lives, and so of course there is no easy answer. However, as a therapist I am always interested in how we can come into a different relationship with these old wounds so as to free the individual and help them move into an easier flow with life and with significant others.

To forgive or not to forgive? How do you forgive an atrocity or horrible abuse? Somehow we have this notion that if we forgive someone who has done something very terrible to another human being, they are off the hook. This is simply wrong thinking. We are never off the hook for something terrible we have done unless we truly regret or repent with consciousness. And if we don’t do that, and do our best to make amends, we carry that with us in our souls. The laws of karma will inexorably kick in. I have seen this over and over. And it’s not pretty.

But my focus here is not so much on the perpetrator, but on the one who feels victimized and harbours the anger and the sadness, and is unable to live life fully. It is a very human trait to hold onto grudges, and to mentally and/or verbally curse someone. We curse them every time we speak and think negatively about them. We are sending the offenders negative energy, and that will affect them to a degree. While that may be a satisfying thought in the vengeful sense, the deeper problem is that it harms you more. Holding onto anger and a feeling of victimization is very damaging to the person who is holding onto these dark and destructive feelings. We stew in it, dwell on it, and turn it over and over in our minds. It affects our moods, our behaviours, our relationships, our health and worst of all, our self esteem.

We carry it in our bodies without even realizing we are doing so. This is called somatization, and it is very insidious because it becomes part of the unconscious fabric of our psyches. A very useful technique that is used in Focusing (a body-mind therapy first devised by the philosopher/psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin) is to get in touch with what is often called the ‘felt-sense’ of how we carry something in our bodies.

When I work in this way with clients we always start with some diaphragmatic breathing because it helps to bring the awareness down into the core of the body – the area between the throat and the groin – and which I sometimes refer to as the ‘processing plant’.

When you think about the whole thing, connected to x or y, you will probably become aware of some physical or energetic sensation in your body, such as a clenching in your throat, or a tightness in the chest, or a knot in your stomach – something like that. The next part is to explore the feelings connected to x or y, and allow yourself to really feel it. Then, it is always good to hold the question – ‘given that I am feeling this way, what is needed? Or what do I need to do to take care of myself?’

Sometimes, an important intermediary step is to imagine taking the whole thing connected to x or y, and see if you can imagine putting it outside of your body, just for now. Visualizing putting the whole thing all about the situation or the person in some sort of container, outside of your body can be very freeing. You can always bring it back whenever you want, but most people enjoy the experience of getting a little space or perspective on the issue! They also get to experience, often for the first time in a long time, what it feels like not to carry that issue inside them anymore, or even for a while. It allows them to glimpse what freedom from the issue might look and feel like.

One of the most important things to realize and to remember about forgiving, is that it will free you. It does not let the perpetrator off the hook, but you are not in charge of his or her karma. When you truly hand this matter over to the universe and mentally say, “Over to You. You deal with this – I can’t carry this around anymore”, Life will take care of it – sometimes in much harsher ways than you could ever imagine.

The blessing lies in the ability to let go of the old woundings and to be free of the toxic side effects that come with holding onto something negative. We need to access the inner good mother or good father and learn to take care of the inner wounded part or child. This is what you are doing when you hold the question of “what do I need to do to take care of myself right now?’

I don’t mean to over simplify this or to trivialize anyone’s pain. These are just simple guidelines that might be of help, as I am all too aware that not everyone has the means or opportunity to go into therapy. But if we can experience within ourselves how crucial forgiveness is to our own well-being, we can move more fully into the creative expression of our lives.

The Inner Volcano: Can It Be Managed ?

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The Inner Volcano Can It Be Managed?

Lately, a higher number of people than usual have been contacting me about “anger management” issues. Perhaps it has just become another buzz word. Either these inquiries are on behalf of significant others (who never call) or they are calling about themselves, but then for some reason or another, they usually fail to make it in for the appointment, or we get lost in the back and forth of phone messages that go nowhere. I think there is a good reason for this.

If people are calling about their own issues, it is often because significant others have been telling them for a long time that they have to deal with their anger, but they don’t really see it as a problem. They might make the token phone call to the therapist, but the will is not really there. It takes tremendous energy and courage to face the volcanoes and swamplands of the inner terrain. I often think of the psyche as an inner landscape. When there has been an emotional wounding of some sort, or when there is an inherent sensitivity or passionate nature, simply because of who we are at a deep soul level, the psychic landscape reflects this. I have always found it helpful to use the image of the landscape when talking about our inner soul qualities, because most people can understand it – this is just how nature is. And it is also just how people are.

The trouble with the volcanic nature, however, is that they tend to make themselves sick and often alienate others. Constant inner eruptions wear out the adrenals and the endocrine system for starters, and exhaust the immune system and damage the heart, to name the most obvious problems. But worse still, they push away loved ones who get exhausted by the constant upheavals.

If you think of a boil, which is an angry eruption on a very small scale, there is a wounding or disturbance that festers. On an emotional level, this would represent a wound of some kind that is not or cannot be dealt with at the time of occurrence. And so the psyche pushes it down because that is human nature. This is repression of the first order. And then of course, like the boil, it continues to build on itself, getting worse and more infected over time. Hopefully, at some point, the boil can be lanced, allowing the poison to seep out and the skin to heal. Therapy forces the client to go within and lance the wound, and through consciousness come into a new place of healing and resolution.

I always loved Scarlett O’Hara as a literary figure. I loved her for her courage and her tenacity and her ability to fight to protect what she loved. But she was a master of repression. “I won’t think about that today, I’ll think about it tomorrow” was the line that she was most famous for. However, anytime we continually repress that which is calling out to be addressed, you can be sure it will come back and bite you. Scarlett did not have a volcanic temperament; she was more like Niagara Falls – a relentless force to be reckoned with, but she too had to deal with the consequences of not facing up to her own shadow. She lost her only child and the only man who ever truly loved her.

Ultimately, we all only have our own nature, and our own psychic landscapes. Sometimes I use the image of animals rather than landscapes to help people come to terms with themselves. If, for example, you have the nature of a rabbit, there is no use trying to pretend you are a tiger. Or if you are a fish, why regret the fact that you are not a giraffe?

Each nature has its great gifts and its own weaknesses. And within that framework, we are all more susceptible to certain types of wounding than others. What is traumatic for one child within a family constellation, is a non-event for the other child within that same family. There is no rhyme or reason to this. It probably has more to do with karma and the deep soul lessons we need to learn in this lifetime. But for the person with the inner volcanic landscape, the psyche is pushing for an externalization and resolution of the energy. It must be dealt with, or there are devastating consequences for all who live within that person’s environment, but most particularly for the person himself.

The person with a volcanic temperament has a big energy field, which if properly channeled, can be a tremendous force for positive change and leadership. Like Kali, who can be both a destructive force and a tremendously generative one, the volcano can lay waste to the old and bring about the possibility for tremendous renewal and change. A landscape that has been strewn with volcanic ash is tremendously fertile and ready for vibrant new growth. Those with volcanic inner landscapes must learn this important lesson of leadership: a leader must learn the lesson of emotional patience, both with him or herself, and then with others. This often means keeping the lid on, walking away, taking a time out, and thinking and counting to twenty before you speak.

Watch Benjamin Zander on Passion and Leadership

Projection: The Bitter Pill of Psychology And why it matters.

Projection: The Bitter Pill of Psychology
And why it matters

Although a great deal has been said about the nature of projection in the current discourse of pop psychology, it is nevertheless a concept that seems to cause a lot of confusion. The idea behind it is that things, people and events that we are interested in carry meaning, feeling or energy to the degree that some of our essential psychic content is projected onto it.[1]

To try to paraphrase Jung on this complicated subject – an empathizing individual wants to feel his or her own life in the object, and by an unconscious fantasy either devalues or depotentiates the object or enhances its value or importance. In this way the individual gains a feeling of control over the object.

A person with a strong thinking function can find him or herself in a frightening situation that seeks to overpower them. Their response is to think up strategies and rationalizations that allow them to hold their own in the face of an overwhelming reality that threatens to smother them. They retreat mistrustfully and ‘build up a protective anti-world composed of abstractions’. Abstraction, (a strong thinking function) according to Jung, seems to be a function that is at war with the original state of mystical identification of our early ancestors. In contrast, the individual with the empathic attitude lives in ‘in a world that needs his subjective feeling to give it life and soul.’ He or she gains power over the object by projecting values onto it.

One of the most startling examples of the nature and reality of projection is in the work of the Japanese photographer, Dr. Masaru Emoto. Dr. Emoto’s work demonstrates that when we project energy onto an object – in this case water – it has a direct effect. The water crystals are extremely responsive to the energy and will change in shape and quality depending on the nature of the projection. Given that our bodies are approximately 70% water, this might serve as a wake-up call to monitoring your own emotional state. It is clear from Emoto’s work that our negative thoughts and emotions have a direct impact on our physical being, and when we project those negative thoughts on others we are having a destructive influence on the world around us.

It should also alert us to the awareness of the reality of projections. Fundamentally, there is no objective reality that we can all agree on. In other words, there is no there, there. This was articulated by Heisenberg in his Uncertainty-Principle:

There is no objective reality in the world of interpersonal relations either. We can only see the object or the person through our own particular filters. If your filter is clouded with anger and resentment, what do you think you will tend to see? And not only that, the energy you project onto the object will start to change it to be in accordance with what you are projecting! We live in a sea of energy, but until we start to take responsibility for the reality we are generating, we will flop around like victims in a sea of unseen force-fields.

In terms of our relationships with others, our positive projections on others are rarely troublesome until, with a familiarity that often comes with the passage of time, the object or our affection or admiration begins to lose its glow. Without consciousness this can lead to disappointment and disenchantment.

Generally speaking, the negative projections are the most difficult to deal with because we unconsciously transfer our own difficult shadow material onto the other. When we begin to appreciate that what we see and judge as being out there begins in large degree within us, we can start to realize when we are assigning blame or fault to the ‘other’. If we can withdraw the projection and begin to acknowledge that the shadow material is also in us (note, I do not say solely) then we have a chance to change how we see things and to potentially change the outcome. That which angers us most in other people is most often an unmet aspect of ourselves. This is the bitter pill of projection and why it matters.

[1] [Jung, Psychological Types]

Be the Seer.


Be the Seer

Although I never met him in person, I consider Muktananda as one of my great teachers. One of the most important lessons I learned from him was this: Be the Seer, not the Seen. Over the 20 odd years of working as a psychotherapist, I have noticed that most people struggle with the whole notion of how they are viewed by others.

This is a product of having to learn how to be in relationship with others – how to interact with society in a productive way, and how to have meaningful relationships with loved ones. Of course it is important to be sensitive to how we come across to others and to be sensitive to their needs. Social etiquette is a necessary lubricant that helps everyone put up with each other in the course of day to day living.

However very often the means becomes the end and we become overly focused on what ‘they’ will think, whoever ‘they’ happens to be. This becomes such an engrained way of being in life that many people have lost sight of the fact that this has become their axis mundi or guiding principle. They live life as if they are always under the critical eye of the Other. They constantly feel judged, criticized, lacking, not good enough.

When you ask them who it is out there that is judging them, they are often at a loss. More often than not, they cannot come up with any one person whose opinion of them is of such paramount importance. The next step then is for them to realize that they have internalized this critic, and that this factor plays a huge role in their lives. Unfortunately, this not only affects how they view themselves, it also affects their worldview. The people who are most critical of others, usually have a raging inner critic.

Most people have an inner critic, to a greater or lesser extent, but that is not to minimize its importance or significance. It is a silent, critical voice within, or for some it can simply feel like a very negative attitude towards the Self. It is the part that has hateful things to say about how you look, how you act, how you think, the kind of work you do, the relationships you are in, the stupid mistakes you made in the past etc. In other words, it is never good and it is always poisonous. It can even disguise itself as a friendly voice – but then you need to ask yourself if it ever says anything supportive or kind. Sometimes it will take the shape or sound of the negative parent, the critic, the judge or the tyrant.

As a result, people will build up defenses or smokescreens to hide behind. This will often become a part of their personas (the mask that we show the world). The defenses that have been built up were probably a necessary tool at some point in your life. They are there for a reason. Maybe you had to protect yourself in some very toxic situations. The difficulty is that these defenses become a way of life that prevent you from fully engaging with your life in a creative, dynamic way. If you are constantly living your life so as to accommodate others so they will like you or love you, you will not be asking or addressing the more important questions: i.e., What is your soul purpose? Why are you here and what are you meant to be doing? You will be like Parsifal in the Legend of the Holy Grail, who never asked the right question: Who does the Grail serve?

People who are living their lives in order to please others are caught on a vicious merry-go-round. For one thing, there is no pleasing everyone. And if you are not living an authentic life, you are probably pleasing no one, least of all your deep Self. People who strive to be pleasers get caught in the nets of their own devising. Certain relationships will try to use you and take advantage of your willingness to be a pleaser, but woe betide you if you step outside the box and try to do something for yourself that they do not approve of. Pleasers attract tyrants and dictators who need followers and obedient disciples. They will not be happy if you start to become a more authentic person.

This is a harsh reality for some to wake up to. One of the first and most important steps in this whole journey into consciousness is to let go of being in the place of the Seen. Although this is a gradual process, you can eventually stop fretting about how others may or may not see you. Hold the intention of becoming a Seer – the one who sees. When you stop worrying so much about how others see you, it frees you to actually begin to see them.

Now this can do something extraordinary for you in terms of your relationships with others. Just imagine that you were more interested in actually seeing and understanding others. You would take an interest in them; you would ask questions, you would actually enjoy listening to them and figuring out what makes them tick. Probably most of you realize how rare it is to encounter someone like that. They are like the sunshine on a beautiful day, the honey in the open flower, a roaring hearth on a winter’s day. Others gravitate to that person – they don’t know why. When you can start to move into the place of the Seer, you become the Lover, the Compassionate Friend and Listener.

But make no mistake, this is not something a pleaser can paste on from a manipulative place in order to make others like you or in order to gain power. (That is the hidden motive of a complex like the Manipulator or the Great Mother – see my last blog Inner Community Rather it is an authentic, loving sight that stems from the core place of the one who sees.

For a more in-depth appreciation of the Quest for the Holy Grail and Parsifal’s journey:

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Watch a clip with Wagner’s music from Parsifal: