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.

The Other

peter-pan-other copy

The Other

Don’t you think it is interesting that with humans most of our perceived problems are with the other? We don’t own it as a problem with ourselves, or the way we naturally are, but, rather, the problem is located elsewhere. These problems fall into several categories:

Present, but Deficient

The one we are with is present, but is deficient in myriad ways. Our feelings range from irritation, frustration, bitterness or exasperation with the other. Sometimes the other is perceived as not sufficiently present or overly absent – whether physically or emotionally.

The Other is the Problem to be Eliminated

Very often the other is framed as the problem to be rid of. We fantasize that if we could just eliminate the other, our problems would be solved. This other, whether it is someone in the personal world, or someone on the world stage, constellates all our unacknowledged shadow issues and becomes the convenient scapegoat. If only we could just get rid of that person – whether it be bin Laden, Harper, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Assad, Obama, Stephan Dion or Saddam Hussein! We tell ourselves that we will feel better, vastly relieved, if this problem can be somehow eliminated. If successful, there is a moment of respite in which we don’t have to face these shadow elements in ourselves.

In the story of Peter Pan Captain Hook personifies the evil archetype on whom we ‘hook’ all our fears and hatred. This is not to say that Captain Hook or any of his stand-ins are blameless or innocent of crimes. In fact, they have to be ‘sticky enough’ in their badness to carry our negative projections. The real problem is that we when we locate the problem elsewhere, we tend not to face up to our part in the problem, and so there is no movement towards resolution of the dilemma.

The Longing for the Beloved

In certain more conscious individuals, there is the recognition that the longing for the other is the longing to return Home. There is an awareness that the deep-seated soul longing is the longing for the other on a spiritual dimension. This is the problem of individuation that Jung addresses. The inner marriage is the coming into partnership with the deep soul urgings. It becomes a journey dedicated to fulfilling soul purpose and being at one with the Beloved. There is the recognition that there is no other way.


In many marriages, the most insidious of these problems is the first one – the problem of present, but deficient. When we first fall in love, we hope and long for that partner that will complete us. We project that hope and fantasy onto the other, and as long as our partner is able to carry that ‘projection’, we glory in that rose-colored world of the honeymoon phase. Gradually – fortunately or unfortunately – the wear and tear of the daily grind chips away at the glorious projection, until it completely falls away.

This is often a difficult period, filled with feelings of sadness, bitterness, disappointment, and disillusionment. Many marriages founder at this point. ‘He/she is not who I though he/she was!’ This is the common refrain. And the only logical answer is, ‘No, and whose fault is that?’ However, there is no point voicing a logical response because we are dealing with deep-seated emotions, and they are NEVER rational.

Somehow, humans need relationships to evolve. Being in relationship, or simply longing for one, or for the Beloved, or for something ELSE, forces us to confront ourselves, to go within, to question and explore the dark edges we would rather not admit to. The relationship – with the other or with the Beloved – becomes the container, or in alchemical terms, the crucible. It is there that we cook, we burn, abort or transform.

In the marriage we have to give up the idea the notion that the other can fix or improve our lives in some way. Many people who leave their marriages when the honeymoon phase is over, simply go out and recreate the same dysfunctional pattern with the next partner. We have all seen that in ‘other people’ right? It’s too bad we can’t see it in ourselves.

Once in a while we get a glimpse and have the opportunity to face up to and integrate our difficult parts. Remember Wendy and Peter Pan? Remember Wendy trying to stitch Peter Pan’s shadow back on? It is an ironic and bittersweet twist in this modern myth of the eternal boy or girl who doesn’t want to grow up. Growing into mature adulthood requires that we face our own shadowy issues and take responsibility for our deficiencies and how we wound others, whether intentionally or inadvertently. There is no easy way to stitch our shadow back on after disowning it. And if you want to keep flying off to Never Never Land then you are not ready for the heavy, grounding work of individuation.

Of course we all want to escape to Never Never Land at some point in our lives. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, but we also need to recognize the infantile nature of that desire. Naturally, all the Lost Boys want to go home. But the way Home is the work of fully grown, deeply mature men and women. This work is not for the faint of heart, and the journey is long and fraught with hardship, but also many joys.

See Rumi’s poem to the Beloved, set to music by the fabulous Kharaindrou:

Pi and All of Life


Pi and All of Life

Sometimes Life throws us into a boat with creatures that seem very foreign, strange or threatening to us in some way. Life of Pi is a beautiful, in some ways mythic story of the hero’s journey by author Yann Martel. As I contemplated the title, I thought about the meaning of Pi – which is a mathematical constant that expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. I was moved to see how this story reveals the importance of embracing our wholeness as opposed to just the good, the bright and the beautiful upper half of the circle of Life.

At the end of the story, the hero reveals that there are two parallel stories – the one of his human survival, and the other a tale of animals in a boat with a boy. The great Aha is the realization that both stories are true.

Therein lies another interesting insight to my mind – which links up with something I was trying to express in The Inner Volcano. We all have a unique inner nature, which is connected with all of Nature. In Life of Pi this is beautifully portrayed as human beings who under duress reveal their animal natures. The cook is the hyena, the zebra with broken legs is the sailor who has been severely injured, the mother, the vegetarian orangutan, and the boy who discovers his tiger nature. In the end, this is what saves him. He discovers his inner ferocity, his power and his will to survive despite all odds. We might say he connected to the Dionysian side of his nature – his wild, passionate, dark, chaotic side.

In his seminar on Kundalini yoga, Jung talked about the fact that the soul hides in the symptoms of the body. Like Dionysius, an encounter with the Self can seem like a savage dismemberment in which we are forced to suffer and submit to some of the harshest realities of life. And yet if we can cling to the Self and who we most deeply are, there is the possibility of redemption, rebirth and renewal. This entails an embracing of our dark side and what is commonly referred to as the shadow.

Jung understood that our Christian mythos was too one sided in its glorification of all that is light, beautiful and true with no homage paid to the other wilder, darker side of life. In Aion he explores this problem of the Christ and the Anti-Christ in great depth. He felt that the pendulum had swung too far in one direction and that what we are seeing now in our recent history of world wars is a fierce backswing in compensation. He emphasizes that God or the Self does not want perfection but wholeness.

And so what this means for us is that the sacred work of our time is not to blindly pursue the good, the pure and the beautiful while ignoring our own shadowy attributes, pretending that they are not there. In Revisioning Psychology, James Hillman summarized Jung’s understanding of evil in this way, “ Integration of the shadow is an emigration. Not him to us; we to him. His incursion is barbarism, our descent is culture.”

When we thoughtlessly follow our animal nature, we are locked into our biological, egoic existence. We are ruled by unconscious processes and are a victim to our symptoms and a slave to our desires. The work is to bring Apollo and Dionysius into right relationship, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. We must honour both sides within ourselves before we can even think about extending this consciousness into our communities.

When Yeats had the vision of the Beast or Anti-Christ slouching towards Bethlehem, he was horrified and deeply troubled. His poem, The Second Coming, describes this vision. Listen to it here: The Second Coming.

Trailer for Life of Pi

Women of a Certain Age

Women of a Certain Age

Les femmes d’une certaine age – I think this sounds much better in French. It suggests a certain mystery, a wisdom that is not worn on the surface, a wicked sense of humour that can delight, prick or charm – depending on the situation. Recently I was asked to talk about the needs and issues of this demographic group of women over 50. so it got me thinking. Obviously what we consider to be middle-aged now is not what was considered to be middle-aged several hundred years ago when our lifespan was much shorter. So this is not about a chronological number, but rather a mind set and an attitude towards life.

For many women, middle age forces us to confront loss – the loss of youth, of beauty, the tone and agility of our bodies, sexuality (both as perceived by others, and an inner sense) health and loved ones. We are also often confronted with the loss of relationships and partners as our children grow up or we, or our partners, move into different career paths. All of this can get very depressing if you can’t maintain perspective and a sense of humour. However, in order to find humour in any situation we have to be able to hold the tension of the opposites – to see both sides.

Middle-age is the fulcrum between youth and old age, and as such we are poised for great creative potential. You now have the potential leverage to make some big changes in your life. This holds true for both men and women. The terrifying but ultimately great thing about middle age (and remember to hold that tension of the opposites!) is that one day, in the middle of your life, you wake up to yourself and are forced to take stock. This is when you sit down and have a real, honest to goodness talk with yourself; after you have gotten over the shock of looking at yourself in the mirror, metaphorically speaking!

That galvanizing moment always come with some sort of a realization that your days are numbered. You have to face the fact that you only have so much time left on the planet. Some of us who are dealing with life-threatening diseases are more acutely aware of this than the rest of us in terms of what that time might look like, but the wake-up call always forces us to confront the limitations of time that are facing us. There is nothing like a deadline to clear the mind and get us focused on the task at hand.

And that task at hand boils down to this question. What do you want the rest of your life to look like? What are the gifts that you have not yet brought into the world? What is your unique contribution, which if you do not make it; will forever be lost to this world? What are you so busy making for? Christopher Fry asks us this question in a Sleep of Prisoners. Its takes so many thousand years to wake (he tells us) so will you wake for pity’s sake? See blog: Believe in Love Over Goodness

There are a number of common responses to the terrifying vista of looming old age, for both men and women. One of the most dominant ones in this culture is manufactured busyness. Keep yourself so busy that you don’t have to reflect on what is really going on. How many people do you know who don’t have time to make real contact – even with their so-called loved ones? They actually can’t make real contact with their loved ones, because they don’t know what it is to make contact with themselves. The busyness is what we call a defense mechanism in psychological terms. It defends them from facing what they are terrified to face. And that is the face of death – our own mortality.

Another very common response is depression. This is often accompanied by a deep sense of grief and loss. It may get kicked off by the death or loss of a loved one, a relationship, or the loss of a job, but then it just seems to go on and on. It feels like there is a big inner hole that nothing will fill. Life is passing you by, and the sadness and negative self-talk becomes a way of life. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from compulsively busy superwoman, or superman – and in many ways is harder to deal with. At least superwoman or superman seems to be getting stroked and praised for all of his/her wonderful busyness, but the depressed person is disappearing into a black hole. They think unconsciously that it is about getting fed in some way and may fall into addictive behaviours (shopping, eating, sex, drugs or alcohol) but nothing fills the void. And nothing fills the void because that is not the way out. The energy has to be reversed, and it can only be reversed by the painful movement into consciousness.

I am reminded of Patanjali’s yoga sutras in which he talks about the three basic energies in life – Rajasic, Tamasic, and Sattvic. Patanjali was a father of yogic philosophy. The Rajasic energy is fiery and dynamic. This shows up in the compulsive doers in our life who are so busy they very rarely have time to connect with loved ones in any real way. The Tamasic energy is heavy, lethargic and dull. It is very hard for this type to get galvanized by anything. The Sattvic energy is the middle road – the road of balance between the other two, the enlightened perspective…finding the peace and creative potential between the two extremes, staying at the center point on the fulcrum.

So when we are next looking in the mirror, it might be a good idea to reflect on the energy which is manifesting in our lives. Do we need to slow down and reflect on how we are doing our lives? Where is the meaning or lack of meaning showing up? Or are we sliding into a black hole, hoping something will fill us, fill our time or give us purpose? Whether
we need to galvanize our deep purpose or slow down enough to even ask ourselves the question, the ultimate question is how can we best bring our creativity and gifts into life? How can we fine-tune the rest of our time that is allotted to us and bring our lives into fruition?

The great gift of middle age is this. We can now see that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us, or what society at large holds dear. You only have this life right now and you have to fulfill your deep soul purpose; nothing else matters. If you don’t yet know what that is, then no other journey is worth taking.

Look at what grandmothers in the third world are accomplishing!


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]