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?


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.

Family Karma:

Family Karma

Why are some of our most challenging relationships with family members? “Aren’t family members supposed to love and support you? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to understand you the best and be there for you through thick and thin?” This was a question from a young person in my acquaintance who has constant heartache and struggle with a member of her family.

“Supposed to”…..this was at the crux of the issue. The myth of family is probably one of the most fundamental myths of our western society. Norman Rockwell epitomized this myth in his many paintings of the ideal American family. In truth, these paintings are very idealistic and portray the hopes of a generation that wanted to return to a better (romanticized) life after the ravages of two world wars. Interestingly, Rockwell himself suffered from depression and was treated by the famous therapist Erik Erikson. Erikson is reported to have told him that he did paintings of happiness but did not live it.

It is true that some families seem, on the outside, to convey this illusion of togetherness and to maintain this front. Just think of all those Christmas letters you receive that list all the wonderful accomplishments of their family members and conveniently omit all the real life struggles. I do believe, however, that some of them actually are genuine and authentic family units, made up of sane and healthy individuals who all sincerely care for and support each other, but they are not in the majority. The simple reason is that the health of that family depends on the health of the individuals in that unit.

There are often weak links in one or two of these members, which affect the whole. It is perhaps that their wounding has been greater, or they had fewer resources available to them to negotiate a rebound. However, all of us carry wounds that perhaps originated in this lifetime, or perhaps in previous lifetimes. Sometimes they seem to be more connected to the wounds of our parents, who in turn, could only parent out of who they were.

Jung has referred to the biblical reference of ‘the sins of the father being passed down to the son” as meaning that which is unconscious, and not handled or dealt with in a conscious way, then affects the child in a negative way. We can all see this more easily in others than we can in ourselves. Most of us can think of families where the wounding or dysfunction of the parent has impacted the children in a negative way.

The child is in the psychic field of the parent and simply absorbs their unconscious content as if it were his or her own. On the psychic level, boundaries are not nearly as discrete as they are on the physical plane where we can clearly see the outline of our human shapes. On that level, it is a field of energy and we interpenetrate one another. The child does not know that what he or she is picking up originates in his or her parent’s psyche, but just assumes that these are his/her feelings.

Karma is a concept I have used here because I personally believe that what we are living in this lifetime connects to our soul needs. I have always intuitively felt the ‘rightness’ of the principle of reincarnation. The eastern religions embrace this notion, as did the early Gnostics. Christ also taught this in the parable of the sower of seeds. He said that we reap what we sow. This is essentially the philosophy of karma, which fits hand and glove with the philosophy of reincarnation.

Some people have interpreted the notion of karma as punishment for wrong-doing in the past, and that if you are suffering in some way, you deserve it. This is simplistic thinking that is caught in the dualism of right and wrong, good and evil. Disease (emotional or physical) is multi-causal. On the soul level, it is more about the growth into consciousness and the transformation of the darkness into light. The lotus flower, which has long been a symbol of enlightenment, epitomizes this transformation. The dark roots extend down into the black mud at the bottom of the watery depths, and then raise that energy into the opening of the beautiful lotus flower that floats on the surface of the water, absorbing the sun’s rays.

Our human bodies parallel the lotus flower. We have a chakra system in the body – the lowest of which is the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine, and the crown chakra at the top of the head. As we transform our consciousness and our karma, we transform that which is painful, chaotic and mucky into the beautiful light of consciousness. At that point, the karma that we have come into this life with is no longer as heavy or painful. We come into a peace and acceptance of our path.

So in returning to my young person and her struggles with the difficult family member, I try to convey this message. “But WHY?” she cries. “WHY is this happening to ME?” Of course, we can analyze family dynamics, and the roots of problems and issues in the lives of her parents and how that affected her early environment. That may have shed some light of understanding, but it doesn’t seem to satisfy her.

Her child self still wants what it wants and balks at the notion that perhaps she chose this family dynamic on some level as she was coming into this life. She is not sure she can buy into the notion that her soul might have chosen this very situation for her own growth. I can see that this takes a certain level of maturity and acceptance. She is still invested in being angry and blaming the other. The problem with that is that although this allows her to let off steam, she remains stuck. It doesn’t really change anything.

When we can accept what is on our plate as our karma, then we can enter into a more creative, transformative orientation in our life. Then the work begins. We begin to nourish and protect the deep soul seed within and discover who we most deeply are. I remember one of my teachers at university once said, “If you can’t make a work or art, Be One.” Taking responsibility for your life and responding to what is on your plate in front of you with a desire for consciousness, is to live in an artful way.


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Welcome difficulty.
Learn the alchemy the True Human Beings know:
the moment you accept what troubles
you’ve been given, the door opens.

Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment
brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.
That undressing, and the beautiful,
naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.

Listen to Joshua Bell or Maria Callas perform O Mio Babbino Caro, Oh my darling child, they are both divine.