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.

Notes from Sophia – the Divine Face of Inner Wisdom

Notes from Sophia – the Divine Face of Inner Wisdom

That still, small voice within…..can you hear it? Are you listening? When we first begin to attune to our own inner wisdom, it can feel difficult to discern. There is such a cacophony of voices from our inner community of conflicting interests, desires and repulsions, that the pure, clear note of Sophia, the wisdom principle, can barely be heard.(See earlier blog on Inner Community).

As I think or meditate on what my next blog should be about, I wait for some inner guidance. If I don’t feel it, I can’t get motivated to write. When I get very quiet and just wait, something usually comes. It is often in response to some conversation or some reflection on a problem that has come up. This time it was in response to the question of how do I decide what to write about next? As I thought about it, I realized it was connected to this process of inner listening, and waiting for guidance. The idea of “Notes from Sophia” kept coming up, and I kept dismissing it! Who was I to talk about Sophia, the feminine face of divine wisdom? It felt like hubris to me, and greater thinkers and writers than I have done this subject much greater justice. And I wasn’t interested in launching a political discourse on why God contained a feminine principle. And yet, and yet, this idea just kept nibbling away at the edges of my consciousness. Two of my great loves in life have long been theosophy and philosophy, so there She was again.

Theosophy (Theo meaning God in Greek, and sophy referring to Sofia or wisdom) and Philosophy, (meaning love of wisdom) both honour the recognition of Sophia as the feminine wisdom principle. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky, who was the founder of the Theosophical movement , explains: “Cosmogonies show that the Archaic Universal Soul was held by every nation as the “Mind” of the Demiurgic Creator; and that it was called the “Mother,” Sophia with the Gnostics (or the female Wisdom), the Sephira with the Jews, Saraswati or Vach, with the Hindus, The Holy Ghost being a female principle.” (Blavatsky, H.B., The Secret Doctrine, Vol.1, p. 353) The Buddhists refer to her as Kwan Yin. The Christians refer to her as Mary, the Mother of God.

The difficulty of listening to the wisdom of the heart is that one must learn to become very quiet in order to hear Her. In my experience, that still quiet voice of wisdom just comes as a knowing or a quiet realization after we have parsed out and separated out all those other raging and troubling feelings and emotions. In my last blog on forgiveness I referred to the Focusing work of clearing a space. When you can put all the various issues troubling you outside of your inner space, even if only for a while, you will have a chance to receive that insight from your deepest Self. You will begin to recognize that ‘wisdom note’ because there is a clarity and a lack of emotional charge to it. There is the feeling of ‘Ah yes’ or an ‘aha’ moment. It is when you know that you know, and something in you can just settle. There is a feeling of blessedness and peace in the knowing, even if there is sorrow in the heart.

The feminine wisdom principle is within all of us. It has nothing to do with whether you are male or female, and women certainly do not have any particular ownership or advantage. And yet the getting of wisdom certainly does seem to come with a gentleness, a compassion and kindness – qualities which in bygone days were more associated with the feminine. There was a recent article in The New York Times about how men were kinder and more generous and in the presence of women (see link below). A world in which Sophia was honoured again as the feminine face of God would I think be a gentler and kinder world.

Free lecture on Blavatsky and the Theosophical movement by Dr. Stefan Hoelller

New York Times article:

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:

The Inner Volcano: Can It Be Managed ?


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

The Ageing of Relationships

The Ageing of Relationships

“Why is it that we sometimes can’t feel close to someone we’ve lived with for a long period of time?” This was the heartfelt question from a young woman and mother who was struggling in a relationship with her partner. The relationship had been going sideways for years, but she was reluctant to break up the marriage for a number of good reasons, including her concern for the children and of course finances.

At the heart of her question was this feeling of alienation and distance from her partner. Having been together since a very young age, they had found that as they matured and had children, they had grown apart. Young people often gravitate towards each other because they fall in love with someone who they see as different – someone who seems to offer something they are lacking, or seems to complement them in some important way. Positive projections just happen – it can feel like a god force moving through you, and it carries a feeling of uplifting excitement and intoxication with it. Falling in love is a beautiful thing and I am loathe to analyze it, unless it becomes problematic in some way.

The problem in this and similar cases, is that when the glorious projection has fallen off and we are faced with the stark reality of what we have gotten into, we have to deal with some hard or bitter realizations. I remember Marion Woodman once saying that this was when you have the hard task of learning to really love someone. By this she meant, can you learn to love and accept them just the way they are without trying to change them?

Sometimes you can and do learn to love that ‘other’, and sometimes it doesn’t mean that you have to live with them for the rest of your lives. Sometimes it is about learning to co-parent in a loving and mutually supportive way. These are different values from the values of my parents’ generation when people just stuck it out through thick and thin until death parted them. Some people met the challenge and were transformed by that experience. Others shriveled up and died. But times do change, and the collective psyche also changes as new values rise to the fore.

When the positive projection falls off, the loss of the exhilarating ‘in love’ feeling can feel like a huge disappointment. “Is this it?” you may ask yourself, or “this isn’t what I bargained for!” or “I didn’t sign up for this!” or “I thought it was going to be different!” or “I can’t deal with this!”. The spoiled inner child, or the disappointed romantic, or the young puer or puella (see blog on Inner Community) starts up its inner rant.

Don’t get me wrong. I know what this feels like. Most adults have faced this confrontation with themselves and their partners at some point in their lives. And I don’t have the answer. There isn’t any one answer. When we have had children in that relationship, it becomes (or should become) a much tougher question. It forces you to carry the cross and to suffer the dilemma. Relationships without children (or other in-built responsibilities) are often easier to walk away from.

When we have to suffer the consequences of our choices, it forces us to grow and deepen in ways that are not there for us when we are in La La Land. Remember Odysseus? He was delayed from returning Home for a long time because he kept getting sidetracked on the islands of sense pleasures and addictions. “Falling in love” can become very addictive, and you will see some people bounce from relationship to relationship, always looking for that fix. But with the dawning of consciousness, the getting sidetracked eventually becomes a part of the over-arching journey.

So I wish I had the easy answer for this wonderful young woman and mother. She is an absolute gem. I wish I could alleviate her suffering and make it all better for her. But then again, I know that this journey will take her to the other side. I have no idea where she will end up, but I trust her process and her Life. And I hope she does too, because that is what will be her guiding light.

Listen to a great teacher, Jean Houston, talk about the myth of Odysseus:

About the myth:

The movie: