The Inner Community: Archetype-and-Identity Part Two
A middle-aged woman was complaining about her relationship with her daughter-in-law. “Sometimes I hate who I turn into when I am dealing with her,” she said. “The problem is more with me than it is with her, I think. Nevertheless, I still can’t prevent that side of me from coming up!”
I complimented her on her level of awareness. Just the fact that she was able to take ownership of her problem was a huge step forward, beyond what most people usually do. That was, I told her, more than 50% of the battle. More commonly we tend to blame and scapegoat others when we feel badly.
As we begin to take responsibility for the part we play in our relationships and the dramas that surround us, we need to parse out the various aspects of our psyches. It’s almost like each part has a personality of its own, at the core of which is the complex. These are the archetypal energies that inform us. Sometimes they even have voices. Most of us have strong enough egos to manage or control these ‘factors’ most of the time, but most of us have had a similar experience to this middle-aged woman when something rises up in us and we totally ‘lose it’.
The complexes are at the negative polarity of these archetypal factors, and they act like the swamps of our inner landscapes. Like a vortex of energy, they will suck you down when you least expect it, unless you have done enough inner work to navigate your way through most situations. When we have suffered enough from the damage, humilation or fall-out from our emotional outbursts, we are forced to face up to what I now jokingly call the inner community. We are all informed by a number of different archetypal patterns, some of which are more dominant than others at different times of our lives.
In one of Rumi’s poems he said, “I can’t tell you who I am, only who I am not”. In order to tune into the guidance of the Self, we need to deal with the complexes that pull us away from the place of our core wisdom. In the beginning it feels like the clamouring of many different voices, opinions, points of view, usually with some negative, emotional charge of some sort. Sometimes it can feel like a monster erupting from within. As we come to know these different parts (often referred to as the Shadow) we disempower the complexes surrounding them.
There are many variations on these different archetypal patterns, all of which can carry both negative and positive attributes, so this is a very simple overview. I will focus on the more troublesome ones:
The Great Mother
This archetypal pattern can be present in either a man or woman. He/she comes across as very giving and kind. It is the way this person gets a sense of power and strength because other people come to him/her for solace, guidance etc. However the problem is that eventually this complex burns you out, leaving you exhausted, drained and resentful. Deep inside is the feeling of ‘why does no one take care of me the way I take care of others’. Eruptions of anger or depression result. Many ‘good’ therapists, or ‘good’ parents or ‘good’ friends have this one.
The Starving Orphan
This part is very needy and starving. He/she never gets enough and always experiences a lack in relationships. Unfortunately this complex when activated will actually push significant others away. People simply get tired of the constant whining and dissatisfaction, so it is a sad result for the person who has this running in a major way. They create a reality in which others avoid them.
This was and still is very common among an older generation of women who felt trapped and disempowered by patriarchal cultures if they were discouraged from holding powerful jobs or places of importance in society. It is still common among people who subscribe to religious values that stress ‘being good’ over being authentic. The shadow is low self-worth, sadness and depression.
The Bag Lady or Pauper
This complex is very common in our culture because of the fear around money and poverty. Money is the highest value for many in our society, and when we are not dealing with money in a conscious way this complex is probably running underground.
Mr. or Mrs. Control Freak
This complex has a desperate need to control the variables in life as well as others through money or power manipulation. It comes out of a deep-seated feeling of being totally out of control and not trusting that Life will provide. Think perfectionist or tyrant.
This part does not have a deep core sense of empowerment, and feels that the only way he/she can get power or love is through manipulating others. Think Scarlett O’Hara.
This is the young, creative part of ourselves that does not want to grow up or be burdened with responsibility. A person who has this complex as a dominant part of their everyday life will be evasive when asked to make a commitment of any kind. They revert to charm, wit and humour as a way of compensating for this lack, and they often skip or slide out of obligations. They don’t want to be pinned down and will dance away or go into avoidance mode. The problem is that while it may be charming or cute in a young person, it becomes very grating in maturity. Think Peter Pan.
The Senex or Hag
This part is bitter, old, jealous and resentful of youth, enthusiasm and joy. Think Scrooge.
Archetypes of the Self
The Wise Old Woman or the Wise Old Man often personify the Self in dreams. The Innocent Babe can also personify a new emergence/connection to the Self. When these figures show up in your dreams, pay attention!
As we come to know and understand the dominant factors of our inner landscape, we can with understanding, self-compassion and humour begin to disempower these complexes. They are who you are Not, to paraphrase Rumi. Who you most deeply are is your deep, core Self which you can only access after you have done the hard work of disempowering or loosening the grip of the complexes. Part of the problem is that we spend so much energy trying to ‘manage’ these forces. We try to shove them underground and keep them there, but sooner or later they erupt and poison our relationships. If instead we can meet and face them with compassion and learn to unblock the energy, we can move into a more harmonious relationship with the Self and with others.
This poem of Rumi’s addresses the danger of being governed by a complex:
You miss the garden
because you want a small fig
from a random tree.
You don’t meet the beautiful woman.
You’re joking with an old crone.
It makes me want to cry
how she detains you,
stinking-mouth, with a hundred
talons, putting her head
over the roof edge to call down,
tasteless fig, fold over fold, empty
as dry, rotten garlic.
She has you by the belt,
even though there’s no flower
and no milk inside her body.
Death will open your eyes
to what her face is. Leather spine
of a black lizard
No more advice
Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull
of what you really love.
This is an interesting visual of a community that works under the direction of a central governing authority!
And this is Carmen: