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.

Holding the Tension of the Opposites

Owl5You know when you know you just KNOW something? And it doesn’t matter what other people’s opinions are. In fact, further discussion just feels like a spinning of the wheels. Have you ever looked back and wondered about this?

Sometimes you can angst over something for a very long while….waffling back and forth, weighing pros and cons ad nauseum, until you feel heartily sick of thinking about it….but it just keeps creeping back in. Like a stray cat that won’t go away. The tension of feeling undecided and ambivalent – for no good, rational reason – is crazy-making, and it just eats away at the core of you. Your mind becomes even more argumentative, and it could be that you are no longer a pleasant person to be around.

If you look back, and reflect on those times in our lives when you have done this, you realize that one day, for no apparent reason, the clouds just cleared, and you knew what we had to do. What happened? I think it is very valuable to understand that this is a common process in decision-making. Jung talked about holding the tension of the opposites – when the choices feel diametrically opposed to one another in some way. At that point we are caught in the dualistic thinking of either/or, and neither one feels quite right. Feeling pressured by others to make a choice is a suffering. We might also realize that our indecision is affecting others who are also suffering. Some want you to go one way, others think you should do something else. Who should you please?

We all must struggle over the moral and ethical issues, and the feelings of those we care about, but in the final analysis, we only have this life to live (in this body and this personality). Many people have a tendency to shove this struggle underground and deny its existence. This only causes further suffering. Rather, we need to embrace the opposites and hold the tension until our way becomes clear. Don’t move away from it, move towards it.

I sometimes joke that it might be easier if “They” all wanted the same thing of you, but of course they don’t. My old friend Alexander Blair-Ewart used to say, “A third of the people are going to love you no matter what. A third of the people are going to hate you no matter what. And the other third simply don’t care. So you might as well just be yourself.” We always used to laugh about this – it is actually very freeing to think in this way. So, if we are not to base our decision making on what others want of us, then we have to find the felt-sense of ‘rightness’ within.

This process of struggle does deepen you. Kahlil Gibran writes beautifully about this:

The Prophet

And a woman spoke, saying Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over the fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseeen’
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

By becoming more conscious of the fact that you are in the middle of a very natural life process that requires time and profound patience, perhaps you can learn to become more patient with yourself – knowing that one day you will just KNOW, and the struggle will be over. Jung refers to this arrival as the transcendent third. It is not the either/or of the original dilemma. A third perspective or understanding has come in.

We all come into this life with particular soul-work to do, and our life circumstances provide us with those opportunities, if we take them. In the final analysis, the soul work you have to do is right in front of you, and it is the only work in this life that really matters. When you die, you will know if you have met that challenge or not.

All of your life should be in preparation for that – what else are you going to do with your life? Should you live pretending that you will not have to ultimately deal with this question? I believe that when we cease struggling over an issue, and just relax into our own knowing, we are on the right path, doing the soul work we need to do. But there won’t be a heavy feeling of “should” around it – it will just feel right.

Here is another beautiful poem on knowing; The Journey, by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver: