Friday, September 30, 2005


In a paper Jung wrote in 1911 for delivery at an Austrailasian Medical Congress, he describes some of his research into the phenomenon of the complex. [“On the Doctrine of the Complexes,” C.W., Vol. 2, pp. 598-604] In this early paper, he makes some interesting statements.

Explaining that complexes touch on very sensitive areas of the patient’s psyche, areas he/she is hiding even from him/herself, Jung states: “In many cases the aroused complex is by no means approved by the patient, who even tries in every way to deny, or at least to weaken, the existence of the complex. Since it is therapeutically important to induce the patient to self-recognition, i.e., to a recognition of his ‘repressed’ complexes, one must take this fact into careful consideration, and proceed with corresponding care and tact.” [Para. 1351]

And later on, “. . . . the complex and its association material having a remarkable independence in the hierarchy of the psyche, so that one may compare the complex to revolting vassals in an empire.” [Para. 1352] Jung ascribes a great deal of autonomy to the complex, so much so that the complex is, “at any moment liable to bend or cross the intentions of the individual.” [Para. 1352]

Even at this early point in his work, Jung describes the ego itself as a complex, one that “may well be set parallel with and compared to the secondary autonomous complex.” {Para. 1352] A secondary autonomous complex can thrust the ego aside and take a central role in the functioning of the individual without the ego’s awareness that it has been displaced, however temporarily. “…. A strong complex possesses all the characteristics of a separate personality. We are, therefore, justified in regarding a complex as somewhat like a small secondary mind, which deliberately (though unknown to consciousness) drives at certain intentions which are contrary to the conscious intentions of the individual.” [Para. 1352]

The statements above raise some interesting questions:

(1) What might be the intention of any given complex? To protect the individual from anxiety? To checkmate behaviors that could be injurious to the overall well-being of the individual? To force the individual to change and grow?

(2) From whence does the complex derive its motive force, its energy for action?

(3) Is a particular complex of a benevolent or malevolent nature? Can we know?

(4) What are the triggers that set the complex in motion?

(5) What is the intention of the central complex of the psyche, the ego-complex?

It is this last question, I will address in what follows. We all know about ego intentionality. We work, we play, we earn money, we relate with others. We expend our ego energies in numberless ways. Is there, however, an overriding, perhaps central intentionality that takes priority—or should take priority—in our lives?

Jung writes about this question in AION when he discusses the relationship between the ego and the Self: The ego is dependent upon the Self, or “belongs to” the Self, but is also directed towards the self “as to a goal.” [Para. 252] He goes on to translate Ignatius Loyola’s opening sentence to “Foundation” from theological language into psychological language:

Loyola: “Man was created to praise, do reverence to, and serve God our Lord, and thereby to save his soul.” [Para. 252]

Jung’s reformulation of Loyola’s opening sentence: “Man’s consciousness was created to the end that it may (1) recognize (laudet) its descent from salvet animam a higher unity (Deum); (2) pay due and careful regard to this source (reverentiam exhibeat); (3) execute its commands intelligently and responsibly (serviat); and (4) thereby afford the psyche as a whole the optimum degree of life and development (salvet animam suam).” [Para. 253]

In this portion of AION, Jung is arguing for the importance of self-knowledge, for a fuller understanding of the ego’s utter dependence upon the Self. His words have an uncanny and frightening applicability to events that have opened this new millennium:

“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” [Para. 256]