Everything Old is New Again

Eight years ago during the campaign season, i took a look at some of the issues around sexism that were coming to the fore and I related some of it to the negative other complex, because after all, I am a Jungian and I like to look at how archetypal themes and issues wind heir way through our lives. Here we are again with the same issues, updated to a new intensity so it seems worthwhile to revisit them. Today a dive into Jungian theory and the mother complex.

The mother complex is a potentially active component of everyone's psyche, informed first of all by experience of the personal mother, then by significant contact with other women and by collective assumptions. The constellation of a mother complex has differing effects according to whether it appears in a son or a daughter.(The Jung Lexicon)

It isn't possible to escape the influence of mother in the development of any and all of us.

Jung tells us of several forms the mother complex can take in a woman --

The exaggeration of the feminine side means an intensification of all female instincts, above all the maternal instinct. The negative aspect is seen in the woman whose only goal is childbirth. To her the husband is . . . first and foremost the instrument of procreation, and she regards him merely as an object to be looked after, along with children, poor relations, cats, dogs, and household furniture.(Jung, CW 9i., par. 167.)

and in another variation, what Jung calls the feminine instinct is inhibited or wiped out --

As a substitute, an overdeveloped Eros results, and this almost invariably leads to an unconscious incestuous relationship with the father. The intensified Eros places an abnormal emphasis on the personality of others. Jealousy of the mother and the desire to outdo her become the leitmotifs of subsequent undertakings.(Jung,CW9i par. 168.)

This inhibition can also be expressed in another way, in which the woman identifies with the mother.

As a sort of superwoman (admired involuntarily by the daughter), the mother lives out for her beforehand all that the girl might have lived for herself. She is content to cling to her mother in selfless devotion, while at the same time unconsciously striving, almost against her will, to tyrannize over her, naturally under the mask of complete loyalty and devotion. The daughter leads a shadow-existence, often visibly sucked dry by her mother, and she prolongs her mother's life by a sort of continuous blood transfusion.(Jung, CW9i, par. 169.]

And then there is the negative mother complex, the stuff of novels and films, where there is tremendous resistance to mother and all that she stands for.

It is the supreme example of the negative mother-complex. The motto of this type is: Anything, so long as it is not like Mother! . . . All instinctive processes meet with unexpected difficulties; either sexuality does not function properly, or the children are unwanted, or maternal duties seem unbearable, or the demands of marital life are responded to with impatience and irritation.(Jung,CW9i., par. 170.]

This kind of daughter knows what she does not want but is usually completely at sea as to what she would choose as her own fate. All her instincts are concentrated on the mother in the negative form of resistance and are therefore of no use to her in building her own life.

"As we know, a complex can be really overcome only if it is lived out to the full. In other words, if we are to develop further we have to draw to us and drink down to the very dregs what, because of our complexes, we have held at a distance.

This type [the woman with a negative mother complex] started out in the world with an averted face, like Lot's wife looking back on Sodom and Gomorrah. And all the while the world and life pass by her like a dream -- an annoying source of illusions, disappointments, and irritations, all of which are due solely to the fact that she cannot bring herself to look straight ahead for once. Because of her unconscious reactive attitude toward reality, her life actually becomes dominated by that which she fought hardest against...But if she should turn her face, she will see the world for the first time, so to speak, in the light of maturity, and see it embellished with all the colors and enchanting wonders of youth, and sometimes even of childhood. It is  a vision that brings knowledge and discovery of truth, the indispensable prerequisite for consciousness. A part of life was lost, but the meaning of life has been salvaged for her."(Jung, CW9i)

Complexes  differ from introjects, (the unconscious adoption of the ideas or attitudes of others) in one important way. According to Jung, every complex has at its center an archetype.  Complexes are "feeling-toned ideas" that over the years accumulate around archetypes, like "mother" and "father." When complexes are constellated, they are invariably accompanied by affect. So the mother complex is not only informed by experiences with the personal mother, but also by the universal pattern of "mother" imprinted in the psyche.

Tomorrow a look at how this complex is playing out this year.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.