I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought; To
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
When he was eighty-three, Yeats wrote this insightful observation that sums up neatly the work we need to do with complexes. They are a little like inner dragons that rest silently in their lair waiting for the moment to strike.
The first step is awareness and the key to becoming aware of a complex is the energy and feelings associated with it. I perform a checklist to assess the following:
- Was I completely in control of this energy or did I react?
- Did my behaviour have any childlike qualities involved?
- Did I notice any body reaction – flushing, irritation, intensity?
- Was my reaction out of proportion to the incident?
- Is there a desire to ignore the whole thing and pretend it never happened? (suppression)
- Did I withdraw or disappear from the situation?
- Did I feel shame or embarrassment afterwards?
Checking any of these is likely to indicate a complex is at work.
The second step is exploring the complex. First sit quietly, take a few deep breaths then revisit exactly how you were feeling when the complex engaged; assess how your body feels; notice the energy that accompanies the feelings then ask yourself if this is familiar. Invariably when I ask a client this question, the immediate response is, “oh yes” and examples are quick to come to mind. Begin to record the details and then begin a trek down memory lane to see how far back you can trace the complex. Sometimes you may find a specific incident in your childhood, or it may be a sense of the experience that comes back to you. For example one of my clients realized that as a child he developed a secret superiority to the bullies in his peer group who were taunting him. At the time he learned to suppress this superiority but now it can emerge unconsciously as a reaction to someone he thinks is trying to exert control over him.
The third step is to empathize with yourself and particularly the child who is at the root of the complex. It is not about judging or feeling inadequate. It is about honouring the child’s reaction and recognizing that as children we have few tools to deal with overwhelment and abandonment, so we do the best we can. Compassion and self-forgiveness are essential and at this point I give my inner child a reassuring imaginary hug.
The fourth step is to role-play the response that the adult in you would prefer to make in the same situation if you had not been in the grip of the complex. For example in the Manning Park example the adult in me would like to say something like, “I am sorry I am feeling a little disappointed but I totally understand that safety is paramount and I will get over it.”
The final step is to commit to witness to your own experience and see the complex next time it wants to engage. At first we may be unable to stop the reaction, but if we continue to be fully present we will learn. Steven Covey suggests that between the stimulus and the response there is a ‘gap’, at first it is hard to notice but once we begin to look, we become more aware. For example, recently I returned a rental car early due to malfunction. I was asked if I had filled it with gas. Feeling caught out I said I had forgotten which was not true but in the moment I saw the complex I was dealing with, paused and apologized. I confessed that the truth was I did not want to drive the car into a gas station dragging a piece of undercarriage beneath it. She smiled and waived the charge due to my inconvenience. The universe is an amazing place.
Complexes are like a black hole draining life force, bringing them into the light releases that energy for living. Identifying and healing complexes is not always easy; occasionally I feel I have opened Pandora’s box yet the reward is a sense of liberation, as well as the restoration of energy to your life force.