Identifying Complexes or “why I lose my cool?”

Returning freshly motivated from a workshop with James Hollis I feel inspired to reflect on the journey into the child like responses that emanate from triggered complexes. James Hollis is likely the clearest most succinct teacher I have ever encountered. The workshop I took on the weekend was no exception to this rule. He taught through clear exposition of the principles behind his philosophy, illustrated brilliantly by examples from the dreams of his clients.

He began by explaining that each of us will experience an energy driven narrative that flows from our experience of starting powerless in a powerful world. ‘Basically the world is big and powerful and you are not.” He then  suggested that there were two key responses to this fact: overwhelment and abandonment.

In terms of overwhelment he identified three core coping strategies that we could have developed as children

  1. Avoidance. This shows up as projection, disassociation, procrastination, distraction, suppression, repression.
  2. Birth of a power complex – to take control.
  3. Compliance – to get along, you go along.

In terms of abandonment the strategies are:

  1. Self esteem issues: diminished leads to sabotage and avoidance, over compensation leads to grandiosity,
  2. Power complex, narcissism, no connection with self leads to manipulating others because of emptiness within.
  3. Inordinate desire for connection causes imposition on other and addictions.

“The bulk of our energy can end up being directed at self-anxiety management systems. We end up in service to archaic messages that are both systemic and evasive.” The result is complexes – charged clusters of history that emerge into a present situation but bring energy from the past that is often inappropriate to the situation.

For example, I am backpacking with some friends in Manning Park; our trip is planned for two nights; two of our party have inadequate sleeping bags and we decide to return after one night. I react extremely negatively and stalk off on my own for hours feeling extremely embarrassed by my behaviour. Is this the act of an adult or a child? A complex had been triggered around “it’s not fair” and the child’s disappointment at having to go home before he was ready. In the moment I reacted I am a child again.

So what should we do about these complexes and why do anything? Hollis suggests that “the bulk of our energy being directed at self-anxiety management systems” is the key. When we suppress a complex it becomes a submerged mine waiting to bump into the necessary trigger and explode. It’s not about avoiding the minefields, it’s about disarming the mines. By exposing these complexes to the light, we begin to release the energy used to contain them and it is available for living; as we heal the complex, its power to trigger us becomes reduced; we assume control of our own behaviour.  Surely a goal worthy of pursuit?

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