Psychology for Lawyers

understanding complexes


"The ego-complex in a normal person is the highest psychic authority. By this we mean the whole mass of ideas pertaining to the ego, which we think of as being accompanied by the powerful and ever-present feeling-tone of our own body.

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One's own personality is . . . the firmest and strongest complex . . . . It is for this reason that the ideas which directly concern our own persons are always the most stable, and to us the most interesting; we could also express this by saying that they possess the strongest attention-tone.

Reality sees to it that the peaceful cycle of egocentric ideas is constantly interrupted by ideas with a strong feeling-tone, that is, by affects. A situation threatening danger pushes aside the tranquil play of ideas and puts in their place a complex of other ideas with a very strong feeling-tone. The new complex then crowds everything else into the background. For the time being it is the most distinct because it totally inhibits all other ideas; it permits only those egocentric ideas to exist which fit its situation, and under certain conditions it can suppress to the point of complete (momentary) unconsciousness all ideas that run counter to it, however strong they may be. It now possesses the strongest attention-tone. (Thus we should not say that we direct our attention to something, but that the state of attention sets in with his idea.)

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Whatever suits the complex is assimilated, everything else is excluded or at least inhibited. The best examples of this can be seen in religious convictions.

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Complexes are mostly in a state of repression because they are concerned as a rule with the most intimate secrets which are anxiously guarded and which the subject either will nor or cannot divulge. . . . The complex associations are . . . much less at the disposal of the ego-complex than the indifferent ones. From this we must conclude that the complex occupies a relatively independent position in regard to the ego-complex—a vassal that will not give unqualified allegiance to its rule. . . . A person with a strong feeling-toned complex is less able to react smoothly . . . to all the stimuli of daily life, as he is continually hindered and disturbed by the uncontrollable influences of the complex. His self-control (control of his moods, thoughts, words, and deeds) suffers in proportion to the strength of the complex; the purposefulness of his actions is more and more replaced by unintentional errors, blunders, unpredictable lapses for which he himself can give no reasons.

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[T]hought and action are constantly disturbed and distorted by a strong complex, in large things as in small, the ego-complex is, so to say, no longer the whole of the personality; side by side with it there exists another being, living its own life and hindering and disturbing the development of the ego-complex, for the symptomatic actions often take up a good deal of time and energy at its expense. So we can easily imagine how much the psyche is influenced when the complex gains in intensity.

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[T]he complex need not be conscious to the subject. Even when repressed it can exert an inhibition on his consciousness and disturb his attention . . . . "

—C.G. Jung, "The Feeling-Toned Complex and Its General Effects on the Psyche," in C.G. Jung, Collected Works: The Psychogensis of Mental Disease, §82-84, §93, §102, §109, vol. 3 (Princeton University Press, 1960)

"Complexes are psychic fragments which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain incompatible tendencies. . . . [C]omplexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance; they produce disturbances of memory . . . they appear and disappear according to their own laws; they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way. In a word, complexes behave like independent beings, a fact especially evident in abnormal states of mind. In the voices heard by the insane they even take on a personal ego-character like that of the spirits who manifest themselves . . . ."

—C.G. Jung, Collected Works: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (presented in the Glossary to C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections 393-394 (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1965))

"[C]ertain patterns emerge from [the] unknown depths of our being. We feel their effects . . . as complexes . . . and symptoms, as well as symbols and images that we experience in dreams [and] fantasies . . . ."

—Eugene Pascal, Jung to Live By 59 (New York, Warner Books, 1992)

"[A complex] has energy and a life of its own.

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The activation of a complex is always marked by the presence of some strong emotion . . . ."

—Daryl Sharp, Digesting Jung 11, 9 (Toronto: Inner City Books, 2001)

"[C]omplexes are potentially both positive and negative. Conscious knowledge of the scope and affect of a complex can serve to modify its negative consequences whenever a particular stimulus constellates the complex, that is, activates the images and feelings surrounding the complex within an individual. All complexes have an archetypal component . . . . [A] complex is like a plant, part of which exists and flowers above the ground, in awareness, and part of which extends unseen beneath the ground, where it is anchored and fed, outside of awareness."

—Robert H. Hopcke, A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung 19 (Boston: Shambhala, 1989)

"Complexes, typically eternally recurring human patterns of behavior, are the direct expressions of these archetypes hidden in the deepest strata of the unconscious."

—Eugene Pascal, Jung to Live By 61(New York, Warner Books, 1992)

"Jungians speak of various categories of complexes. Each category is rooted in a particular archetype. Major categories include: father, mother, brother, sister, hero, child . . . . Because of its archetypal root the significance of each complex, its numinosity and some of its contents arise out of the collective unconscious. In many instances—but not all—it is possible to perceive a direct connection between the observable complex—manifested in attitudes and behaviors—and the underlying archetypal figures."

—Mary Ann Matton, "Obstacles & Helps to Self-Understanding," in Mary Ann Matton, Jungian Psychology in Perspective (New York: Free Press, 1985) [online text]

"Our complexes, our neuroses . . . all derive from early or especially powerful experience internalized as mythological systems. It is not that we live in a mythless age. We are all in service to those mythological imagoes, those charged value systems, those repetitive world views, which own us and drive us to serve history. We begin to free ourselves from their archaic powers when we can ask, amid the detritus of daily life, these questions: What does this activate in my history? Where does this come from in me? What is the pattern, and its source, which I repeat? What is 'the wounded wish' my choices really serve?"

—James Hollis, The Archetypal Imagination 116 (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M Press, 2000)


Daryl Sharp, Digesting Jung: Food for the Journey 9-15 (Toronto: Inner City Books, 2001) [online text of the entire book]

James Hollis, Stories, and Stories, C.G. Jung Society of Atlanta, 2004 [online text]

"Realm of the Complexes," in Eugene Pascal, Jung to Live By 62-64, 66-67, 70-74 (New York: Warner Books, 1992)

"Complexes by Day and Demons by Night," in June Singer, Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology 33-35 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973)

Betsy Cohen, "Tangled Up in Blue: A Reappraisal of Complex Theory," in Jean Kirsch & Murray Stein (eds.), How and Why We Still Read Jung: Personal and Professional Reflections 128-131 (New York: Routledge, 2013)

Manfred Kets De Vries, Executive Complexes, 36 Organization Dynamics 377 (2007) [online text]


Class Viewing 1: What Is a Complex? [4:16 mins.] [James Hollis] [Hollis is a Jungian analyst and author] ["We have complexes because we have a history." Complexes can be both negative and positive; they can possess us. "Jung called complexes splintered personalities." An understanding of our complexes is "the first step toward consciousness."]

Class Viewing 2: An Overview of Jungian Psychology & Its Value for Today [4:40 mins.] [Rose Holt, Jungian analyst] [end in-class presentation at 2:30 mins.] ["[C]omplexes are the building blocks of personality."] [Holt goes on to comment on Jung's concept of the Self and dreams.]

Class Viewing 3: The Self in Jungian Psychology [6:54 mins.] [Ken James] [Ken James maintains a private practice in Chicago, Illinois. He is a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute in Chicago.] [short excerpt from a lecture on the self, the ego and the self and Jung's concept of the unconscious[ [a quick review of Jung's structure of the psyche with brief commentary on complexes and how they relate the personal unconscious to the collective unconscious; basic idea: complexes are the organizational structure of the personal unconscious]

Class Viewing 4: Jung & Alchemy: What is your Core Complex? [2:59 mins.] [Murray Stein] [Murray Stein is a Jungian analyst and author of texts that deal with Jung's theories and practices] [end class presentation at 1:02 mins.]

Class Viewing 5: Complexes and Imagination [46:06 mins.] [Verena Kast, training analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute; professor of psychology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.] [Kast's explanation of complexes begins at 11:23 mins.; a therapeutic application of these ideas begins at 14:08 mins.; end in-class presentation at 23:10 mins.] [Kast comments on active imagination at 4:08 mins.]

Reference (Archetypes)

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: Course Resources


Genesis of Autonomous Complexes
[28:28 mins.] [David Hartman]

Working With and Through Your Complexes
[11:12 mins.] [audio] [personal account]

The Oedipus Complex
[1:41 mins.] [BBC Radio]

The Oedipal Mother in a South Park Episode
[5:06 mins.] [Jordan Peterson]

Oedipus Complex: Analysis of Freud's Most Controversial Theory
[1:14:49 mins.] [Donovan Bigelow]

[11:46 mins.] [audio; robotic sounding voice] [what might be called an instructional audio]

Alfred Adler: The Inferiority Complex and the Break with Freud
[9:39 mins.] [audio lecture]

Reference (Web Resources)

Obstacles & Helps to Self-Understanding
[Mary Ann Mattoon, Jungian Psychology in Perspective (New York: The Free Press, 1985)]

Complexes and Archetypes
[Marcus West]

Jung's Theory of Complexes

The Content of Their Complexes: The Wounded Leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. & Barack Obama
[Jennifer L. Selig, 5 (3) J. Jungian Scholarly Stud. 1 (2009)]

Reference (Ken James) (Videos)

Approaching the Unconscious
[8:11 mins.]

Dweller on the Threshold
[2:44 mins.]

Imagining Child Development
[3:02 mins.]

Web Resources

Jung's Model of the Psyche
Ann Hopwood

Complexes & Archetypes
Marcus West

The Cultural Complex and Archetypal Defenses of the Collective Spirit
Thomas Singer



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