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Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 2

October 5th, 2014 · most stressful life events

In my first post on self awareness and the most stressful life events, we looked at some of the complexes that can assail us in stressful situations: but just what exactly is a feeling-toned complex?

most stressful life events

And, how can dealing with a complex enable me to better deal with stressful situations, including the most stressful life events?  Jung tells us,

 “All human beings have complexes.  They constitute the structure of the unconscious part of the psyche and are its normal manifestations. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it.  …Experience shows us that complexes are infinitely varied, yet careful comparison reveals a relatively small number of typical primary patterns.”

Archetypal Roots

For Jung, unlike Freud, all complexes have an archetypal core or root.  A complex comes about because one of the great archetypal themes of human life has been touched upon.  There are many of these but some of the key ones are:


The names of these archetypes might make them seem quite abstract, but they are very concrete in the way that they impact us.

Example: The Hero Archetype

“The hero archetype” might seem like a very abstract idea, but it certainly impacts people in concrete ways.

Example.  Consider a child, male or female who, in line with the parents’ conscious or unconscious expectations, is raised to be a “hero child”.

most stressful life events

Such a child unconsciously carries the expectations of the family and its values, hopes and dreams.  The child moves through life, meeting expectations, sacrificing for the family, and shelving what he or she really thinks, wants and feels, in favour of the family’s idealized picture of who he or she should be.

In major life transitions, a person may realize he or she is living out the family’s idealized career choice — doctor, lawyer, accountant, clergy, police, you name it — or defending parents’ or siblings indefensible behaviour, for the sake of “doing things right for the family.”  The individual unconsciously takes on the characteristics of “the hero” (even the superhero) and ignoring his or her own life needs for “the greater good” (or the family’s distorted version of it).

most stressful life events

But the hero archetype is inhuman.  Heroes are figures of myth, not actual human beings.  Heroes such as Achilles or Hercules in Greek myth, Cúchulainn in Irish myth or the Babylonian Gilgamesh are often at least half-gods.

The hero archetype gets called forth in times of extreme stress, when individuals respond in a heroic manner to a particular challenge to the group, e.g., a soldier whose courage saves the lives of those in his platoon.

most stressful life events

But a person can’t live in hero mode.

A “family hero” driven by a complex pays an enormous price.  He or she may face extreme hardship in dealing with the most stressful life events (e.g., serious illness or death of a family member) but also risks living inauthentically, never as truly her- or himself, but some archetypally-tinged version of others’ expectations.

Becoming Aware of Complexes

This example shows how an archetypally rooted complex can run the show in the most stressful life events, and, often depleting and alienating a person from who they actually are.

Jung and others showed that a complex works as a “splinter personality.”  When in its grip, I’m consumed by its concerns and unaware of myself as a complete person.  When complexes have us, we can find ourselves saying and doing completely out-of-character things.

Awareness of powerful complexes often only occurs gradually.  If we become even somewhat conscious of the presence of a powerful complex in our lives, it can be quite a disturbing event.  Complexes are best dealt with in depth psychotherapy, where they can gradually be made conscious, and their power to take us away from our real selves defused.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 1

September 29th, 2014 · most stressful life events

The most stressful life events can exact a tremendous toll on us.  How can an increased level of self-awareness help us to cope with them?

most stressful life events

It might seem that stress and self-awareness are unconnected.  Yet, the more conscious that we can be of such connections at times when we confront stress, the more in possession of ourselves we can remain.

In the demanding “fall start up” season, many find a vast array of personal, professional and family activities and obligations make claims on their energy and stamina.

What Makes for Stress?

There are many potential sources of stress.  It’s created by all sorts of situations that require certain levels of performance, or that demand that we endure certain circumstances or to adapt to changed situations.

One of the greatest sources of stress in the most stressful life events is the way in which an outer circumstance activates a particular unconscious part of ourselves that reacts, sometimes very intensely.  We may carry these clusters of potential reactivity within us, and yet be totally or partially unaware of their presence.  We’re then be taken by storm when they are suddenly activated by a stressful circumstance.

Analytical psychology calls these inner knots or sensitivities complexes.  Some key examples of this kinds of knots of emotional energy are below.

most stressful life events


Money Complex.  Very many of us have had traumatic or fearful experiences around money or finances in the past.  For some, even the slightest financial trigger may activate this complex, with all the fear and defensiveness this causes.

most stressful life events


Authority Complex.  Like the money complex, those gripped by such complexes have often had traumatic or fearful experiences associated with authority figures in the past, whether the police, teachers or parental figures.  For such people, contact with authority may be debilitating.

most stressful life events



Performance Complex.  For some people, experiences around having to give performances or meet expectations create a mass of negative emotional association that gets activated every time they have to meet certain types of externally imposed expectations.

There are a great many other complexes that can powerfully impact us when we are confronting the most stressful life events.

What do We Mean by Self Awareness?

So, if we are facing an activated complex in the midst of a stressful life event, how can something called “self awareness” possibly help us?  Well that depends very directly on what we mean by the term “self awareness.”

If we are talking about some purely intellectual  understanding of connections between events in early life, and current levels of stress, it likely won’t help much.  But if we enter experiences at the root of the complex, if we understand how those feeling-toned complexes have influenced our lives, and we experience and accept our feelings, we may experience a lessening of the power of the complex, and we can find ways to hold the experience at arm’s length, to some extent, and not just be steamrollered by its emotional power.

Example.  I understand intellectually that my anxiety around money takes its cue from the anxiety around money that dogged my father all his life.  Yet, it’s quite different to feel the impact on me of incidents like coming home at age three to find him on the sofa, head in hands, crying, because he didn’t know how to pay the bills, and feared losing the family home.

Depth psychotherapy is very often an effective therapeutic approach for removing the power from those highly-charged emotional knots, our complexes, and for holding onto ourselves in stressful life events.  In the next post on this subject, we’ll  look in more detail at just how this can occur,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence |  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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