A Guide to The Secret Life of Complexes

A Guide to The Secret Life of Complexes

Do you ever behave in a manner which leaves you wondering what the hell you were thinking?

Something came over you? You were possessed?

You are not the master of your own house.

You must have had that experience where the wrong thing pops out of your mouth and you are so embarrassed that you wish the earth would open up and swallow you. Or you lose it and scream like a banshee at someone. Or you are confronted with a dilemma and even after careful consideration, you behave in a manner which you thought would have a specific result, but it backfires and a completely different (unpleasant) result occurs.

The above are all good examples of how a complex can usurp the ego. A complex or neurosis can manipulate you this way.


Jung initially referred to his psychological system as ‘Complex psychology’.

When he started out as a young pioneer in the field of psychology, he invented the Word Associated Test. Through reading 100 words to his patients and asking them to respond quickly, he realised that certain words brought about a slip of the tongue, or emotional response which then identified unconscious feelings or beliefs. These he later termed ‘complexes’. A “complex” meaning a personal, unconscious, cluster of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes organized around a common theme, e.g. an artistic complex. You can imagine your own artistic complex and how that affects your relationship with your own creativity and other’s creativity. It contains emotions, memories and ideals.

A neurosis is an unconscious complex that usurps executive control from the ego. Let’s take for example the artistic complex again. If you had a horrible art teacher who ridiculed your art and told you that you are useless, your relationship with your artistic complex could be neurotic. This could present itself in many ways as an adult. You may limit yourself unconsciously because of it. You may find yourself shut down whenever you are confronted with a situation where you have to be creative, or your child shows an interest in the arts and you completely ruin it for them by dismissing it. You may project irritation and irresponsibility onto people who pursue arts.

‘The complex is not under the control of the will and for this reason it possesses the quality of psychic autonomy. Its autonomy consists in its power to manifest itself independently of the will and even in direct opposition to conscious tendencies.’ (C.G. Jung.The practice of psychotherapy, CW 16)



I decided to go on a fruit fast. Every year I have to do it, just to break my addiction with food.

When I was young, I had no interest in food. I often used to say to people that I would prefer popping a tablet, because eating is just a waste of time. I did not enjoy food and certainly never craved anything. I ate when I was hungry and what I felt like. I was in touch with my body and its needs. I was thin and healthy.

Now I have no idea what my body needs to eat, I only know what I would like to eat!

My eating complex used to be healthy, now it is neurotic. How did this happen?

It transferred onto me from Stephen. Ask any Leb and they will say, most people eat to live, the Lebs live to eat!

It is the secret life of complexes. They transfer and are contagious!


You must have heard how life coaches often say that you need to surround yourself with people who are positive. Negative people bring you down. They don’t only bring you down, you pick up their negativity. Their complexes that define their relationships or work ethic, etc. can rub off on you. Be careful!

Or you must have heard it said that if you want to be wealthy, surround yourself with wealthy people. Same reason, the wealth complex can transfer onto you.

Be careful who you sleep with, never mind STD’s, their complexes can transfer as well.

The real danger of complexes is that they need energy and you only have so much to go around. Complexes, especially neurotic ones, can bleed you dry. They are like monsters sitting on your shoulder feeding off your neurosis. Someone upsets you, the next thing you are furious, thinking about all the times that person upset you, and it escalates from there. The monster feeds off the images, memories and emotions. And it will create situations to keep it alive. The unconscious complex will take possession of the ego and make it behave in a manner that brings about the result which it needs to feed on.


And don’t think that were not standing in the line when they were handed out. We all have them.

Do any of the following ring true for you:

‘ You just don’t like someone that works with you (or a family member)
‘ You really liked someone a lot and then they disappointed you
‘ You can’t stand a specific organisation
‘ The same unpleasant experiences recur ‘ you don’t know why this always happens to you
‘ You know you are doing something that is not good for you but you can’t stop

We knew someone that just could not accept this concept.

She had projected an immense dislike onto a colleague that was dishonest. The colleague stole things from the company and loafed around at work. Our friend could not accept that she projected her ‘dishonesty’ onto the colleague. According to her, she was certainly not a thief or dishonest. However, afterwards during a disagreement some very unpleasant behaviour surfaced. When confronted, she blankly denied that she had said and done certain things and her behaviour was quite obviously dishonest. She could not recognise it in herself though, and I am sure that the actions that I called lying and deception was from her perspective rationally explained.

Seeing your own behaviour objectively is incredibly difficult. The mind has a way of justifying behaviour which suits ourselves and is often not objective.

In trying to see what your unconscious complexes are there are few things you can do to bring them to consciousness, namely:

‘ Listen to criticism ‘it is often true
‘ Dream work ‘ your dreams are objective
‘ Look at your emotional reactions to others and become cognisant of what you project onto them.


Complexes are like cards in a deck. You have to shuffle them around to get the best hand for you. But, you can’t dump a card.

Unfortunately complexes are not like a tooth that you can extract. You have to find the right expression for it, or if it is totally unacceptable, oppose it.

But don’t think it ever goes away.

If you are a sadist, don’t be sadistic to your family or colleagues, but rather become a dentist or a surgeon and channel it this way. We knew a sadist who did this and he is a phenomenal surgeon. Once he removed a mole for me as a favour and did a better job than the plastic surgeon.

The only way to get neurotic complexes under control is to make them conscious, so that you can express them in an appropriate manner. Jung said that if it is unconscious, it is against you.

‘A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it.’ (C.G. Jung. The practice of psychotherapy, CW 16)

If you enjoyed this blog and would like some more information on this topic read Stephen’s post The Irrational Psyche and the Shadow.

Food for thought!

Until next time.

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  • Lynne Reply

    Thank you for such an informative article. I am presently taking an online course on Jung’s Red Book and (as a relative beginner in Jungian Psychology) am trying my best to understand all the terminologies and meanings. Complexes are difficult for me to pin down and this article helped a lot!

    January 4, 2020 at 7:08 am

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