On a recent trip, I made a stop for gas in Brandon, Manitoba. I saw this armored personnel carrier sitting beside a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I took the photo before realising what the sign on the front said. Today, while searching for an image that would fit today’s topic, this photo jumped out and said “pick me, pick me.” With that said, I will now turn to today’s post. By the end of the post, you will perhaps see why this photo fits.
I have a lot of books on my shelves, most of them have been read, highlighted, filled with notes in the margins or on little sticky notes so that I can find the gems I have found along the way. Some of the books on these shelves have sat quietly, waiting for the time when I will notice them. Today, one of these books got my attention. It’s a little book called Digesting Jung, by Jungian analyst, Daryl Sharp. I had thought I had read this book a long time ago but in picking up the book and opening it, I found that I have yet to turn the pages. So, today I will begin reading the book. I hope to bring my thoughts here as I read.
The first words of the book were familiar. If one has read most of Sharp’s books, one realises that there is a lot of repeat, or reinforcement of earlier thoughts and explanations. At one time this caused me to think that Daryl was simply publishing another book using a cut and paste method from past books – but, now, I know better. The psychological process demands a return again and again, to taking what is known and going deeper. These first words bare repeating here:
“We like to think we are masters in our own house, but clearly we are not. We are renters at best. Psychologically we live in a boarding house of saints and knaves, nobles and villains, run by a landlord who for all we know is indifferent to the lot. We fancy we can do what we want, but when it comes to a showdown our will is hampered by fellow boarders with a mind of their own.
In the jargon of Jungian psychology, these “fellow boarders” are known as complexes.” [p. 9]
You and I are thinking, feeling, and aware people. We have lived, loved, worked, cried, laughed and been in relationship to the world around us. A lifetime of experience has helped us to arrive at some sort of identity. More or less, we know who we are and take responsibility for ourselves. We have worked hard to be individuals and make a positive mark on the world. This sense of self is only one aspect of the totality of who we are. Freud referred to this sense of self as ego. The ego is who we see as “me” the conscious self, the part of our psyche that exists when we are awake and aware. The only problem that arises is that of our lack of awareness of the fact that we are more than our ego.
We learn the hard way, and sometimes we don’t learn at all, that we (ego) really aren’t in control. From somewhere we find ourselves responding to life irrationally, emotionally, reactively. Sometimes, for no rational reason we can think of, we get our backs up when someone in authority instructs us to do something a certain way while at other times we respond reasonably to the directives of those same authorities. Something about the tone, the manner, or something that we can’t quite pin, triggers a negative reaction in us. The source of that reaction is a complex. Each of eventually bumps into quite a few complexes that seem to dwell somewhere within us – mother complex, father complex, superiority complex, inferiority complex, the list is long. We learn that we have complexes but in spite of knowing this we can’t control these complexes as they get triggered, as they seemingly take over.
We also get to see other faces of ourselves when we fall under the influence of other agents such as alcohol and drugs and what can best be called mob mentality. I see this in myself when I have a glass of wine too much. Yes, alcohol does serve to open doors that we don’t know exist within us. When I am under the influence, I respond with more fear, reverting to more of a childish state when I didn’t have control when life was seen as threatening. I become defensive and unable to process without passing everything through the filter of fear. My adult mind, my conscious self (ego) knows better; but in spite of that, this inner fear-filled child takes over. When the dust settles later on, I (ego) am left to clean up the mess left behind.
I have seen the same thing happen to those close to me and those who I have worked with as a therapist. What possesses a man to flip and internal switch and beat up on his wife and/or children? What possesses a person to cut themselves? The word, possesses, is an apt word. The ego loses control to another part of the whole self, the psyche. We are familiar with the Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde story where ego and shadow fight for control of the psyche. Activated complexes aren’t always this stark in contrast. Sometimes a kinder face emerges, a gentler face. As Sharp points out, there appears to be a boarding house full of these complexes, each ready to emerge when triggers activate them. As years pass and as awareness grows, we learn that we (ego) share the psyche. And, as with all sharing, it is best to get to know as best as possible these complexes so that they don’t totally overwhelm us to the point of ego collapse (insanity).
So, who is in charge? In the armored carrier pictured above, I counted eight men. Yet the driver was potentially the person the least in authoritative control. Perhaps the ego is in the same situation, the student driver of a powerful and potentially dangerous whole. Something to think about.