A complex is the more- or less-repressed standardization of emotionally strong conflictual experiences. When these experiences are triggered, either by certain themes (such as new pieces of information), or emotions (in which case they are called "constellations"), the complex produces a reaction, such that the individual perceives the situation in terms of the complex (with a distortion of perception), and responds with an emotional overreaction, which mobilizes the processes of stereotyped defense.
Carl Gustav Jung developed his concept of the complex at the same time as he was engaged in his experiments with association. It is within this context that the concept appeared for the first time, in 1904, in an essay called "Experimentelle Untersuchungen über Assoziationen Gesunder" ("The associations of normal subjects," with Franz Riklin). But he had already used the term, without any particular specificity, in his thesis of 1902.
When, at the turn of the century, Jung and Riklin eagerly turned to research on association in order to construct typologies, they studied what they considered normal disturbances of experience. They showed that a test subject could not uniformly form associations with ideas that were attached to highly emotionally-charged experiences and personal difficulties. They went on to hypothesize that such complexes might constitute the background of consciousness, and that in any neurosis of psychical origin, there would be a complex characterized by a particularly strong emotional charge.
Later, in 1907, Jung established that any event charged with affect gives rise to a complex and reinforces those that are already in place. Complexes act from the unconscious and can at any moment either inhibit, or on the contrary, activate conscious behavior. They reveal conflicts, but are also defined by Jung as crucial hot points of psychic life.
In 1934, Jung summarized his theory of complexes and emphasized that, even outside of the effects of any individual constellation, complexes involve the active forces that determine the interests of everyone and thus serve as the basis for the symbol formation. This conception of complexes, which he continued to develop afterwards, led him to emphasize their creative effects. From a therapeutic perspective, this is an important aspect of his psychology and his clinical work. From it he developed the idea of promoting creative development through the integration of complexes. This idea plays a large role in many of the techniques developed by the Jungian school. Finally, it is from this insight that Jung came to see archetypes at the heart of complexes.
The experiments in association, as well as the concepts of the complex-ego, of the symbol and the archetype, imagination and emotion, and transference and counter-transference, all refer to Jung's idea that the complex is caused by the painful confrontation of the individual with the "necessity to adapt." Thus the very concept of complexes takes on an even more dynamic dimension: each one appears as an effect of the condensation and generalization of experiences that might, at any moment, be associated by analogy with a new piece of information or emotion. This is why the concept takes on decisive importance for understanding what is at play in the transference and the counter-transference.
See also: Castration complex; Dead mother complex; "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; Libidinal development; Ethnopsychoanalysis; Identification; Imago; Masculine protest (analytical psychology); Penis envy; Phallus; Primal fantasies; Primitive horde; Psychanalyse et Pédiatrie (psychoanalysis and pediatrics); Psychoanalysis of Fire, The; Repression; Sexual differences;Structural theories; Word association; Word-Presentation.
Jung, Carl Gustav. (1902). On the psychology and the pathology of the so-called occult phenomena. In Coll. works, vol. I. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.
. (1904). The associations of normal subjects. In Coll. works, vol. II. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
. (1907). The psychology of dementia præcox. In Coll. works, vol. III. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
. (1934 ). A review of the complex theory. In Coll. works, vol. VIII. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Kast, Verena. (1992). The Dynamics of Symbols: Fundamentals of Jungian Psychotherapy. (Susan A. Schwarz, Trans.). New York: Fromm International Publishing Corporation.
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