how does it feel

when a complex is active?

When we are under stress or discomfort, we behave in ways that don’t ‘seem like ourselves.’ In times like these, there is a good chance a complex is present and active.

Our complexes, or subpersonalities, are a living part of our psyches, with their own needs and perspectives. At the same time, they bear a certain autonomy to affect our perceptions and our experience of the world around this. When we are uncomfortable, in pain, or behaving in ways that don’t make sense — even to ourselves — there is a good chance a complex has been triggered, or constellated. In expressing their discomfort, they often cause us to feel uncomfortable, too.

It can take time and patience to suss out when our complexes are active, and how they affect our being and bearing. As a starting point, we might consider the following ‘clues.’

what it looks like when complexes are affecting our lives for the worse:
  • We act out old patterns of behavior, sometimes even when we want to let them go.
  • We have the same kinds relationships over and over again.
  • We hear yourself saying things that we regret.
  • We frantically ‘unsend’ emails or delete social media posts.
  • The world inside our heads is uncomfortably noisy. We find ourselves holding arguments with yourself, as well as with imaginary versions of the people in our lives.
  • We stew over resentments.
  • We feel superior to particular people, or categories of people, in our lives.
  • Circumstances often seem like they’re against us.
  • Our dreams are full of conflict. We have lots of nightmares.
  • We feel like a perfectly reasonable human until we spend an hour with some particular person, like our mother, our ex-husband, or our boss.
  • Our loved ones say you have a ‘mean’ streak or a ‘sensitive’ side. They may wonder ‘which Susan’ is coming to dinner this evening.
  • There are things we’d like to express or experiences we like to try, but we don’t dare.
  • We have a raging critical inner voice.
  • We have physical symptoms that our doctors can’t explain.
  • Life feels hard.
what it looks like when complexes are cooperating and on board:
  • There is a manageable flow of ideas and images in our heads. We sometimes smile at the thoughts we hear there.
  • We feel old patterns (relationships, addictions) arising well before we act on them. This gives us a greater sense of choice.
  • The world seems friendlier, or at least more neutral.
  • We tend to do things in comfortable moderation and don’t feel that anything — food, sex, certain emotions — is totally forbidden.
  • We begin to feel our own worth, and experience wonder at our depth and complexity.
  • Our pace of decision-making slows down, but the outcomes of our decisions are, on the whole, better.
  • We notice feelings of triggering or overwhelm before they get out of hand. We have fewer panics, fewer migraines, fewer tantrums.
  • Sleep and dreaming begins to feel like an adventure.
  • Our empathy for others increases.
  • We challenge your prejudices and don’t feel a need to act on them.
  • We can negotiate with critical voices in our head.

cultivating awareness

With time and practice, we can develop a cooperative relationship with many of our complexes. This work is challenging, but it is also very rewarding.

⌅   references for this article