Ideally we see our parents as human beings – with all the same issues as every other person on earth. In this article I look at how a positive mother complex is reflected in the life of author Robert E. Howard in the film about his life called, The Whole Wide World. Followed by quotes from Complexes: Diagnosis and Therapy in Analytical Psychology and Carl Gustav Jung: The structure and dynamics of the psyche.
Looking at the women characters by the writer Robert E. Howard – shows how the collective unconscious of the time could have influenced his positive mother complex and the presence of the seductive feminine in his writing. I think it’s possible that any creative person at that time could have been profoundly impacted by the changing role of women. For whatever reason Howard’s creative work was driven by a complex of images relating to women and power.
While watching the film, The Whole Wide World, my ideas about the relationship between Howard’s creativity and his mother complex changed.
Moving around a lot and being an only kid might have been one of the reasons that Howard developed his positive mother complex. I can just imagine a sick mother’s relief to have her son self-occupied. She might have started rewarding his introverted creative behavior with the best intentions – how else does a mother keep her son entertained when she is sick herself and without a support network?
Initially his mothers support and encouragement seems good. Howard can focus on his creative work and embrace the recognition from the pop culture of his talent. His passion for writing and his creative initiative are exceptional. He teased Novalyne, a girl friend, for her sheltered view and small-town values. I expected he would move to New York or some other cultural center to live and work. But he did not, he could not leave his sick mother.
According to Wikipedia, he was a fighter and into boxing. In the film they insinuated that Howard used his writing as a means of reimagining his own life. It seems to track that Conan, and his stories, represented Howard’s own life of battles. He seemed to focus on conflict; ego inflating vs restrictive suffocating, civilization vs. savagery. I wonder how his life and work would have been different if his mother had not been terminally ill.
I noticed a trigger when Novalyne became sick in the movie–Howard lost his cool. I began to suspect a restrictive aspect of the positive mother complex was at play. Was he angry at his own powerlessness to heal the loving mother? I think Novalyne’s illness triggered Howard into projecting his mother complex onto her. During that conversation with Novalyne he said, “If I listened to you my writing would go to hell.”
In the film. Howard referred to Novalyne (also an author) as a spitfire as she was unusually frank–using curse words and shocking her sister. However Novalyne wrote about normal people and also wanted a more normal relationship with Howard. So what happened? How did this spitfire girl, who was attracted to Howard’s creativity, end up being so concerned with fitting in? I think she was hurt by his emotional unavailability due to his positive mother complex–creating a rock and a hard place for the potential growth of their relationship. It’s so strange and yet familiar to see emotional gridlock–polarized-demands irreconcilable but fixed in place somehow from some common ground of complex love.
“On the hypotheses of the compensatory function of the unconscious, we would expect that when a positive mother complex is knows to or well established in consciousness the negative aspect would appear in the unconscious. Here the imago of even the personal mother would have to appear in a negative, coldly rejecting, frustrating, wounding, morally inferior, or similar form. This is very seldom the case is actual therapy…” p75
In the diagnosis and therapy of the complexes, the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious appears to be somewhat more complex than a simple principle of compensation would lead us to believe. Complexes even when they are known to consciousness, reach deep into the unconscious and beyond, into the collective unconscious. The more powerfully energized a complex, and the more it dominates the psyche in pathological from, the more association and amplifications it draws to itself in the unconscious and the more these association and amplifications must remain unconscious. p 75
Due to their ramifications in the unconscious and their roots in the archetypal core of the complex, dreams and fantasies always produce positive images of the mother extending into the realm of the collective unconscious long into the first phase of analytical therapy when there is a positive mother complex. p 76
Having defined and described the positive mother complex, I do not want to limit my observations to the prospective aspect. It’s pathology prevents our patients from living their own lives and keeps them enclosed in this complex or, as I will discuss below, derails them by its influence. This corresponds to two differing forms in which the positive mother complex can find expression in a patient. In one form, it can constrict, impede, and suffocate the initiative, activity, expansiveness, and development of the ego-complex and of self-actualization; in the second form, it can narcissistically exaggerate, inflate, and seduce the patient’s ego-complex and self-actualization into activities that are ultimately destructive. Theo characteristics images of the mother interject stand behind these two forms; we can designate one as constructive and the other as seductive. The correspond to the two fundamental characters of the Great Feminine that Neumann (1955) designated as elementary and transformative. p77
Only following this dream did negative female figures appear, and his early idealization of his mother began to dissolve. He was then able to have it out with the negative, witchy aspects of the seductive feminine. p82
In this chapter I have been concerned with making the reader aware that in diagnosing complexes it is not enough simply to diagnose a certain complex, but rather that we must differentiate them. Diagnosis of a mother complex says very little unless we know whether it is a positive or negative and whether is determined more by the elementary or by the transformative character of the feminine. Of course, the same holds true for the father complex, where the archetypal figures of the father can tend more toward an Apollonian severity and rigidity or a Dionysian, intoxication, and deductive experience. Likewise, it is also necessary in the therapeutic process to direct one’s attention again and again to the specific psychic complex. We should strive to make the complex conscious right down to its archetypal roots. p82
We experience the other person as a real person only when we can withdraw the archetypal projections and neither demonize nor idealize him or her. p83
Quotes form A Review of the Complex Theory