Assiniboin mother and child – Photo Credit
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.
Dieckmann, H. (1999). Complexes: Diagnosis and Therapy in Analytical Psychology. Chiron Publications.
“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
It was then that I discovered the feeling-toned complexes, which had always been registered before as failures to react.
The discovery of complexes, and of the phenomena of assimilation caused by them, showed very clearly on what a weak footing the old view–dating back to Condillac–stood, that it was possible investigate isolated psychic processes. There are no isolated psychic processes, just as there are no isolated life processes; at any rate, no means have yet been found of isolating them experimentally. p. 93
Here, where the safeguards afforded by specific aims fall away, unlimited possibilities emerge, and these sometimes give rise right at the beginning to an experimental situation which we call a “constellation.” This term simply expresses the fact that the outward situation releases a psychic process in which certain contents gather together and prepare for action. When we say that a person is constellated we mean that he has taken up a position which he can be expected to react in a quite definite way. But the constellation is an automatic process which happens involuntarily and which no one can stop of his own accord. The constellated contents are defined complexes possessing their own specific energy. p 94
Educated subjects with strong wills can, through verbal-motor facility, screen off the meaning of a stimulus word by short reaction times in such a way that it does not reach them at all.. But this only works when really important personal secrets have to be protected. p 94
Unintelligent people, and particularly women, protect themselves with the help of value predicates. This often presents a very comical picture. Value predicates are attributes of feeling, such as beautiful, good, dear, sweet, friendly, etc. One often notices, in conversation, how certain people find everything interesting, charming, good, lovely, or– if they are English–fine, marvelous, grand, splendid, and (a great favourite!) fascinating, all of which serve either to cover up their total lack of interest or hold the object at arm’s length. p94
What happens in the association test also happens in every discussion between two people. In both cases there is an experimental situation which constellates complexes that assimilate the topic discussed or the situation as a whole, including the parties concerned. The discussion loses its objective character and its real purpose, since the constellated complexes frustrate the intentions of the speakers and may even put answers into their mouths wich they can no longer remember afterwards. p95
Gaps or falsifications of memory occur with average regularity in all sphere of association disturbed by complexes. p95
Even memory is often noticeably affected, as we have seen. The complex must therefore be a psychic factor which, in terms of energy, possesses a value that sometimes exceeds that of our own conscience intentions, otherwise such disruptions of the conscious order would not be possible at all. p96
What then, scientifically speaking, is a “feeling-toned complex”? It is the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated emotionally and is, moreover, incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness. This image has a powerful inner coherence, it has its own wholeness and, in addition, a relatively high degree of autonomy, so that it is subject to the control of the conscious mind only a limited extent, and therefore behaves like an animated foreign body in the sphere of consciousness. p 96
Personality fragments undoubtedly have their own consciousness, but whether such small psychic fragments as complexes are also capable of a consciousness of their own is still an unanswered question. p 97
Today we can take it as moderately certain that complexes are in fact “splinter psyches.”The aertiology of their origin is frequently a so-called trauma, an emotional shock or something such thing, that splits off a bit of the psyche. p 98
When some one is in the throes of a violent emotion we exclaim: “What’s got into him today?” p 98
It is not immediately apparent that fear could be the motive which prompts consciousness to explain complexes as its own activity. Complexes appear to be such trivial things, such ridiculous “nothing,” in fact, that we are positively ashamed of them and do everything possible to conceal them. But if there were really “nothing” they could not be so painful. p 99
From the moment a complex establishes itself on the conscious surface; it can no longer be circumvented and proceeds to assimilate the ego-consciousness step by step, just as, previously, the ego-consciousness tried to assimilate it. This eventually leads to a neurotic dissociation of the personality. p 100
The tendency to make complexes unreal by assimilation does not prove their nugatoriness but, on the contrary, their importance. It is a negative admission of the instinctive fear which primitive man has of invisible things that move in the dark….. Complexes are objects of inner experience are not to be met in the street and in public places. p100
The universal belief in spirit is a direct expression of the complex structure of the unconscious. complexes are in truth the living units of the unconscious psyche, and it is only through them that we are able to deduce its existence and its constitution. p101
Fear and resistance are the signposts that stand beside the via regia to the unconscious, and it is obvious that what they primarily signify is a preconceived opinion of the thing they are pointing at. It is only natural that from the feeling of fear one should infer something dangerous, and from the feeling of resistance something repellent. p102.
No investigator, however unprejudiced and objective he is, can afford to disregard his own complexes, for they enjoy the same autonomy as those of other people. p103
Complexes are the real focus of psychic unrest, and its repercussions are so far-reaching that psychological investigators have no immediate hope of pursuing their work in peace, for this presupposes some consensus of scientific opinion. But complex psychology is, at present, far indeed from any such agreement, much further, it seems to me, than even the pessimists suppose. For, with the discovery of incompatible tendencies, only one sector of the unconscious has come under review, and only one source of fear had been revealed. p 103
Where the realm of complexes begins the freedom of the ego comes to an end, for complexes are psychic agencies whose deepest nature is still unfathomed. p104
The primitive [in the sense of ‘primordial’] mind is marked by a high degree of dissociability, which expresses itself in the fact, for instance. that primitives assume the existence of several souls–in one case, even six–besides an immense number of gads and spirits, who are not just talked about, as with us, but are very often highly impressive psychic experiences.