Getting Triggered: the Life Cycle of a Complex Activation

I have been thinking about what happens when one gets one’s buttons pushed. We’ve all experienced cycles of emotional reactivity. I have been exploring these as evidence of the blur. The basic rule with regards to becoming aware of an activation or constellation of our unfinished business, is to directly acknowledge the blur with it’s peculiar emotional intensity. That may be the easiest part. The hard part is standing up to the complex. If/when someone becomes fully charged by the complex, the ego function is mostly off line. The complex exercises it’s power as if a (psychological) possession state.

We can think about the Wolf in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood as a negative possessing complex which has in mind the goal of devouring first the Grandmother, and then Little Red Riding Hood herself. In the story, both do indeed get eaten, but, the woodcutter, recognizing what has happened, in a timely way quite easily frees the two of them before any lasting damage can occur. He dispatches the Wolf back into the ground of the dream-time. We all need to know what every woodcutter knows – how to free one’s self and others from complex possession states.

The following quote from Murry Stein contributes an interesting perspective on the role complexes play in complicating our intimate lives. We want to practice tracking triggering events – microfractures in communications – in the service of discernment of recognizing complexes within the context of their natural life-cycles. With growing awareness and sensitivity to the presence of the blur, one is challenged to speak for consciousness and if necessary, firmly insist on attending to the blur complication.

Generally, the psychological effects of complex constellations perseverate over an extended period of time after the stimulus has left off impacting the psyche. Certain experimental investigations seem to indicate that [the complex’s] intensity or activity curve has a wavelike character with a ‘wavelength’ of hours, days, or weeks.’(16) The stimulus that provokes the complex may be slight or great, of long or short duration, but its effects on the psyche can continue for extended periods of time and can come into consciousness in waves of emotion or anxiety. One of the signs of effective psychotherapy is that the complex-induced disturbances perseverate for shorter lengths of time than they did before. A more rapid recovery from complex-induced disturbances indicates increased ego strength and integration of psychic material as well as decreased power in the complexes. A shortened perseveration time means that the complex’s power has diminished. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that a complex can never be completely eliminated. The wavelike effects of complex “aftershock” are exhausting and draining.  (Stein, Murray, “The Structure of Complexes, “Jung’s Map of the Soul, p.50)

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