Source: Sandner/Beebe on Dominant Harshness and Vulnerable Woundedness Complex Split

From Chuck: The following collection of quotes contribute to our thinking about complexes. In the context of their discussing ego-aligned versus ego-projected complexes, the authors name a common split, the pair of opposites described below as “dominant harshness” and “vulnerable woundedness.”  It is easy to picture this pair, in the blur, wrecking havoc on a committed relationship in the service of surfacing the wound/split complexes in each party.

“Jung contended that neurosis sprang from the tendency of the psyche to dissociate or split in the face of intolerable suffering. … Such splitting ‘ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming the whole of one’s nature’ (Jung 1934, p. 98), and gives rise to the whole range of dissociations and conflicts characteristic of feeling toned complexes. This splitting is a normal part of life. Initial wholeness is meant to be broken, and it becomes pathological, or diagnosable as illness, only when the splitting off of complexes becomes too wide and deep and the conflict too intense. Then the painful symptoms may lead to the conflicts of neurosis or to the shattered ego of psychosis. The way back, the restoration – perhaps always partial – is the work of individuation.  …

… (Jung) ‘The existence of the complex throws serious doubt on the naive assumption of the unity of consciousness . . . and on the supremacy of the will’ (1934, pp. 95-96) . . . Jung finally conceived of the feeling-toned complexes as ‘living units of the unconscious psyche’ (ibid., p. 101), each carrying a splinter of consciousness of its own, a degree of intentionality, and the capability of pursuing a goal. They are like real personalities in that they contain images, feelings, and qualities, and, if they engulf the ego they determine behavior as well. They are caused by conflict, and they are injuries to psychic wholeness. Yet, once formed, they tend to press for recognition and integration by the ego.

The nucleus, the dynamic origin of every complex, is connected to the inner directive center of the collective unconscious, the Self. This connection to the Self introduces a paradox: the production of complexes not only leads to a divisive injuring but also provides a new way of achieving integration. Complexes participate in the Self’s effort to replace an initially unconscious state of unity with a conscious state of wholeness. Their dual nature explains how splitting, even to the point of psychic injury and neurosis, is necessary for the evolution of consciousness and ultimate personality integration. (pp. 296-298)

. . . We begin with the ego-aligned complex. By this term we mean a complex that is close to the ego and can at certain times take over the ego direction. It is often projected, but even then it projects contents that are potentially part of the ego’s conscious identity. When projected, it deprives the ego of part of its identity and the energy associated with it. For instance, in the dream described immediately below, the young dreamer’s repressed rage is portrayed in his dreams as a wild boar that chases and threatens him. This same rage could just as well be projected in waking experience upon another person, who would then seem to be pursuing and threatening him even when this was not actually so. In both cases the content and the energy that could be part of his ego-identity are not really available to him. If that split-off complex were integrated, he would feel the rage as his own and not meet it in his dreams as a wild animal or in his life as a threatening enemy; he would have regained an important part of his identity. Moreover, the interpretation that this energy is his own would be relatively easy for him to accept. Thus the concept of ego–aligned complexes is similar to, but not identical with, the classic Jungian concept of the shadow, which refers to the part of the unconscious psyche that is nearest to consciousness, even though not fully acceptable to it. Ego–aligned complexes are a broader, more inclusive, category because they include not only unacceptable (impulses?) , but also, for example, unrealized ideals, as will be shown further. . .

. . . The ego forges its identity by integrating opposite possibilities. Along the way, a wide range of unconscious tensions may be represented in dreams and in life as pairs of opposites, but the pair most often encountered in clinical work consists of instinctual drives on the one hand and spiritual strivings on the other. . . We can learn much about the tension between instinctual and spiritual strivings by looking at its representation in dreams.

The instinctual–energetic complexes are often represented in dreams as wild or dangerous animals, as in this dream of a man in his early 20’s who was suffering from a great deal of repressed rage . . .  The common characteristic of the complexes portrayed (see original for the dream details) is the presence of strong affect filled with instinctual energy. This energy is often unacceptable to the ego because it is charged with sexual or hateful emotion that goes beyond the current ego-ideal; but this energy is nevertheless essential to life an even health, and cannot be safely ignored. . .

The complexes of inflated spiritual strivings, on the other hand, elevate the ego at the expense of its connection to bodily instincts. These complexes may be portrayed as persons – often the dream-ego itself – flying or moving about without normal bodily restriction, or standing on mountains, tall buildings, or other high places and looking down on the scene below. They may be portrayed as persons of great wisdom and learning, notability, loyalty, elevated purity or spirituality, and so on. This type of complex may be represented as a hero who was driven to do good works: rescue maidens, free the oppressed, imitate Christ, or take on the suffering of the world. We use the phrase inflated spiritual striving to designate these complexes because they represent a split off spiritual potential that has gained the status of religious transcendence and has been severed from the (  ?  ) vitality of the instinctual–energetic complexes. (pp. 300-304)

. . . We now turn to the ego-projected complexes, those that are usually experienced not as part of the ego’s identity, but rather as qualities in other people. Frequently these complexes form the basis for relationships with others. The term ego-projected is not meant to imply that the ego does the projecting, but rather that the ego relates to this type of complex in projected form. (my bold) Although these complexes are theoretically parts of the psyche, located at deeper levels of the unconscious than the shadow complexes, they are commonly experienced by the ego as qualities in other persons. These complexes are of two kinds: (1) those referred to in the classical anima-animus theory of object relations, which places the basis for relations between the sexes upon the projection of one’s own contra sexual characteristics upon one’s partner, and (2) parental complexes. Parental complexes, the all-important mother and father imagoes, are formed partly from interaction with actual parents and partly from the patterning created by the innate mother and father archetypes. Parental complexes exert a strong influence on the dynamics of the complexes we are discussing, and their analysis is fundamental to any real work in depth. . . .

. . . Just as there are splits within the ego-aligned complexes (shadow-level complexes), so there are splits within ego-projected complexes. Again, such splits can usually be characterized in terms of opposite qualities. A common opposition is between the qualities ‘dominant harshness’ and ‘vulnerable woundedness.’ (my bold) ” pp. 304-305

. . . The animus in the dreams of a woman in psychotherapy often displays an even sharper split, appearing again as two quite different ego–projected complexes. One is the dominating, judgmental, condemning side, personified as a patriarchal father, dictator, judge, executioner, stern priest or rabbi, schoolmaster, robber chieftain, or even menacing animal such as a tiger for panther. Animus personifications seem to attack the woman dreamer, corresponding to involuntary thoughts that may attack her in waking life, saying ‘What good are you? What could  you accomplish? All you do is worthless.’

In the same woman, a complementing ego–projected complex may be weak, helpless, or impotent; he may be an oversensitive artist; a deformed, crippled, or crazy boy; a distant, indifferent, or frigid man unable to love; or a weak, helpless animal.

. . . Among the anima/animus complexes, the dominating images are derived from over controlling parents, which in turn are complemented by weak and helpless inner love objects.”

(Sandner, Donald, & Beebe, John, “Psychopathology and Analysis,” Jungian Analysis, edited by Murray Stein, 1985)

One Comment on “Source: Sandner/Beebe on Dominant Harshness and Vulnerable Woundedness Complex Split”


  1. […] supporting us in healing our splits and recovering our wholeness, to the degree such is possible. (see Sandner/Beebe, paragraph 2) That the complex functions biologically as if a chrysalis would be seem to open up a variety of […]


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