About this series: Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing the work of Carl Jung on this blog and the role his work plays into hypnotherapy. Today's post is about the development of complexes during childhood, and the role they play in the subconscious and the Ego.


A child creates a set of behaviors established to defend against psychic and/or physical assault, and we can call that set of behaviors a shadow. As those behavior patterns become more idealized with reference to archetypal power, we can call them a complex. The complex, given the job by the child to protect against assault, continues the process of splitting and specializing already underway, calcifies into habitual unconscious autopilot mode, and evolves into an autonomous complex.

We access these split-off parts through dreams, of course, and through age regression hypnotic trance. This altered state utilizes the individual’s inferior function, or least developed aspects, to participate in the mental processing in a way that it normally doesn’t. The hypnotic altered state accentuates one’s inferior function. For example, the sensation type often experiences the sudden blinding light of intuitive certainty, and the thinking type experiences a profound immersion in deep emotion and “gut feeling”. This allows direct contact with the complexes and their underlying archetypes in a similar way to that provided by dream work, by the transference within the analytic relationship, and by active imagination, a technique we will discuss at length. As well, the hypnotic altered state provides direct access to one’s anima/ animus, the counter-gendered aspect within an individual’s psyche.

The inferior function is the door through which all the figures of the unconscious come into consciousness. Our conscious realm is like a room with four doors, and it is the fourth door by which the Shadow, the Animus or the Anima, and the personification of the Self come in. They do not enter as often through the other doors, which is in a way self-evident: the inferior function is so close to the unconscious and remains so barbaric and inferior and underdeveloped that it is naturally the weak spot in consciousness through which the figures of the unconscious can break in.[1]

Jung referred to the ultimate organizing principle of the individual as the Self, or the Archetypal Self. The Self is the creator of dreams, the organizer of projections, and the basis of every human being’s drive to develop to his/her highest potential.

The locus of identity, or current self-image, is what we may call the waking ego. The waking ego represents all the complexes that form the content of the personal sphere of the psyche. All of us have numerous complexes, or sets of conditioned responses to the world. These complexes often center around powerful experiences such as mother, father, competition, authority, the hero, etc. The waking ego is generally aware of all these complexes, although not necessarily in control of all of them.[2]

Complexes are the basic building units of psychological reality, and thus are simply normal parts of the mind. Our complexes allow us to multitask in everyday activities, and to operate on “autopilot” without having to consciously attend to every environmental stimulus. They are formed when a strong emotional experience, or one that is repeated many times, produces a patterning of the mind. The resulting pattern is behavioral (habits), and also consists of beliefs and expectations. A defining characteristic of complexes is that they tend to be bipolar or consist of two opposite parts.[3] [4] Usually when a complex is activated, one part of the bipolar complex attaches itself to the waking ego, and the other part is split off and rejected. It often gets projected onto someone else. This bipolarity of the complex leads to endless conflict with the illusory other. And an individual may identify at different times with one or the other pole of the spectrum. For instance, in a typical negative father complex, a rebellious son inevitably encounters the authoritarian father in every teacher, cop or boss onto whom he projects his negative father imagery. Yet when he is in the role of the father, or authority, he seems to always encounter the rebellious son onto whom he has projected that role. Complexes originate in the immature psyche of a young child, and therefore they carry the simplistic certainty of a black-and-white world view, in which there are only two possible positions.

When a complex is activated by some event which resonates with it, it steps in to assist or protect the ego self-image, leading to a decrease in the higher functions of consciousness and to a tendency for the complex itself to take over the ego identity. One can be playing innocently with her toddler one moment, and instantly shift into a highly capable adult ego identity when an emergency occurs. Some complexes are not well integrated into waking consciousness, however, and are related to the hidden shadow instead. They may be more demanding when activated, and attempt to invade and usurp the conscious ego identity. They are even capable of “possessing” the individual, in Jung’s terminology.[5]


There's a lot to learn from Jung's unique incorporation of hypnotherapy. If you'd like to remain subscribed to this series and not miss an update, simply input your email in the top right (if you are viewing this on your computer) or the end of this post (if you are reading this on your mobile phone). By subscribing, you can insure you won't miss a single update on this series.

Of course, if you'd like to follow in his footsteps and incorporate hypnotherapy into your own practice, we have a training and certification course for that. Just click the banner below to download the course guide.


[1] von Franz, M. L., & Hillman, J. (1971). Lectures on Jung’s Typology. Zurich: Spring Publications.

[2] Hartman, D., & Zimberoff, D. (2003). Ego states in Heart-Centered therapies. Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 6(1), 47-92. 

[3] Perry, J. W. (1970). Emotions and Object Relations. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 15(1), 1-12. 

[4] Hall, J. A. (1989). Hypnosis: A Jungian Perspective. New York: The Guilford Press.

[5] Hartman, D., & Zimberoff, D. (2012). A trauma-weakened ego goes seeking a bodyguard. Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 15(1), 27-71.