The Complexity of Complexes


Q I have heard of people having an inferiority or Napolean complex. I find myself getting into moods that I can’t get out of and perceive issues or people in a way that others think is very biased and emotionally colored. I have strong feelings about things, but does that mean I have a complex?

A Two psychiatrists that talked a lot about the theory of complexes were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. They both deeply believed in the unconscious mind—an aspect of our mind that we are unaware of, but which deeply influences and reveals itself in dreams, complexes, synchronicities, slips of the tongue and body symptoms. I believe complexes are quite powerful and it’s good that you are thinking about what they are and how they operate.

A complex is usually formed early in life due to a strong incident or numerous repeated ones. For example, if a child is repeatedly compared to other children in the family, as not being as smart, then that child will begin to doubt his own intelligence. This will show up in a range of ways. The child will second guess his answers to questions on tests and in general conversations. When someone asks for a clarification or disagrees, the child will feel it is because he isn’t smart enough. Certain feelings of inadequacy, shame, inferiority and anxiety can constellate around such a complex. This can lead to lowered performance, fear of challenging oneself, test anxiety and fear of sharing one’s thoughts or responses. Some children will go in the direction of overcompensation by constantly trying to prove his/her intelligence. The child may have a hard time taking feedback or being challenged because unconsciously he feels inferior.

There are numerous types of complexes: inferiority, superiority, hero complex, refugee complex, mother complex, father complex, savior complex, complexes around one’s beauty and many other aspects of personality and life. When someone has a complex things get taken much more personally because there is a certain self-absorptive quality to it. For example, when a man has a mother complex, he feels regressive, a bit insecure, seeks maternal comfort and often is not able to experience his autonomy as a separate, strong adult. Completing projects, taking direction, setting appropriate boundaries and taking the heat in confrontational situations become challenging.

Any type of complex can color a person’s viewpoint with a certain set of memories, perceptions, emotions and wishes. Thus, it could feel like the person is a bit impenetrable.

While in such a state it is best to become aware of the power of one’s mind and psyche. Ask yourself questions on what is going on break apart some of the characteristics of the complex. If you know enough about your issues and personality, you might be able to actually name the complex. Slowly after doing the hard work of deconstructing the complex and releasing some of its energy, more integrated ways of responding can be cultivated.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit

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