Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious

The Mother-Complex

The mother archetype forms the foundation of the so-called mother-complex.

It is an open question whether a mother-complex can develop without the mother having taken part in its formation as a demonstrable causal factor.

My own experience leads me to believe that the mother always plays an active part in the origin of the disturbance, especially in infantile neuroses or in neuroses whose aetiology undoubtedly dates back to early childhood.

In any event, the child’s instincts are disturbed, and this constellates archetypes which, in their turn, produce fantasies that come between the child and its mother as an alien and often frightening element.

Thus, if the children of an overanxious mother regularly dream that she is a terrifying animal or a witch, these experiences point to a split in the child’s psyche that predisposes it to a neurosis.

The Mother-Complex of the Son

The effects of the mother-complex differ according to whether it appears in a son or a daughter.

Typical effects on the son are homosexuality and Don Juanism, and sometimes also impotence. In homosexuality, the son’s entire heterosexuality is tied to the mother in an unconscious form; in Don Juanism, he unconsciously seeks his mother in every woman he meets.

The effects of a mother-complex on the son may be seen in the ideology of the Cybele and Attis type: self-castration, madness, an early death. Because of the difference in sex, a son’s mother-complex does not appear in pure form.

This is the reason why in every masculine mother-complex, side by side with the mother archetype, a significant role is played by the image of the man’s sexual counterpart, the anima.

The mother is the first feminine being with whom the man-to-be comes in contact, and she cannot help playing, overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously, upon the son’s masculinity, just as the son in his turn grows increasingly a ware of his m other’s femininity, or unconsciously responds to it by instinct.

In the case of the son, therefore, the simple relationships of identity or of resistance and differentiation a re continually cut across by erotic attraction or repulsion, which complicates matters very considerably.

I do not mean to say that for this reason the mother-complex of a son ought to be regarded as more serious than that of a daughter.

The investigation of these complex psychic phenomena is still in the pioneer stage.

Comparisons will not become feasible until we have some statistics at our disposal, and of these, so far, there is no sign.
Only in the daughter is the mother-complex clear and uncomplicated.

Here we have to do either with an overdevelopment of feminine instincts indirectly caused by the mother, or with a weakening of them to the point of complete extinction.

In the first case, the preponderance of instinct makes the daughter unconscious of her own personality; in the latter, the instincts are projected upon the mother.

For the present we must content ourselves with the statement that in the daughter a mother-complex either unduly stimulates or else inhibits the feminine instinct, and that in the son it injures the masculine instinct through an unnatural sexualization.

Since a “mother-complex” is a concept borrowed from psychopathology, it is always associated with the idea of injury and illness.

But if we take the concept out of its narrow psychopathological setting and give it a wider connotation, we can see that it has positive effects as well.

Thus a man with a mother-complex may have a finely differentiated Eros instead of, or in addition to, homosexuality. (Something of this sort is suggested by Plato in his Symposium.)

This gives him a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from the limbo of the impossible.

He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak.

Then he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of his almost feminine insight and tact.

He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past.

Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality; and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.

In the same way, what in its negative aspect is Don Juanism can appear positively as bold and resolute manliness; ambitious striving after the highest goals; opposition to all stupidity, narrow-mindedness, injustice, and laziness; willingness to make sacrifices for what is regarded as right, sometimes bordering on heroism; perseverance, inflexibility and toughness of will; a curiosity that does not shrink even from the riddles of the universe; and finally, a revolutionary spirit which strives to put a new face upon the world.

All these possibilities are reflected in the mythological motifs enumerated earlier as different aspects of the mother archetype.

As I have already dealt with the mother-complex of the son, including the anima complication, elsewhere, and my present theme is the archetype of the mother, in the following discussion I shall relegate masculine psychology to the background.

The Mother-Complex of the Daughter

(a) Hypertrophy of the Maternal Element.—We have noted that in the daughter the mother-complex leads either to a hypertrophy of the feminine side or to its atrophy.

The exaggeration of the feminine side means an intensification of all female instincts, above all the maternal instinct.

The negative aspect is seen in the woman whose only goal is childbirth.

To her the husband is obviously of secondary importance; he is first and foremost the instrument of procreation, and she regards him merely as an object to be looked after, a long with children, poor relations, cats, dogs, and household furniture.

Even her own personality is of secondary importance; she often remains entirely unconscious of it, for her life is lived in and through others, in more or less complete identification with all the objects of her care.

First she gives birth to the children, and from then on she clings to them, for without them she has no existence whatsoever.

Like Demeter, she compels the gods by her stubborn persistence to grant her the right of possession over her daughter.

Her Eros develops exclusively as a maternal relationship while remaining unconscious as a personal one. An unconscious Eros always expresses itself as will to power.

Women of this type, though continually “living for others,” are, as a matter of fact, unable to make any real sacrifice.

Driven by ruthless will to power and a fanatical insistence on their own maternal rights, they often succeed in annihilating not only their own personality but also the personal lives of their children.

The less conscious such a mother is of her own personality, the greater and the more violent is her unconscious will to power.
For many such women Baubo rather than Demeter would be the appropriate symbol.

The mind is not cultivated for its own sake but usually remains in its original condition, altogether primitive, unrelated, and ruthless, but also as true, and sometimes as profound, as Nature herself.

She herself does not know this and is therefore unable to appreciate the wittiness of her mind or to marvel philosophically at its profundity; like as not she will immediately forget what she has said.

(b) Overdevelopment of Eros.—It by no means follows that the complex induced in a daughter by such a mother must necessarily result in hypertrophy of the maternal instinct. Quite the contrary, this instinct may be wiped out altogether.

As a substitute, an overdeveloped Eros results, and this almost invariably leads to an unconscious incestuous relationship with the father.

The intensified Eros places an abnormal emphasis on the personality of others.

Jealousy of the mother and the desire to outdo her become the leitmotifs of subsequent undertakings, which are often disastrous.

A woman of this type loves romantic and sensational episodes for their own sake, and is interested in married men, less for themselves than for the fact that they are married and so give her an opportunity to wreck a marriage, that being the whole point of her manoeuvre.

Once the goal is attained, her interest evaporates for lack of any maternal instinct, and then it will be someone else’s turn.
This type is noted for its remarkable unconsciousness.

Such women really seem to be utterly blind to what they are doing, which is anything but advantageous either for themselves or for their victims.

I need hardly point out that for men with a passive Eros this type offers an excellent hook for anima projections.

(c) Identity with the Mother.—If a mother-complex in a woman does not produce an overdeveloped Eros, it leads to identification with the mother and to paralysis of the daughter’s feminine initiative.

A complete projection of her personality on to the mother then takes place, owing to the fact that she is unconscious both of her maternal instinct and of her Eros.

Everything which reminds her of motherhood, responsibility, personal relationships, and erotic demands arouses feelings of inferiority and compels her to run away—to her mother, naturally, who lives to perfection everything that seems unattainable to her daughter.
As a sort of superwoman (admired involuntarily by the daughter), the mother lives out for her beforehand all that the girl might have lived for herself.

She is content to cling to her mother in selfless devotion, while at the same time unconsciously striving, almost against her will, to tyrannize over her, naturally under the mask of complete loyalty and devotion.

The daughter leads a shadow-existence, often visibly sucked dry by her mother, and she prolongs her mother’s life by a sort of continuous blood transfusion.

These bloodless maidens are by no means immune to marriage.

On the contrary, despite their shadowiness and passivity, they command a high price on the marriage market.

First, they are so empty that a man is free to impute to them anything he fancies.

In addition, they are so unconscious that the unconscious puts out countless invisible feelers, veritable octopus-tentacles, that suck up all masculine projections; and this pleases men enormously.

All that feminine indefiniteness is the longed-for counterpart of male decisiveness and single-mindedness, which can be satisfactorily achieved only if a man can get rid of everything doubtful, ambiguous, vague, and muddled by projecting it upon some charming example of feminine innocence.

Because of the woman’s characteristic passivity, and the feelings of inferiority which make her continually play the injured innocent, the man finds himself cast in an attractive role: he has the privilege of putting up with the familiar feminine foibles with real superiority, and yet with forbearance, like a true knight. (Fortunately, he remains ignorant of the fact that these deficiencies consist largely of his own projections.)

The girl’s notorious helplessness is a special attraction.

She is so much an appendage of her mother that she can only flutter confusedly when a man approaches.

She just doesn’t know a thing.

She is so inexperienced, so terribly in need of help, that even the gentlest swain becomes a daring abductor who brutally robs a loving mother of her daughter.

Such a marvellous opportunity to pass himself off as a gay Lothario does not occur every day and therefore acts as a strong incentive. This was how Pluto abducted Persephone from the inconsolable Demeter.

But, by a decree of the gods, he had to surrender his wife every year to his mother-in-law for the summer season. (The attentive reader will note that such legends do not come about by chance!)

(d) Resistance to the Mother.—These three extreme types are linked together by many intermediate stages, of which I shall mention only one important example.

In the particular intermediate type I have in mind, the problem is less an over-development or an inhibition of the feminine instincts than an overwhelming resistance to maternal supremacy, often to the exclusion of all else.

It is the supreme example of the negative mother-complex. The motto of this type is: Anything, so long as it is not like Mother!

On one hand we have a fascination which never reaches the point of identification; on the other, an intensification of Eros which exhausts itself in jealous resistance.

This kind of daughter knows what she does not want, but is usually completely at sea as to what she would choose as her own fate.
All her instincts are concentrated on the mother in the negative form of resistance and are therefore of no use to her in building her own life.

Should she get as far as marrying, either the marriage will be used for the sole purpose of escaping from her mother, or else a diabolical fate will present her with a husband who shares all the essential traits of her mother’s character.

All instinctive processes meet with unexpected difficulties; either sexuality does not function properly, or the children are unwanted, or maternal duties seem unbearable, or the demands of marital life are responded to with impatience and irritation.

This is quite natural, since none of it has anything to do with the realities of life when stubborn resistance to the power of the mother in every form has come to be life’s dominating aim.

In such cases one can often see the attributes of the mother archetype demonstrated in every detail.

For example, the mother as representative of the family (or clan) causes either violent resistances or complete indifference to anything that comes under the head of family, community, society, convention, and the like.

Resistance to the mother as uterus often manifests itself in menstrual disturbances, failure of conception, abhorrence of pregnancy, hemorrhages and excessive vomiting during pregnancy, miscarriages, and so on.

The mother as materia, ‘matter,’ may be at the back of these women’s impatience with objects, their clumsy handling of tools and crockery and bad taste in clothes.

Again, resistance to the mother can sometimes result in a spontaneous development of intellect for the purpose of creating a sphere of interest in which the mother has no place.

This development springs from the daughter’s own needs and not at all for the sake of a man whom she would like to impress or dazzle by a semblance of intellectual comradeship.

Its real purpose is to break the mother’s power by intellectual criticism and superior knowledge, so as to enumerate to her all her stupidities, mistakes in logic, and educational shortcomings, Intellectual development is often accompanied by the emergence of masculine traits in general. ~Carl Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Pages 85-91.