Companions on our journey:
Depth psychology offers many deep and engaging ways of looking at the many faceted jewel of the little self. Shadow, anima/animus, are key landmarks on this interior journey, but closer to our side rides a variety of companions who we may not acknowledge to ourself, but are more easily seen by those who are close to us.
These are the complexes. Did you imagine, "little self, waking ego" to be of a different substance than a complex. Not really, "little self, waking ego" is one of the complexes, differentiated only by our attachment to it and our identification with it as to "who we are." Yet, wait a moment, one of disquiet and disruption, usually during an emotional tussle with our partner, and who seems to take center stage??? An alternate self that is very much alive and charged with energy, but of a different coloration, with shades and hues we tend to disown in quieter moments, and do not want to talk about, for fear of stirring it to life again?? These complexes are constant traveling companions, aspects of "shadow," every ready to move to center stage when called forth to defend the realm.
Complexes are a collection of acquired attitudes, emotions, self-perceptions, and perceptions of others. The "grandest" of these is "waking ego," with whom we quickly identify, but who among us have not heard feedback from others that we are acting in some less flattering way. "You are frightening, when you are angry," or, "You are using self-devaluing comments in broad sweeps," "which does not fit the general person that I know you to be."
There are many variations on this, but each is characterized by an emotional charge, different sets of attitudes and ideas about self, ways of acting and body language. To imagine that the waking ego self is stable and persistent is an illusion. Perhaps a helpful one, particularly in the first half of life, but in the second and "third half" of life it becomes less tenable as anything solid.
I am reminded of throwing spinning tops as a child, something that is little known today, but serves in this moment as a useful visual analogy. When the top is thrown, it spins at a fierce rate, and is relatived stable and holds position. It can wander, first being in one area of our imaginary "vend" diagram with many overlapping circles, then shifting to another adjacent circle of influence, which shares some of the characteristics of the first, but has a different center and flavor.
As the "top" energy decays, or outside influences intrude, the "top" wanders and gyrates, moving from perceived center to another. In each moment, from the "top's" point of view, this is "who I am," and it acts as if no other point of reference is even present. These complexes can be very intrusive and dominating, like an unruly senior actor who has always played for the center of the stage, they are reluctant to leave, and rightfully don't take well to challenges to their hold of the psychic energy. They usually have been with us since early in our life, adaptive strategies of emotional posture and defense, that artfully and curiously protect the threatened "little self," but have an eerie way of holding the foreground once granted.
Being willing to acknowledge their presence, recognize them in the reflective mirror of contemplation, requires humility and patience. We are challenged by the comments of others, to know these companions on our journey.