The term "constellation" appears frequently in Jung's writings and is an important one in the Jungian lexicon. It is a word that often mystifies readers at first. Usually it refers to the creation of a psychologically charged moment, a moment when consciousness either already is, or is about to become, disturbed by a complex. "This term simply expresses the fact that the outward situation releases a psychic process in which certain contents gather together and prepare for action. When we say that person is 'constellated" we mean that he has taken up a position from which he can be expected to react in a quite definite way." Complex reactions are quite predictable once one knows what the specific complexes of an individual are. We refer to the complex-laden areas of the psyche colloquially as "buttons," as in "She knows how to press my buttons!" When you press such a button, you get an emotional reaction. In other words, you constellate a complex. After you have known a person for a while, you know where some of their buttons are and either avoid these tender areas or go out of your way to touch them.
The architects of these constellations "are definite complexes possessing their own specific energy." The complex's "energy" (this term will be discussed more thoroughly in the next chapter) refers to the precise amount of potential for feeling and action that is bound up in the magnet-like core of the complex. The complexes have energy and manifest a sort of electronic "spin" of their own, like the electrons surrounding the nucleus of an atom. When they are stimulated by a situation or an event, they give off a burst of energy and jump levels until they arrive in consciousness. Their energy penetrates the shell of ego-consciousness and floods into it, thereby influencing it to spin into the same direction and to discharge some of the emotional energy that has been released by this collision. When this happens, the ego is no longer altogether in control of consciousness or ,for that matter, of the body. The person becomes subject to energic discharges that are not under the ego's control. What the ego can do, if it is strong enough is to contain some of the complex's energy within itself and to minimize emotional and physical outbursts. But, to a degree, none of us is wholly responsible for what we say and do while in the grip of a complex. Needless to say, this does not constitute an effective defense in a court of law. Sometimes society demands a higher standard than the psyche will allow.
The complexity (pardon the pun) of the psyche is becoming apparent. In fact, Jung's theory was sometimes called complex psychology (rather than the more than usual name for it, analytical psychology): both complexity and the concept of complexes are fundamental to his view of the psyche. The psyche is made up of many centers, each of them possessing energy and even some consciousness and purpose of their own.
In this conceptualization of the personality, the ego is one complex among many. Each has its own specific quantum of energy. When we speak of the ego's energy, we call it "free will." If we wish to refer to the amount of energy tied up in a complex, we can speak of the power of our inner demons. These are the irrational compulsions that can seize us and do with us more or less what hey want. A complex generally creates its effects within the domain of consciousness, but this is not always so. Sometimes the disturbances occur outside of the psyche altogether. Jung observed that a complex can affect objects and other people in the surrounding world. It can act as a poltergeist or a subtle influence on other people.
To get the basic structure of the complex, it must be broken down into its parts. "What then, scientifically speaking, is a ' feeling-toned complex'? Jung asks. "It is the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated emotionally and is, moreover, incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness." The word "image" is key here. It is an extremely important term for Jung. Image defines the essence of psyche. Sometimes Jung uses the Latin word imago rather than image to refer to a complex. The "mother imago" is the mother complex, as distinguished from the actual mother. The point is that the complex is an image and as such belongs essentially to the subjective world; it is made of pure psyche, so to speak, although it also represents an actual person, experience or situation. IT should not be mistaken for objective reality-- for another actual person or a material body. The complex is an inner object, and at its core it is an image.
Complexes operate in a similar way, only in humans they seem to be only quasi-instinctive rather than truly instinctive. They act like instincts in that they produce spontaneous reactions to particular situations or persons, but they are mot purely innate in the same way that instincts are. Mostly they are products of experience-- trauma, family, interactions and patterns, cultural conditioning. These are combined with some innate elements, which Jung called archetypal images, to make up the total package of the complex. Complexes are what remain in the psyche after it has digested experience and reconstructed it into inner objects. In human beings, complexes function as the equivalent of instincts in other mammals. Imagoes, or complexes, are, in a manner of speaking, constructed human instincts.
"This image has a powerful inner coherence, it has its own wholeness and, in addition, a relatively high degree of autonomy, so that it is subject of the control of the conscious mind to only a limited extent, and therefore behaves like an animated foreign body in the sphere of consciousness." Each of these features of the image-- its inner coherence, its wholeness, and its autonomy-- are important aspects of Jung's definition of the complex. A complex possesses psychic solidity; it is stable and endures through time. Left in its own space without intervention or challenge by ego-consciousness, a complex tends not to change very much . One can witness this in repetitions of the same patterns of emotional reaction and discharge, the same mistakes, the same unfortunate choices made over and over again in a person's life.
Analysis tries to uncover the complexes and expose them to the conscious reflection of the ego. This intervention can alter them somewhat. In analysis a person learns how the complexes function, what triggers their constellation, and what can prevent their endless repetition. Without such intervention on the part of the ego, a complex will behave like an animated foreign body or an infection. In the grip of a complex, a person can feel quite helpless and emotionally out of control.
"Certain experimental investigations seem to indicate that [the complex's] intensity or activity curve has a wavelike character with a wavelength of hours, days, or weeks." The stimulus that provokes the complex may be slight or great, of long or short duration, but its effects on the psyche can continue for extended periods of time and can come into consciousness in waves of emotion or anxiety. One of the signs of effective psychotherapy it that the complex-induced disturbances perservaerate for shorter lengths of time than they did before. A more rapid recovery from complex-induced disturbances indicates increased ego strength and integration of psychic material, as well as decreased power in the complexes. A shortened perserveration time means that the complex's power has diminished. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that a complex can never be completely eliminated. The wavelike effects of complex "aftershock" are exhausting and draining. The discharge of a powerful complex can consume an enormous amount of psychic and physical energy.
Further on the structure of the complex, Jung describes it as being made up of associated images and frozen memories of traumatic moments that are buried in the unconscious and not readily available for retrieval by the ego. These are repressed memories. What knits the various associated elements of the complex together and holds them in place is emotion. This is the glue. Furthermore, " the feeling-toned content, the complex, consists of a nuclear element and a large number of secondarily constellated associations." The nuclear element is the core image and experience on which the complex is based-- the frozen memory. But this core turns out to be made up of two parts: an image or psychic trace of the originating trauma and an innate (archetypal) piece closely associated to it. The dual core of the complex grows by gathering associations around itself, and this can go on over the course of an entire lifetime. If, for example, a man reminds a woman of her harsh, abusive father by his tone of voice, by his way of reacting to life, y his intensity of emotional response, and so on, he will understandably constellate her father complex. If she interacts with him over a period of time, material will be added to that complex. If he abuses her, the negative father complex will be further enriched and energized, and she will become all the more reactive in situations where the father complex is constellated. Increasingly she may avoid such men entirely, or on the other hand she may find herself irrationally drawn to them. In either case, her life becomes more and more restricted by this complex. The stronger the complexes, the more they restrict the range of the ego's freedom of choice.
That complexes can be modified by later experience is of course to the benefit of the individual, and the healing potential of psychotherapy depends upon this. Therapy involves a kind of thawing out of the frozen memory images. It can restructure the personality to some extent because transference allows the therapist to stand in for (among other figures of the psyche) the parents, both mother and father, at different stages of therapy. When a parental complex is constellated by the therapist the patient's experience of a different kind of parent figure adds material to the old complex and builds a new layer into, or over, it. This new structure does not entirely replace the old, but it can importantly modify it, to the point where the complex no longer restricts a person's life in such a debilitating way. The harshness of an abusive parent imago may be softened-- thawed out-- or offset by new structures.