Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés posted a Facebook note yesterday about people who are caught in negative complexes. Although there were aspects of the negative complex she was describing that do not fit my current situation, I did clearly recognize her description of “being snagged and tied into a weir made of the sticks and sinew of past unpleasant or devastating or even only moderately upsetting experiences… and losing proportion and perspective around the edges, half-way, or entirely.” She goes on later to add that when we are caught in this kind of negative complex, “we often cannot stop talking or acting a certain way–which is often to our detriment in some significant way.”
The kind of negative complex that I have been stuck in lately is of a different kind than what she describes, but I do very much relate to the experience both of being stuck and being unable to stop acting or speaking in ways that are harmful to me or the situation. There are times when I am even aware that what I am doing or saying is making the situation worse, but when I’m caught in this kind of weir I am unable to act or speak differently even when I want to. I also find that when I am stuck in this way, it becomes a negative spiral where my words and actions exacerbate the situation so that my circumstances become more negative, which reinforces my negative complex, which further degrades my words and actions, and so on. It becomes a self-feeding cycle that digs me ever deeper into a hole of misery, making it harder and harder to find my way out of the weir.
I had a very interesting confirmation of this pattern recently at work. Our department is having everyone take a DISC assessment which tells how each of us best works and will help us better relate to and communicate with each other. Each of receives a full report about our particular “type” and how we do and don’t work best, including how we appear to others. I noted that my report says that under moderate tension, pressure, stress, or fatigue, I may appear to others as pessimistic, worrisome, picky and fussy, and under extreme stress, tension, pressure, or fatigues, I may appear to others as perfectionistic, strict, hard-to-please, and defensive. Given the amount of stress I’ve been under for the last 8 months or so, it’s no wonder I keep getting so much feedback that people find me hard to work with! This is a clear example of how the high level of stress and upheaval have sent me into a negative complex that is causing me to act in ways that alienates others, and their negative reactions to me and complaints about me are adding (greatly!) to my stress, which has sent me deeper into a very negative spiral.
Incidentally, I also can’t help but wonder how much of these negative traits that each of us display (according to our respective personality types) are also a part of our shadows—parts of ourselves that we try to suppress and hide because we are ashamed of them. Yet despite our own self-denial of these traits, others can often see these things in us much more clearly (especially under stressful conditions when we are not as able to suppress them) than we can see them in ourselves. The attempt to deny them only makes their power over us that much stronger. So in my case, these negative actions and words that are exacerbating my negative spiral may just be my shadow self showing her face. If so, I wonder if there is a way to gain better control over those expressions just by embracing my shadow.
While this negative complex idea is all very helpful to understand, the real question is how do I more from this deepening negative spiral into a positive one where my positive energy feeds better responses which create better responses which produce greater positive energy? I want to do more than just dig myself out of this pit that I’m in (which is a challenge enough in and of itself!); I want to find a way to completely transform the negative spiral into a positive spiral—to convert this negative life-draining energy into positive life-enhancing energy.
In her note, Dr. Pinkola Estés suggests the following methods for breaking out of a negative complex: focusing on the breath, stopping all mental striving and resting, staying away from situations that provoke negativity, and watching one’s boundaries to ensure that the focus in on self and not on others. These are all very useful suggestions and things that I should pursue, but they only appear to address means of breaking out of the weir in which I am currently trapped. How do I go from that to the complete transformation in energy that I wish to make? I don’t have any answers yet, but I feel like I’m at least closer to asking the right questions. And the encouragement of knowing that I’m not alone in feeling so stuck in this weir helps combat my usual stream of self-condemnation at least a bit. That in and of itself brings a bit of hope.