Healing the Divided Self

Jan 31 / Michael Simmons
Jesus and the disciples went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When the man saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees. The man shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

[…] When the disciples came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
Mark 5:1-15 NIV

Now, I invite you to take a deep breath. Slowly read each question that follows. Breathe deeply between each question.

Are there parts of you that live unprotected, unwelcome, or restless?

What parts feel exposed?

What parts do not feel welcome?

What of you is tired and in need of rest?

The story of the demoniac is an image of what psychologist Carl Jung called a negative complex. Generally speaking, psychological complexes are clusters or groups of experiences, and our interior world is filled to the brim with them.[1] Complexes are essential to navigating life, and they allow us to group similar experiences together to form patterns for relating to our environment.

For example, when you read this story in Mark’s gospel, what words, images and statements or questions held an emotional charge? Perhaps the story as a whole holds energy for you. The associations, heightened emotions, distinct memories, noticeable bodily sensations likely indicate the presence of a complex.

Negative complexes specifically, are often rooted in early trauma, and they can hold incredible power over how we respond to similar experiences in the present; this is what it means to be “triggered” or to have our “buttons pushed”. We can be assured a negative complex has been triggered any time our reaction to a situation is disproportionate to the reality at hand.[2] If you want to encounter a negative complex, notice how you feel when another motorist cuts you off, or you receive an abrasive or passive-aggressive email. Perhaps you feel possessed by an emotions or desired response?

Possessed by Division
The question remains, what do complexes have to do with demonic possession? The word demon (dai-mon) literally means “divider” and comes from the root da meaning “to divide.” We can think of a negative complex as a divided and split off part. The name Legion implies a military regimen - this man is quite literally possessed by a militarized group of divisions. The more unaware we are of a negative complex, the more divided it becomes, the more control it has over our lives, and the more energy it requires to keep in check. Such a complex could be said to live on the outskirts of the city, among the tombs, bound by chains, and constantly threatening to escape.

Befriending a Complex
We must learn to engage and related to our complexes. In this story, Christ, a symbol of the self, the imago dei, approaches the divided individual with a question: what is your name? The first step in relating to a complex is knowing its name - naming the complex allows you to interact and imaginatively dialogue with this inner part. Second, identify the stories, emotions, and memories related to the complex. Who are the people and narratives from your past that come to mind? Third, where in your body do you carry this complex? Often, when a complex is activated, our body reacts a certain way. The work here is to check-in with your body when you feel a complex constellate. Locate the emotion, ask it questions, and invite it to speak. And for God’s sake, don’t cast it away or allow it to hurt yourself or others.

One of the best words of advice comes from Jungian psychoanalyst, Joseph Lee on his podcast This Jungian Life. When finding yourself possessed by a complex, “Shut your mouth, and sit on your hands.”[3]

Negative complexes soak up energy, especially when they live among the tombs and shadows of our inner world. This energy could be available for our most intimate relationships, vocational pursuits and creative output. But the more we fight them, and the more we push them to the outskirts of our consciousness, or approach them as a sort of unclean spirit, the more energy they consume in our lives. You may even find that much of your spiritual practices and relationships with God, center around containment and management of a single negative complex.

So, are there parts of you that live unprotected, unwelcome, or restless? What about paralyzing fear, pent up rage, violence, or uncompromising lust? Are you able to name these parts, feel where they reside in your body? How have they hurt others? How have they hurt you?

Our story ends with the formerly divided individual “sitting, dressed and in their right mind.”[4] What part of you longs for this? Perhaps you hope for Jesus to pass by and cast them out, but projections, scapegoating, even exorcisms only soothe for so long. Eventually the divisions come back. The way forward is relationship and integration.

All complexes exist for a very good reason. Negative complexes can protect us from harm, but they also keep us from life. The good news is we don’t have to live like this. Our divisions can come together, and our tangled inner parts can find rest and clarity. The energy our complexes suck out of us, can become available again, and abundant life can be restored. But we need spaces to encounter and relate to these hidden parts, and we can’t do it alone.

Healing the divided self requires that we enter the shadow-lands of our inner life to receive and companion what we've hidden, repressed or denied. A trail head to this journey can be our emotions, which often tell the larger story of our interior life. On Friday February 18th from 9am-11am PST, Michael is offering his popular virtual course, Companioning Our Shadow: Emotions & Relationships . Enroll today, here.

If you're interested in connecting with Michael for spiritual direction you can reach out to him at innerworkcommunity@gmail.com.

[1] Ruth Snowden, Jung: The Key Ideas: From Analytical Psychology and Dreams to the Collective Unconscious and More (John Murray Press, 2017). 62
[2] Murray Stein, Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction (Open Court, 1998). 35-45
[3] “Episode 95- Triggered: Understanding & Transforming Complexes,” This Jungian Life, January 23, 2020, https://thisjungianlife.com/episode-095-triggered-understanding-transforming-complexes/.
[4] Mark 5:15 NIV

This Jungian Life. “Episode 95- Triggered: Understanding & Transforming Complexes,” January 23, 2020. https://thisjungianlife.com/episode-095-triggered-understanding-transforming-complexes/.
Snowden, Ruth. Jung: The Key Ideas: From Analytical Psychology and Dreams to the Collective Unconscious and More. John Murray Press, 2017.
Stein, Murray. Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction. Open Court, 1998.

Michael Simmons

Michael is a spiritual director, shadow work facilitator, and writer. He is ordained in the Free Methodist Church, and holds a Doctor of Leadership from Portland Seminary. If you’d like to connect with Michael for spiritual direction or shadow work, visit Innerworkcommunity.org, or email him at innerworkcommunity@gmail.com. You can also check out his Patheos.com column, Transgressive Spirituality: Life Through the Lens of Jungian Psychology. Be sure to check out his latest work and upcoming courses here.