I post entries on Jungian psychology from time to time. I do this to educate and to keep me on my toes. Currently I am not formally treating patients in a Jungian context. Not a day goes by when I don’t think in these terms and apply them to my practice.

To remind you, a complexes are sort of like members around a long table, with the Ego acting as CEO. The complexes ‘say their piece’ and the Ego listens and takes advice etc. but it doesn’t allow any complex to ‘run the show’. The Ego can’t fire any of the complexes, but it can put them in their place – or so we hope. Occasionally a complex swells up with too much libido [aka psychic energy] and it thinks IT is the ego. By the way, this is where we get the word ‘shrink’. Psychotherapy is about shrinking bloated complexes to their appropriate size and position.

A funny complex is called The Rumpelstiltskin complex. It is based on the Grimm Fairy Tale. For those who don’t know the story:  A royal couple negotiates with a gnome spinning straw into gold. The gnome demands their first born baby for payment. The parents can get out of the contract provided they can discover his name. Eventually they do, and the gnome is foiled, his power imploded.

Americans are obsessed with ‘naming things’. We think if we can put a label on something – know its name – we can control it. I see the Rumpelstiltskin complex rise up and take over whenever there is a disaster or tragedy. We want to know ‘what explains this’ – and we want a simple easy to understand explanation.
Here is an example: the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior in the 70s. We still don’t know ‘why’ it sank. There are a few theories. To this day people still fight it out/try to solve the mystery. Some of this is liability driven – we want to find something – and someone – to blame. “It sank because.. (the crew was negligent, the hull was poorly built, the captain steered the ship into shallow waters, etc.)

But mostly it Rumpelstiltskin complex driven – we can’t abide mysteries and complicated events.

I see this complex in Medicine. On the positive, ‘giving a name’ to a vague set of symptoms is a relief – sometimes even a bad diagnosis is preferable to no diagnosis.

On the negative, needing to know WHY something happened, whom to blame, what caused this etc. can take up a lot of psychic energy and be more damaging than helpful.

It is ironic for me to sometimes tell people to stop searching for a cause or explanation of things. They may have to live with a mystery that won’t be clear.  Sometimes we can’t name the gnome; we have to live with him.