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One of the main “rules” of Jungian psychology is Psyche does not like extremes. It likes to “drive down the middle-of-the-road”, not in either ditch. If the mind is not balanced, the Unconscious will do something to get things back to some sort of balance. You can not successfully suppress your Shadow parts, nor can you pretend they don’t exist.

If you stubbornly insist on ‘having only white‘  (or worse) deny the existence of ‘black’, the Unconscious will find fiendish ways to force things back to ‘gray’.

This can get very ugly.

A classic examples are conservative politicians or religious types who scorn and condemn other’s sexuality, only to be caught with their pants down in sordid scandals. (Jimmy Swaggart and that Governor for Idaho come to mind).  Some see them as merely hypocritical; a Jungian sees this as another tragic failure of denying one’s Shadow, projecting it out onto others, and paying the price for the folly.

This is some times referred to as “The Pentheus Complex”.  This describes a person stern and austere, who wants no nonsense, joy, sexuality, or frivolity in their lives (or more usually in the lives of others).

In “The Bacchae” Pentheus was the grandson of the King of Thebes, who is in charge to keep order.  When Dionysius shows up with his unbridled hedonistic revelry, Pentheus tries first to banish him (not a chance). Then he tries to lock him up (equally ineffective). When he can’t lock Dionysos up, Pentheus next tries to prevent others from ‘being in touch with the God”.  But Dionysius leads the women into the wilderness out of Pentheus’ authority.


Eventually Dionysos leads Pentheus to a grove where the women of Thebes are in a wild dance. Pentheus is manifestly there to arrest them, but he becomes fascinated to observe the Bachannal rites (interestingly Dionysos disguises big butch Pentheus in drag so he may blend in with the ladies). In their frenzy, the bezerk women tear Pentheus to pieces, thinking him a sacrificial animal to consume.  His own mother brings home his head, in her delirium not realizing what she has done.

People who deny their wild side are doomed to be torn apart by it.  Each one of us must come to terms with it; we can not deny its existence.

Having a Pentheus Complex leads to doom – or your personal life as the lead on the news.

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August 2012

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