I've a first question so I apologize if the format is completely awry.

I'm reading Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature and I came across this passage by Edward C. Whitmont:

The shadow cannot be eliminated. It is the ever present dark brother or sister. Whenever we fail to see where it stands, there is likely to be trouble afoot. For then it is certain to be standing behind us. The adequate question therefore never is: Have I a shadow problem? Have I a negative side? But rather: Where does it happen to be right now? When we cannot see it, it is time to beware! And it is helpful to remember Jung's formulation that a complex is not pathological per se. It becomes pathological only when we assume that we do not have it; because then it has us.

The bold is my own addition to emphasize where my question stems from. This is the whole paragraph to the end of the chapter so as much context as I could give on it. To me (psychology as an interest/hobby with no classes or experience) this means that when we ignore the effects a complex has on us then it becomes pathological.

An example: Say I have an amputated hand and am lividly jealous at the sight of people doing things two-handed. By refusing to acknowledge and deal with this dilemma, I am relegating it to others to deal with by default and it thusly becomes pathological.

Is this accurate? Are there other important factors to take into consideration when considering a complex pathological?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @LitheOhm Some other Jung-related questions that might be of interest: 1, 2, 3. If you are planning to use this site to learn more about your hobby, then consider this advice. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2012 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the direction, I will keep the advice in mind. Is my question a clear sign of one who doesn't know enough then, or would the answer actually be useful to experts? $\endgroup$
    – LitheOhm
    Sep 12, 2012 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ I personally think your question is fine. It references a source, so you have done (some) initial research, and you have a specific question you're asking for clarification on. You have 3 upvotes and no flags or downvotes. So to me (another non-expert in the field) the question looks good! $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Sep 12, 2012 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ Artem makes great points in the answer he posted, and his advice (the way I read it, please correct me if I am wrong @Artem!) is more of how to learn more about cognitive sciences and ask good questions. We often get questions which show no research effort. It's better to read up on topics (or answers on this site) and then ask 8specific* followup questions. Asking questions without researching at all will result in closed questions. (But you didn't do that) $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Sep 12, 2012 at 22:30

1 Answer 1


I don't think there is an easy answer to this question. It is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. Really what you are asking is, what is the defining point between a lesser problem and a greater problem, that it can be diagnosed as a pathological.

My answer would be once a complex impacts on an individual's ability to function normally, becomes a more persistent within the person's thoughts or in any way crippling then it is pathological. Or better put in the following quote:

psychoneurosis, also called neurosis, plural psychoneuroses, or neuroses , mental disorder that causes a sense of distress and deficit in functioning.

Firstly to define what Jung considered to be a complex.

Jung's theory of complexes with key citations.
A "complex" meaning a personal unconscious, core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes organized around a common theme (Shultz and Shultz, 2009). .../...

Jung often used the term "complex" to describe a usually unconscious, repressed, yet highly influential symbolic material that is incompatible with the consciousness (Daniels, 2010). .../...

Some complexes usurp power from the ego and can cause constant psychological disturbances and symptoms of neurosis (Daniels, 2010)

So given that when a complex becomes a greater problem, it's a neurosis. We need to define neurosis.

Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms.1 It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic. The term essentially describes an "invisible injury" and the resulting condition.

Now we compare this with the definition of what pathology is in psychology.

Psychological Pathology Definition The scientific study of psychological disorders and their causes. Description
Psychological pathology is the study of the causes, components, course, and consequences of psychological disorders. These are characterized by abnormality and dysfunction. Abnormality
Psychological disorders are defined by diagnostic criteria, like those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000) or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Conditions (ICD; World Health Organization, 2007).

The inclusion of neurosis in the DSM has been controversial and neurosis is not considered a part of anxiety conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 would you elaborate on "becomes a preoccupation," please? $\endgroup$
    – LitheOhm
    Aug 19, 2013 at 17:27

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