Parental complex. A group of emotionally charged images and ideas associated with the parents. (See also incest.)
Jung believed that the numinosity surrounding the personal parents, apparent in their more or less magical influence, was to a large extent due to an archetypal image of the primordial parents resident in every psyche.
The importance that modern psychology attaches to the “parental complex” is a direct continuation of primitive man’s experience of the dangerous power of the ancestral spirits. Even the error of judgment which leads him unthinkingly to assume that the spirits are realities of the external world is carried on in our assumption (which is only partially correct) that the real parents are responsible for the parental complex. In the old trauma theory of Freudian psychoanalysis, and in other quarters as well, this assumption even passed for a scientific explanation. (It was in order to avoid this confusion that I advocated the term “parental imago.”) [“The Function of the Unconscious,” CW 7, par. 293.]
The imago of the parents is composed of both the image created in the individual psyche from the experience of the personal parents and collective elements already present.
The image is unconsciously projected, and when the parents die, the projected image goes on working as though it were a spirit existing on its own. The primitive then speaks of parental spirits who return by night (revenants), while the modern man calls it a father or mother complex. [Ibid., par. 294.]
So long as a positive or negative resemblance to the parents is the deciding factor in a love choice, the release from the parental imago, and hence from childhood, is not complete. [“Mind and Earth,” CW 10, par. 74].
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.