Many of the characters or elements of our dreams act quite contrary to what we consciously wish. This is why we often find it so difficult to believe all aspects of a dream are part of our own psyche. Some drives or areas of self act or express despite what we would want. These are named autonomous complexes. Recent research into brain activity shows that in fact the brain has different layers or strata of activity. These strata often act independently of each other or of conscious will. Sensing them, as one might in a dream, might feel like meeting an opposing will or being possessed by an alien force. Integration with these aspects of self can of course be gained. See The Two Powers.
A modern view of the personality says that our mind is made up of many modules which are quite distinct. These modules, such as the sexual drive and the ability to speak, usually function in a way which is reasonably integrated. But many areas of dissimilarity are evident if we closely observe the workings of our own responses to life. Because we each hold certain ideas about ourselves – our self image – things we do which do not express this self image may shock or even frighten us. Actions arising from a module of oneself which does not express our accepted self image, may give rise not only to fear, but also a sense of evil, or being possessed by evil.
An autonomous complex may be recognised by any one of four major signs. Firstly we may project enormous feelings of love, repulsion, hate or even fear upon another person we know or meet. The power of these feelings or convictions is so great they create a bond between oneself and the other person. Often these feelings lead us to feel there is a fault in the other person that is repulsive or immoral, and which we find very difficult to accept. For instance a man might see another man he knows committing adultery, and feel so repulsed by the act that he goes around criticising the man, only to find years later that he had been repressing the trait in himself. The very strength of the energy with which we criticise it in others may be equal to the strength with which we repress the urge or characteristic in ourselves.
Another way the autonomous complex may announce itself its to take over or invade the conscious personality. It may be an idealistic vision that possesses the person, a mission such as preaching or improving the lot of other people, or something that re-directs the life of the person in a manner that is not rational. This may lead to extraordinary deeds, done in the possessing influence of the vision or urge – or it may lead to foolishness or disillusionment. The apparent change, however, is that the person is under the influence of urges that were not natural, or the person was not capable of, before the invasion. The life of Joan of Arc is an example of being led to great deeds which were beyond the person prior to the invasion.
The third relationship with an autonomous complex is where something happens to destroy or stop all expression or action of these inner characteristics. As much of our uniqueness and facility for variety arises out of the interaction with these various aspects of self, their disappearance leaves a person empty and uncreative – a dried husk without any spark of life.
The fourth possibility is that in which the person consciously attempts to find a working relationship with these disparate aspects of their personality and unconscious. As the autonomous complexes hold in them such varied and spontaneous responses to life, they have enormous creative potential if they can be met and expressed in a way that does not dominate or destroy the central personality. The characters we meet in dreams, their variety and difference to how we know and think of ourselves, present us very clearly with the enormous variety of talents, sensitivities, possible approaches to a situation, and personality types that we hold within us. If we can tap them they are an enormous resource. Although it can be very disorienting and even frightening to meet ones internal infant, and feel its explosive moods and deep instinctive longings, it can enlarge our perspective of life enormously, as well as our ability to relate more widely. Apart from the infant there are many beings we touch in our dreams. Everything from the deeply animal such as the dog in our dreams, or the wolf, to the sadist, the lover, the monk and the business tycoon. If we do not meet these characters and manage them in our life, they will certainly manage us, and lead us into relationship tangles, emotional responses and actions that are not what we ourselves choose to be or feel. See: examples under compensation; sub-personalities; Integrating a Parent or an Alien; Unconscious.