Navigating the Racial Complex: Unveiling its Impact on Workplace Success for People of Color

African American man leaning on desk at work

Introduction

Dr. Fanny Brewster (2017), in her book The racial complex: A Jungian perspective on culture and race, reminds us of America’s racism, racial complex and the paradoxical nature of living the American life. She echoes Carl Jung’s position on the importance of holding the tension of the opposites “to remain sane in an insane world” (p. 5) telling us to adopt an appreciation of paradoxical ways of living a successful life. 

In New York City’s dynamic and diverse corporate work environment, professional men and women of color often face unique challenges and negative racialized experiences because of their intersecting racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. As a depth-oriented psychotherapist, my work with diverse and dynamic patients offers me extraordinarily awareness of how race, ethnicity and culture impact our psyches, behaviors, and aspirations.  

This article briefly describes the racial complex and sheds light on how it significantly impacts and impedes people of color’s career and personal success. 

What Is A Complex

Carl Jung (1875/1961) in his work with patients found that complexes are semi-autonomous, splinter personalities operating unconsciously in the personal and collective unconscious. In this sense, complexes lay dormant until they are made conscious through spontaneous eruption of “big emotions” and feeling states. These may include anger, fear, rage, shame, guilt, confusion, and shock (Jacobi, 1996). 

Both Jung and Brewster argue that we are unable to rid ourselves of our complexes. They encourage building consciousness around them: “We must learn about them, adjust to them, and transform them. We know of their existence through an eruption of emotional and somatic contents” (Brewster, 2017). 

The Racial Complex 

The racial complex encompasses both conscious and unconscious patterns of emotional and behavioral responses. These patterns are often shaped by personal encounters with racism, structural inequality in art, education, health and business, cultural hegemony, and disordered and negative media portrayal of peoples of color. It is important to note, that the complex can vary significantly, in how it is constellated or manifested in individuals. Family upbringing, early experiences of discrimination, individual, psychological constitution, media representation and exposure to prevailing hostile corporate structure can influence how the complex is activated and constellated in people of color. For example, an affluent New Yorker of color may have a different constellation to the complex if he/she/they were exposed to racial profiling or microaggression, compared to an immigrant or someone from the mid-western states. 

In the context of professional people of color, the racial complex can be particularly influential to their mental health and wellness, due to the pressures and psychological split that occur, navigating a predominantly white corporate environment. The racial complex can leave us “aghast, emotionally disturbed, {and} triggered” (Brewster, 2020. p.2).  

The transformative work of depth psychological healing involves curiosity and focused attention on the unconscious functioning in the individual and collective psyche. Racial complex work is about bringing those racialized unconscious material to consciousness. This is one of the functions of my work with diverse and dynamic patients.  

Impacts on Workplace Success

The notion of imposed inferiority on people of color, coupled with racial biases and microaggressions can have a deleterious effect on their psyche, impeding work productivity. Racism in the workplace produces chronic anxiety, and fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, hypervigilance around self-consciousness, and internalized conflicts about self-worth, which may manifest in the workplace and private life.

Imposter Syndrome

Many successful professionals of color may experience imposter syndrome, an internalized belief that their achievements are not genuinely earned and are instead attributed to luck or external factors. This feeling of not belonging can hinder their ability to seize opportunities and reach their full potential.

Emotional Tax

Constantly confronting racial biases and stereotypes takes an emotional toll. People of color in senior roles may be forced into the role of ambassador of their race, with unconscious demand that they represent their race positively while suppressing their individuality and authentic selves. This emotional tax can lead to burnout, reduced productivity, and decreased job satisfaction.

Microaggressions

Subtle, everyday encounters involving racial slights, microaggressions and passive aggressiveness re-enforces white supremacist ideology of superiority and severely impacts mental resilience over time. These encounters, while often unintentional, can create or contribute to a hostile work environment and hinder productivity and collaboration.

Networking and Mentorship Challenges

The lack of diverse leadership in many organizations can limit access to influential networks and mentors. This lack of representation may lead to fewer opportunities for career advancement and growth.

Recognizing and transforming the Racial Complex

Recognizing and addressing the racial complex is essential for professional men and women of color to thrive in senior roles. As a depth-oriented psychotherapist, I approach therapy with the following strategies:

Self-Awareness: Holding space for patients to explore their racial identity and experiences in a safe space that allows them to gain insights into how these factors can contribute to self-perceptions, behaviors, and goals.

Unraveling Unconscious Biases: Supporting patients to identify, vitiate and understand unconscious biases. Building self-awareness empowers patients to navigate situations where their actions or decisions may be influenced by these biases.

Empowerment through Collective Identity: Recognizing the strength that comes from belonging to a community of people with shared experiences can provide a sense of deep connection, empowerment, and resilience.

Coping Strategies: Equipping patients with coping mechanisms to manage workplace stress and microaggressions can enhance their emotional well-being.

Assertiveness Training: Building assertiveness skills enables patients to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and advocate for themselves in the workplace.

Conclusion

The racial complex poses significant challenges for professional men and women of color working in senior roles in New York City. However, by acknowledging its existence and understanding its impact, individuals can take proactive steps to overcome its barriers and find success in their careers. As a depth-oriented psychotherapist with a Jungian perspective, I strive to provide a supportive and transformative therapeutic space where my patients can heal, grow, and embrace their authentic selves while navigating the complexities of the workplace. Together, we can foster resilience and empowerment, leading to a more inclusive and equitable professional environment for all.

References

Adams. M.V. (1996). The Multicultural Imagination: Race, Color, and the Unconscious. London and New York: Routledge. 

Brewster. F. (2017). African Americans and Jungian Psychology: Leaving the Shadows. London and New York: Routledge. 

Brewster. F. (2017). The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race. London and New York: Routledge.

Jacobi. J. (1974), Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung. New York: Princeton University Press. 

Johnson. (2006). Privilege, Power, and Difference. New York: McGraw Hill.