The idea of archetypes might seem a bit left-field to some, which is not surprising. Jung was a pretty whacky dude. But in my own journey of healing from complex trauma, I have often found those things that operate on the fringes and ignite my imagination, have facilitated my growth where more conventional therapeutic methods have failed.
One of the things I love most about the archetypes is that they come imbued with rich imagery and story. This makes the whole experience of doing something “good for your mental health” much more engaging and fun, something which is often lacking in the dry here is a problem and here is a solution approach taken in traditional therapy.
Archetypes allow you to gain a deeper awareness of hidden aspects of yourself, giving you a way to view your life from a mythical perspective. For me, this process of looking at your experiences from a completely new angle acts like a circuit breaker, lifting you out of the limited thoughts that are keeping you stuck and inviting you to see your life in a new way.
“Real liberation comes not from glossing over or repressing painful states of feeling, but only from experiencing them to the full.” ― Carl Jung
What are archetypes?
Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, developed the concept of archetypes based on universal, recurring symbols and themes found in myths, stories and dreams across all different cultures. These symbols represent common human experiences and emotions and are something we innately recognize and respond to in an elemental way.
Archetypes are universal
Rather than something we learn about, Jung believes archetypes are an integral part of what it is to be human and universal elements of the human psyche we all share. They serve as templates or organizing principles that shape our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions and contribute to the formation of our personality by influencing how we perceive and respond to the world.
Archetypes speak in the language of symbols
Archetypes communicate through symbolic language. Jung believes these symbols serve as a direct link to the unconscious, conveying complex meanings and revealing deep-seated psychological truths often beyond the grasp of our surface awareness .
Becoming aware of this symbolism and making unconscious patterns conscious is a way to journey toward greater psychological wholeness.
What archetype are you?
Rather than fitting into a single archetype, we possess all archetypal energies, dynamically shifting between them depending on our stage of life , our experiences and the culture we exist within. Some of the archetypes are comfortable for us to identify with. Others are so confronting we want to deny their energies exist in us. But according to Jung, owning those aspects of ourselves we currently reject is part of the journey of becoming whole.
“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”― Carl Jung
Becoming aware of the powerful nature of archetypes and the potential problems that can arise if their energies are unbalanced gives you a novel way to see situations or patterns in your life from a new perspective. As you read through the following descriptions, reflect on which archetypes you most strongly relate to.
The Self represents the unity of the unconscious and conscious aspects of an individual. It is the center of the psyche, striving for balance and wholeness. In symbols, it is often represented by a circle, which encapsulates the idea integration of opposites and wholeness. Think of mandalas, which are found in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Native American art, and medieval Christian iconography.
Positive Qualities: Integration, wholeness, and a sense of purpose.
Negative Qualities: Disconnection, inner conflict, and a lack of direction.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Self archetype might manifest as a pervasive sense of confusion or a feeling of being lost, lacking a clear sense of purpose or identity.
The serpent or dragon, often associated with transformation and renewal, raw power and resilience, often serves as protectors of valuable knowledge. In Chinese mythology, the dragon symbolizes power and good fortune, while in Norse mythology, the Midgard serpent represents chaos and rebirth. In Hinduism, the serpent represents Kundalini energy and spiritual awakening.
Positive Qualities: Strength, transformation, guardianship, and wisdom
Negative Qualities: Destructive power, greed, fear, and isolation.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced dragon archetype may manifest as aggression and power struggles, obsession with material resources, isolation and a reluctance to connect emotionally
The Persona is the social mask or facade that an individual presents to the world to conform to societal expectations. The Persona is not inherently deceptive, it is a tool for social adaptation that represents the conscious, outward-facing aspect of an individual’s personality. Persona helps individuals navigate social interactions but can lead to a sense of disconnection if overidentified with. Think Athena from Greek Mythology and Vishnu from Hindu.
Positive Qualities: Adaptability, social effectiveness, and effective communication.
Negative Qualities: Over-identification, loss of authenticity, and superficiality.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Persona might lead to a feeling of emptiness or a sense of wearing a constant mask, where the individual struggles to express their true self authentically.
The Shadow is the unconscious, repressed aspects of oneself that are not readily accepted or acknowledged. It includes both dark and positive elements that are hidden from conscious awareness. Confronting and integrating the Shadow is essential for personal growth. Think Loki in Norse mythology, and the darker aspects of Hindu deities such as Kali who have the potential for both destruction and transformation.
Positive Qualities: Self-awareness, personal growth, and emotional depth.
Negative Qualities: Repression, projection, and destructive behaviors.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Shadow may result in destructive behaviors or a consistent pattern of projecting one’s own unresolved issues onto others without self-reflection.
The Anima is the feminine aspect within the male psyche, and the Animus is the masculine aspect within the female psyche. Rather than ideas about “how women and men should be based on gender norms”, these are complementary yet opposite energies each person has in different amounts and must learn to balance in order to feel whole. Think symbols like the yin-yang in Chinese philosophy, the Shiva and Shakti in Hinduism, and the concept of the divine couple in various mythologies.
Positive Qualities: Inner balance, understanding of the push/ pull and function of different energies, acceptance of the complexity of self.
Negative Qualities: Self-limiting concepts of acceptable energy based on societal constructs of gender, projection of unrealistic ideals on others, and relational challenges.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Anima/Animus might manifest as rigid or unrealistic expectations in relationships or difficulties in understanding and integrating one’s own masculine/feminine qualities.
The Hero is the figure who embarks on a journey, faces challenges, and ultimately triumphs. This archetype symbolizes the individual’s quest for self-discovery and growth and embodies the qualities of courage, resilience the ability to overcome obstacles. Think Hercules in Greek mythology, King Arthur in European legends, or Sun Wukong in Chinese folklore.
Positive Qualities: Courage, resilience, and a sense of purpose.
Negative Qualities: Over-assertiveness, arrogance, and a disregard for the needs of others
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Hero may exhibit aggressive behavior, insisting on their way without considering the impact on others or displaying an inflated sense of self-importance.
The Mother represents nurturing, caregiving, and protective aspects of the psyche. It is associated with the mother archetype in its positive and negative expressions, embodying both comfort and smothering control. Think Gaia in Greek mythology, Mother Mary in Christianity, and Amaterasu in Japanese mythology.
Positive Qualities: Nurturing, compassion, and protective instincts.
Negative Qualities: Overbearing, smothering, and manipulative tendencies.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Mother may exhibit controlling behavior, making decisions for others without considering their autonomy, or engaging in manipulative tactics to maintain a sense of control.
The Father embodies paternal qualities of leadership, authority, guidance and discipline. It can be a positive force providing support and structure or a negative force representing oppressive authority. Think Zeus in Greek mythology, Odin in Norse mythology, and God in Christianity.
Positive Qualities: Authority, guidance, and structure.
Negative Qualities: Authoritarianism, rigidity, and excessive control.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Father may become excessively domineering, imposing strict rules without room for flexibility, or exhibiting authoritarian behavior without considering the needs of others.
The Child archetype represents innocence, spontaneity, playfulness and transformational potential. It is the part of the psyche that seeks wonder and new experiences. The Child can manifest positively as curiosity or negatively as immaturity. Think Ganesha in Hinduism, the Child Horus in ancient Egyptian mythology, and the Holy Child in Christian iconography.
Positive Qualities: Playfulness, curiosity, and a sense of wonder.
Negative Qualities: Immaturity, dependence, and a refusal to grow up.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Child may resist taking responsibility, avoiding necessary growth and development, or displaying childish behaviour in inappropriate contexts.
The Wise Old Man/Woman
The Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman represents wisdom, knowledge, and guidance. This archetype reflects the accumulated experience and insights gained over a lifetime.
Think Merlin in Arthurian legends, the goddess Athena in Greek mythology, and Laozi in Chinese philosophy.
Positive Qualities: Wisdom, guidance, and a deep understanding of life.
Negative Qualities: Rigidity, dogmatism, and a resistance to change.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Wise Old Man/Woman may become stuck in outdated beliefs, resisting new perspectives or dismissing the valid experiences of others.
The Trickster is a mischievous, subversive and unpredictable archetype that challenges social norms and disrupts the status quo. It brings about change and transformation through chaos, disruption and unconventional means. Think Hermes in Greek mythology, the Norse god Loki, and the Native American Coyote. cunning, playfulness, and a propensity for mischief. The Trickster often challenges social norms and disrupts order.
Positive Qualities: Creativity, humor, and a capacity for change.
Negative Qualities: Deception, irresponsibility, and chaotic behaviors.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Trickster may engage in harmful pranks, manipulative behaviour, or create chaos without considering the consequences for themselves or others.
The Sage archetype embodies the pursuit of wisdom based on deep insight, a quest for understanding and the guidance of others through knowledge. It seeks knowledge for its own sake and often serves as a guide or mentor. Think Confucius in Chinese philosophy, the Buddha in Buddhism and Merlin in Arthurian legends.
Positive Qualities: Wisdom, insight, and a thirst for knowledge.
Negative Qualities: Arrogance, intellectual superiority, and isolation.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Sage may become overly critical of others, dismissing alternative viewpoints or isolating themselves due to a sense of intellectual superiority.
The Lover believes in the transformation power of love and represents the qualities of connection, passion, appreciation of beauty and the pursuit of meaningful relationships. It encompasses romantic and platonic attachments, the pursuit of connection and can symbolize a deep appreciation for life. Think Aphrodite in Greek mythology, Radha and Krishna in Hinduism, and the troubadour figures in medieval European literature.
Positive Qualities: Passion, connection, and appreciation for beauty.
Negative Qualities: Possessiveness, dependence, and idealisation.
If Unbalanced: An unbalanced Lover may engage in unhealthy relationships marked by possessiveness or dependence, or may chase unrealistic ideals of beauty at the expense of their well-being.
Working with the archetypes in your healing
Here are some ways you can engage with archetypes on your self-development journey.
Read through the descriptions of the archetype and consider which ones you most strongly identify with. Identify recurring themes, patterns, and symbols in your thoughts, dreams, and life experiences. Pay attention to characters or situations that evoke strong emotions or have a significant impact on you and consider them as if they are part of a myth. Which archetype do they represent? Becoming aware is always the first step.
Writing your own personal myths
Consider your own life as a narrative. Identify key events, challenges, and milestones. Explore how these experiences align with archetypal themes. Recognizing the archetypal patterns in your personal myth can provide insights into your journey and challenges. Does your experience feel more meaningful if you consider it from a mythical perspective?
Dreams often tap into the collective unconscious, offering glimpses of archetypal themes. Analyze your dreams for recurring symbols or characters. Keeping a dream journal and reflecting on the symbolic content can help uncover unconscious patterns.
Reflect on the archetypes most alive in your life and those that are more in the background. Create a visual representation of your inner world by drawing, painting, or sculpting or bring the stories of the archetypes to life by dancing or embodying them in performance. This is not about being the best artist or performer in the world. This is about making the unconscious, conscious. It is about giving form to your inner life and allowing it to live outside of yourself in a way that has meaning for you so that you can engage with it more objectively rather than having it swirling inside of you.
Rituals can serve as a means of connecting with deeper aspects of yourself and promoting a sense of purpose and meaning. Some ideas for rituals:
- Find objects that represent the different archetypes e.g. a teddy bear for the child, a gnarled stick that looks like a staff for the wise old man. Use these objects as touchstones when you want to draw more of that energy into your life.
- Next time you step into the shower reflect on the ancient ritual of bathing and applying ointments that has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. Draw on the energy of The Lover archetype, spending a few extra moments luxuriating in the smell of your moisturiser and the beautiful feeling of smoothness of your skin.
How do archetypes influence you?
Understanding the archetypes is a way to become more aware of the unconscious forces driving your behaviour and to learn how you might build more balance in your life. They offer a means of moving beyond the mundane and shallow and to see patterns and experiences from a deeper and more meaningful perspective.
What archetypes do you most strongly relate to?
Which do you judge?
Which do you wish you had more of in your life?