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If you’ve ever taken up a psychology class before, there’s a good chance that you have come across the name of Carl Gustav Jung – a popular psychiatrist since the early 1900s. As the founder of analytical psychology, many argue that his most influential work is what was later on coined as the Jungian archetypes.
What are Jungian archetypes?
First things first: let’s define what an archetype is.
Think of archetypes as templates. In psychology, an archetype is a thought pattern unconsciously inherited by humans from years and years of collective experiences. Although he was initially a supporter of Sigmund Freud, Jung rejected Freud’s notion of the human mind being a tabula rasa. He believed that our minds are not inherently blank slates. The Jungian archetypes are founded on the idea that the mind contains unconscious knowledge from our ancestors, waiting to be activated.
So, how does one activate this unconscious knowledge?
It all depends on the individual’s environment. As we grow, we are subjected to living conditions unique to us. Our external experiences – may it be cultural or personal – all contribute to the realisation of the archetypes within us. Jung argued that as these archetypes get developed, they eventually shape the way we behave and our personality as a whole.
The four primary Jungian archetypes
Now that you know the main concept behind the Jungian archetypes, you might be wondering what your Jungian archetype is. It should be noted that Jung also proposed that these four can, later on, be expanded to more specific personality archetypes.
The persona is how we want the world to perceive us. It is the way we present ourselves in various situations. As this archetype develops, we learn to behave in accordance with external influences and predisposed notions. For example, a child born into a religious family will soon realise that there are certain behavioural expectations when inside the church. The persona develops as the part that is most adaptive to societal norms or moral expectations. In a way, it can be referred to as our social mask. We wear this social mask to protect ourselves from being seen in a negative light by the people around us.
The shadow represents the unknown side of a person. Similar to Freud’s idea of the unconscious, the shadow contains our most repressed thoughts, hidden desires/weaknesses, or automatic responses to different stimuli. The shadow is developed as we navigate through a world where moral obligations exist. As we attempt to be the person who always subscribes to what is ‘right’, everything that we regard as unacceptable is stored in this archetype. It can be said that the more we develop the persona (social mask), the more that the shadow grows as we unconsciously dump our negative thoughts or suppressed desires.
Anima and animus
The anima is the feminine aspect of a male identity while the animus is the masculine aspect of female identity. Jung referred to the anima and the animus as our true selves. He believed that our physiological developments accompanied by cultural influences shape our gender roles and identities. Consequently, these gender roles and identities greatly contribute to the entire makeup of an individual. As we subconsciously tap into this archetype, our anima/animus affects how we develop as men and women.
For example, a girl grows up into the type of woman that is mainly determined by two things: the societal norms of being feminine (such as being meek, being prim and proper, etc.) and her personal experiences with both genders. If she was always expected to repress her animus (masculine traits), she is likely to develop a psychological imbalance. This goes for men too: An untapped anima (feminine traits) can lead to serious problems in their personalities. To maximise our psychological development, Jung remarked that we should explore both feminine and masculine traits then eventually strive to achieve the balance between these two.
The self is where the conscious and unconscious meet. This archetype is activated through the amalgamation of all the factors that make up our personalities. Jung called this process individuation. A person who has successfully made themselves aware of their conscious, unconscious and the collective unconscious is deemed to have created a holistic self. Unearthing issues such as repressed feelings embedded in the unconscious is a vital part of individuation. To achieve unity between our conscious and unconscious, one must always aim to address internal conflicts and disharmony.
For Jung, the pinnacle of self-actualisation lies in the way we learn to integrate the conscious with the unconscious. Our ultimate aim is balance. Harmony. When one fails to connect the two, Jung warned against the psychological problems it may bring.
The other archetypes
Jung acknowledged that the four primary archetypes are not fixed. The long journey of our individuation will introduce us to many other archetypes that we can closely relate to. Some of these personality-specific archetypes are:
The nurturer has predominant maternal instincts. They are selfless. They often think of other people’s comfort and safety before their own.
The leader has predominant paternal instincts. They are natural protectors. They love contributing help by offering to take charge.
The innocent possesses child-like characteristics. Although often viewed as naive, they are actually just pure individuals who choose to see the good in everything.
Another selfless archetype is the hero. They would jump at any opportunity to help. However, they have the tendency to do things because they feel like it’s the only way to prove their worth.
In a nutshell
While the concept of Jungian archetypes was met with criticisms and doubts, it is undeniable that it has greatly helped in furthering our understanding of the human mind. These archetypes serve as a strong starting point for our pursuit in identifying our behavioural motivations and challenges. As we explore these archetypes, we move closer to achieving a well-developed self.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.