One of the watchwords of psychology is neurosis. Although sometimes referred to as "insanity" in popular culture, "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result" actually refers to neurotic behavior. What is it that drives this obviously maladaptive behavior? --- is it the need to "fix" something that is psychodynamically perceived as broken, or is there a larger meta-pattern at work? Well, it's both - and then some.

Archetypes are universal templates, evidence of which has existed from prehistoric times. In every tribe, and every culture that has developed out of tribal collectives, there have been displayed in art, lore and ritual pinnacle icons that represent an ideal. There is the Mother, the Warrior, the Martyr, the Fool --- the list seems endless.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her two book series The Gods in Every Man and The Goddesses in Every Woman, does a very good job of codifying and containing the major archetypes active in modern and postmodern society. Another good reference for this is the work of Robert A. Johnson, in his three book series He, She and We, as well as some of his other writings such as The Handless Maiden and Owning Your Own Shadow.

The notion of the archetype is actually fairly simple. Archetypes occur in pairs and the relationship between paired archetypes creates a balance in the personality and its expression. So, the Mother (the one who cares for) is balanced with the Victim (the one who needs caring for); the Warrior (the one who is aggressive and forthright) is balanced with the Servant (the one who is passive and remains unseen); the Lover (the one who is authentic and present) is balanced with the Actor (the one who is inauthentic and postures), and so on.

Archetypes are constants. They present themselves either actively or passively within the global context of our personality and in varying degrees. A young businessman or woman who needs to be energized and engaged in order to grow a new business activates the Warrior archetype. The person who does not know how to properly express his or her needs activates the Silent Child. As the business grows and needs less hypervigilant attention, the Warrior gives over some of his or her dominance to the Servant, becoming more "hands off" and letting the business run itself. Similarly, as an individual becomes more confident in expressing themselves within the context of their relationships, the Silent Child gives over some of his or her dominance to the Magician and in doing so become more expressive about his or her needs.

Challenges arise when the failure to strike a balance between paired archetypes interferes with the presentation of other aspects (read: archetypes) of the personality. For instance, if that business person doesn't become less Warrior-like over time and continues to consistently focus his or her energies upon the business, it may interfere with the presentation of the Lover -- here we have the workaholic who neglects the family or, for that matter, remains unmarried. By the same token, the person who actively expresses the Intellectual -- consistently isolating emotionality in service of rationality --- may be interfering with the nurturing presence of the Mother and, as such, be emotionally unavailable.

One thing that is important to note is that archetypes are not gender specific. What that means is that both men and women carry the archetype for the Mother --- one's nurturing nature (forgive the psycho-pun) -- just as both genders carry the archetype for the Warrior (the "fighter") or the Magician (the "transformer").

Another important consideration is that archetypes are not linear - they are more like a fabric that is one whole piece. Think of them as a blanket...when you wrap a blanket around you, certain parts are against your skin, and when you shift or move, different parts are against your skin, but you are still wrapped in the same blanket.

A third, and also very important consideration, is the Shadow archetype. This terminology is taken from the writings of Carl Jung, and it is an unfortunate translation from the original Austrian, in that it implies something negative, when, in fact, Jung intended to simply express something that "wasn't there".

The Shadow contains those parts of ourselves that we reject, and in no way is intended to imply negativity. In service of the season, a fine example of this is that if you identify yourself as a Democrat, then the Republican, the Independent and the Libertarian all dwell in your Shadow.

To that point, there is a colloquialism that states, "We hate most in others what we fear most in ourselves". From this perspective, if I'm a homophobic male, it is not so much that I hate gay men, but more that my inability to reconcile the possibility of any inconsistencies in my own sense of personal gender identification drives my homophobic sensibility. This is an almost pure expression of the Shadow archetype.

So, in terms of self-understanding, the notion of the archetype is a useful system for quantifying self-perception, behavior and their respective expressions. There is, in this, also a more esoteric piece that speaks to development in terms of emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spirituality.

A number of the archetypal pairs relate directly to the chakras. Although much can be made of the chakra system as a means for understanding energetic flow and spiritual development, at its most basic it speaks to psychosocial development.

There are seven chakras -- the Root, the Navel, the Solar Plexus, the Heart, the Throat, the Brow and the Crown. As an example, the Root chakra defines the ground of being --- our basic survival needs --- and is associated with the Mother archetype; that is, the one who nurtures. Paired with the Mother is the Victim --- the one who is not nurtured.

Getting our most basic survival needs met provides us with a sense of being nurtured and in doing so then provides us with the opportunity to nurture. Our experience of nurturance is the staging point for our own development of compassion. This expression of compassion is an activation of the Mother archetype. The expression of compassion and the activation of the Mother archetype furthers the free flow of energy through the Root chakra, thus allowing our (kundalini) energy to flow upward, activating the Navel chakra leading to a sense of pleasure and well-being.

Being stuck at the Root indicates an activation of the Victim archetype and would, in the parlance of traditional Chinese or Ayervedic medicine, be demonstrated by issues in the lower intestine, difficulties with the elimination and also sexual dysfunction --- or basic needs (i.e., nutrition, the release of toxins and procreation) not being met. In terms of Eastern psychology, this "stuckness" would likely be interpreted through the evidencing of disordered eating, sexual dysfunction and/or sexual deviance ranging from promiscuity to predation.

A chart of the archetypal pairs associated with the chakra system appears below:






Basic survival needs




Solar Plexus





Love/Being loved


Magician/Silent Child







Spiritual awareness

Whether we are discussing the theories of Freud, Jung, Erikson or Maslow, the notion of archetypes, or the chakra system, what we are ultimately considering are systems for understanding the human condition. The archetypal system in some ways makes what can be rather difficult concepts to grasp more accessible because, rather than filtering our experience of ourselves and others through a set of abstract concepts, that experience finds life and meaning in the more familiar context of fairy tales and mythology. It also provides us with a simple and effective tool for labeling and categorizing the experience of both ourselves and the world around us.

So, why did you marry your father? If we consider that question within the context of this system of understanding, the answer would be "Because he didn't love you in the way that you needed to be loved".

Your father's failure to activate the Mother (nurturance) allowed the Victim to become dominant in you -- leaving you feeling both unlovable and unloved. Since we typically seek out what we know, and nature tends toward balance, we would, in this example, be prone to choose someone who exhibits that same quality of non-nurturance in an effort to bring the Mother/Victim archetype back into balance within ourselves. We are trying to fix what we unconsciously and psychodynamically perceive as broken. Ah...the plot thins...and the circle closes.

As an exercise, try thinking about which archetypes are active in your life and how the balance or imbalance of archetypal pairs may be influencing your world, or even interfering with a broader expression of adaptive behavior. You can use the chart provided as a starting point, but remember this is only a small number of the archetypes active in our culture today.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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