Your Archetypal Cast & Crew

Theater Masks

I watched the movie “Maleficent” last week. Is the Fairy Godmother character Maleficent, or Beneficent? The story finds both in the same person: hero and villain, Light Giver and Shadow, depending on what? It is the stimuli that affect the character—how she is treated, mainly—that bring out her different personas. Then the other night I was watching a Brain Games segment. They offered a set of personality test questions. One question I answered yes to was: “If you are frustrated do you sometimes “blow up’”? It is pretty rare for me but, yes, sometimes I find there’s a part of me that privately expresses itself by acting out briefly in a sort of tantrum that I have little conscious control over in the moment.

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Think of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other; have you ever felt that sort of duality around a temptation or a decision? So, what’s that about?

Cherokees say we all have two wolves living within us: a good wolf and a bad one. Which will surface? The one you feed.

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Or how about this: “Who are you” at work compared to “Who are you” with your significant other?  Think of the whole set of SOCIAL ROLES you occupy. As a Teacher, my personality disposition or ‘presentation of self’, especially in a classroom, is quite different from my ‘Friendship’ mode, say camping with friends or walking my dog Sophie. My sisters even find it freaky how I shift into Motherese with my dog, because it is so not like my regular speech.

What about you? What roles do you enact in your life regularly? Do these different social roles or statuses bring out some distinctive aspects of your personality?

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As a cultural anthropologist I find all of this to be VE-E-E-RY interesting, that we shift our presentation of self, from slightly to a lot, in different “role guises.” Then I find myself thinking about… ARCHETYPES of the Unconscious.

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Carl Jung said: “For every typical situation in life, there is an archetype corresponding to that situation.” On one hand, a situation itself has ‘archetypal’ characteristics: features we expect to go along with the typical framing of that kind of occasion.  But if you reflect on the Life Themes that run through your Life Path: those KINDS of situations that are prominent in different phases or aspects of your life, you can see how the character traits associated with your ROLES in these recurring types of life situations (like Family, Work, Relationships, Travel, etcetera) are also archetypal. The Lover, the Teacher, the Warrior, the Mystic, for instance, all embody role traits recognizable in a culture.

When you “put on” a role or status, some archetypal character aspects (I wanted to type “assets”, and they ARE) step forth as it were to enact that role in tandem with your core sense of Self.

So we each have within us an “ensemble cast of mythic archetypal characters”. That is our topic this week and next. To start playing in this sandbox you get to have some playmates: your own ‘inner selves’ that are often submerged except in these role situations, sudden outbursts, and “inner dialogue”.

Origami Mouths For Conversation, Discussion Or Communicating

Your first move, then: I invite you to make a list of the typical roles you occupy and have occupied in your life. Describe some character traits that feel like they ‘come forth’ for you in these roles. What KINDS of characters are these?

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Please feel free to Comment or to Query. Thanks and stay tuned…

“You See Yourself in Others”–Family-Based Archetypal Projections

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Archetypal psychology á la Carl G. Jung or James Hillman or Carolyn Myss—or via a unique Life Mapping approach I will be introducing you to in Life Paths—can help you to become more aware of how easy it can be to project aspects of your own unconscious personality or “Psyche” orientations onto, or into, others.  This way others may serve as mirrors for you of traits or beliefs you may not be ready to own about yourself. It’s like my father used to tell me often, “You see yourself in others”.  We do this with both positive and negatively perceived traits or orientations; it is a psychologically ‘safe’ way to assess traits we may be not ready to see as part of our own psychic makeup.

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In prior weeks we have explored archetypal  “ensemble casts” of characters as represented in fiction, such as in the Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite examples. Discussing TV, we realized that several successful situational comedies such as M.A.S.H. or Gilligan’s Island use ensemble casts to represent various character aspects of a basic Self character (e.g. Dorothy, Captain Hawkeye Pierce, or the marooned Gilligan). Now I’d like to invite you to do the same with regard to members of your own Family. This might be your family of origin, or your immediate family you live with, or both, and it could as easily be seen in your family of friends or coworkers that you associate with on a regular basis.

What might your perceptions of specific family or significant relationship Alters reveal about Yourself?

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Here’s an easy way to start applying this understanding from archetypal psychology to your universe—i.e., your own Ensemble Archetypal Cast of relations. Simply compose a list of positive and negative (and/or neutral, if you like) character traits that you associate with those in your family or in a close, family-like social group.

What character traits, for instance, do you associate with your Father? If that has shifted over time, you can represent his traits accordingly. What strengths or weaknesses do you see in yourself that you can trace to being to some degree a result of your relationship with your father?

Now try applying those same questions to your full set of close family relations. Especially if you recognize in yourself a particularly strong ‘attachment’ to some perception you hold about a family member, describe the traits you are responding to as carefully as you can. Have you perhaps avoided expressing some character traits in your own life as a reaction to seeing those as ‘negative traits’ expressed by someone close to you? What values do you relate to your aversion to such attitudes or behaviors?

On the other hand, what noble or heightened pedestals might you have constructed for some persons; pedestals you feel you fall quite short of yourself. Why?

Now then, what if all of these character strengths and weaknesses you see in your family Alters are actually all parts of your own Total Self System (as well as being traits you associate with these others)?

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Try it out. I will, too…

Here’s a sample subset of a chart I might create for my own archetypal “family projections” exploration:

       Negatively perceived traits  Positively perceived traits

Dad  quick, harsh temper       excellent gaming strategist

Mom emotional over-sensitivity  excellent problem solver

 

Now then, looking at the negatively valued (to me) traits I’ve identified, what might they reveal about me? I definitely try to distance myself from a “quick, harsh temper” such as I associate with my father from specific memories. Does that mean this is not a trait within me? Quite the opposite. Because I do not want to own this trait, I have sometimes overcompensated in a disagreement with a relationship partner by “going away”–either physically or emotionally–when challenged by what may seem like frustrating or objectionable behavior or attitudes. Rather than erupt–as I construct my father might–I go away; or alternately, I might trigger this very response I eschew in myself, in my alter. Then though, when a situation remains tense and I finally DO express an angry temper, I might act out too much–in a brief but relatively uncontrollled outburst. Later I might apologize, or ‘go away’.

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The more we can recognize “ourselves in others”, the better!  An approach I use now when I recognize that I might be projecting qualities I don’t wish to own into others, is called an Archetype Dialogue, a form of active imagination, as Jung would call it. You can journal a dialogue (or imagine one) precisely with that ‘character’ in yourself that you think you have seen in someone else. Write out or sustain an imagined conversation with this part of yourself. What is he or she upset about or fearful of or uncomfortable around? Listen to what this part of YOU has to say. You might be surprised to find some of the pent up negative energy dissolves as you ALLOW this vital part of yourself to have a voice.

I invite your insights and stories! Go lightly with this one; be Gentle with YOU! (and You, and you too…….); LOL