Archetype

The archetype is the central concept in the theory of personality developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Archetypes, according to Carl Jung (1875– 1961), are the primordial images and symbols that join all people. Archetypes are found in the collective unconscious, which—in contrast to each personal unconscious—gathers together and passes on the experiences of previous generations. Human evolution and development over time remains rich with these myths and symbols.

Carl Jung began to develop his theory of archetypes around 1910 while he was working with patients at the Burgho¨ lzli Mental Hospital. He noticed that universal symbols from religion and mythology occurred in the dreams and fantasies of uneducated patients, who would have had no conscious way of learning them. Jung concluded that these images belonged to a part of the unconscious that does not derive solely from each person's experience. Jung proposed, instead, the idea of a collective unconscious that contains universal images and ideas. These ideas are passed from generation to generation like biological traits. When he elaborated his ideas of archetypes, Jung supported his clinical observations with a comprehensive study of myths and symbols; he included the religions and mythologies of preliterate peoples in Africa and the southwestern United States.

Jungian archetypes are like molds that each person fills differently. For example, although the word mother has universal connotations, the details of this archetype differ for everyone. For Jung, however, archetypes were more than a theoretical construct; his interest was primarily therapeutic. Jung claimed that his patients improved when they understood how their personal difficulties fit into the structures of universal archetypes. Archetypes are as varied as human experience itself. Many take the form of people, such as the hero, the child, the trickster, the demon, or the earth mother. Other archetypes are expressed as forces of nature (sun, moon, wind, fire) or animals. They may also take the form of situations, events (birth, rebirth, death), or places.

Jung believed that four main archetypes exist within each person: the persona, the anima and animus, the shadow, and the self. The word persona, which derives from the Latin word for mask, is a person's public image, the self the person shows to others. The persona is necessary for survival; everyone must play certain roles, both socially and professionally, to thrive in society. However, the persona can also cause emotional difficulties. When individuals identify too strongly with the persona that they have created, a condition that Jung called inflation occurs. Victims of this problem are typically highly successful, accomplished people who are so preoccupied with projecting a certain image—often for professional advancement—that their private lives become empty. They live within a false, alienated self.

The anima and animus are the opposite of the persona; they represent a person's true innermost self. They are also distinguished by gender: the anima is a man's feminine side and the animus is a woman's masculine side. Jung believed that men and women, in order to understand each other, have to incorporate and express elements of the other's gender. This belief foreshadowed ideas espoused in both the feminist and men's movements in the United States by over half a century.

The shadow, Jung's third system, contains a person's animal instincts, the so-called dark side that lies outside conscious control. Potentially a source of spontaneity, creativity, and insight, the shadow self is expressed in the individual's relationships to other people.

Perhaps the most important archetype, the fourth, is that of the self, which organizes and unites the entire personality. However, rather than combining all the other archetypes, the self has a dynamic all its own. The self governs both inner harmony and harmony with the external world. The dynamic of the self is closely related to the ability of human beings to reach their highest potential, a process that Jung called individuation. Individuation, according to Jung, is every person's ultimate goal.

See also Jung, Carl; Personality .

Resources

BOOKS

Hall, Calvin S. and Vernon J. Nordby. A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: Mentor, 1973.

Odajnyk, V. Walter. Archetype and Character: Power, Eros, Spirit, and Matter Personality Types. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Storr, Anthony. Jung: A Modern Master. London: Fontana, 2008.

Wilde, Douglass J. Jung's Personality Theory Quantified. London: Springer, 2011.

WEBSITES

BBC. “Jung.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y2bf (accessed September 4, 2015).

The Guardian. “Carl Jung, part 4: Do archetypes exist?” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2011/jun/20/jung-archetypes-structuring-principles (accessed September 4, 2015).

National Institutes of Health. “A Collective Unconscious Reconsidered: Jung's Archetypal Imagination in the Light of Contemporary Psychology and Social Science.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22288542 (accessed September 4, 2015).