Breaking Stereotypes and Breathing in Archetypal Energy into your Life
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
I regularly find myself digging into archetypes, as there is so much insight, self-knowledge, and empowerment to be found when working in this realm. Through my own personal journey and my professional work with clients, I've seen time and time again where archetypes help identity and self-acknowledgement take hold, breathing new life into old patterns.
Like many, my first encounter with archetypes was not in a psychology class or a book on Jungian therapy. My first encounter was in my high school English class, when having to learn a list of literary devices. Archetypes are often discussed in the context of English class, because they play such a huge role in stories, poems, and narratives by helping literature become relatable. So, what exactly is an archetype? Archetypes are universal aspects of human nature that often extend far beyond culture, race, upbringing, etc. They are characters, places, ideas, and experiences that are universally understood and accepted by human beings. In the world of literature, archetypes are used to help readers relate to the work.
For example, if I say The Mother, most likely everyone would understand that I mean a feminine energy often associated with fertility, creation, emotional support, care, giving of self, etc.
If I say The Hero, my audience would likely guess that I mean some character fighting for the good of all, someone who fights for justice, or someone who restores order or peace. The Mother and the Hero? Yep, both are archetypes. In American short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flats," the author, Bret Harte, plays on this idea of combining archetypes with stereotypes to test what people think they know about a certain character. The premise of the story is that a group of immorals/criminals are sent away from a community that is seeking to reclaim virtuosity. The main character, John Oakhurst, is a professional gambler who suspiciously is winning all the games in town. He is sent away from the community, and he then spends much of the story guiding other characters, providing a voice of reason, and remaining strong to protect those around him. In actuality, he takes on the archetype of The Hero.
Another character, Mother Shipton, is a suspected witch and prostitute who is also sent away from the town. She goes on to sacrifice her own life in an effort to save the lives of others, all the while providing emotional support and general care to members of the group. She takes on the archetype of The Mother.
Stereotypes are over-simplified ideas of who someone is based upon some "defining characteristic," whereas archetypes are universal aspects of humanity. Stereotypes over simplify. Archetypes enrich and deepen.
Bret Harte took people that the society of the day would stereotype, and instead, turned them into richly complex characters that were relatable and endearing. In actuality, he simply brought his characters to life with archetypal energies, completely shattering the stereotypes in the process.
Now, you may be asking how this relates to self-empowerment and psychology.
How often do you live your life, believing that you are a stereotype? How often do you over-simplify yourself, and therefore limit your potential by believing yourself to be some over-simplified label? How often do you believe that you are what you were called in fourth grade or middle school--and nothing more? How often do you believe all the hurtful things people told you that you were?
Jock. Nerd. Freak. Idiot. Lazy. Mess-up. Mistake. Unfocused. No potential. No good. Broken. Corrupt. Conniving. Simpleton. Too fat. Too skinny. Geek. Too masculine. Too feminine. Asshole. Ugly. Out of style. Out of shape. Out of place. Outsider. Outcast.
Do you stereotype yourself, a.k.a. label yourself as one over-simplified term?
Try bringing in some archetypal energy. Because we are all complex. Because we are never singular ideas or terms or aspects or insults. We are never stereotypes.
Because we all have multiple archetypes within us.
One way to bring in archetypal energy is to start the process of exploring lists of archetypes. But let's not limit it to characters. Think of processes. Think of places. Think of universal ideas.
The Wise Old Man.
While exploring lists of archetypes, take note of which ones stand out to you. Which ones make your heart flutter. Which ones make you shiver. Which ones scare you. Which ones leave you feeling curious.
Notice the movies you watch, the books you read, and the experiences that grab your attention in life. Usually, meaningful archetypes can be found in these.
If you notice an archetype that seems particularly relevant for this time of your life, start reading up on it. Type "(The Archetype) myths" in a Google search and get to reading. Reading about an archetype is one way to bring that archetypal energy into the forefront of your mind.
And once you get a feel for that energy, take a moment to meditate and bring that energy into your life. Imagine it as something able to be breathed in. See it as a glowing light. Breathe it in. Notice where it settles in your body. Notice where it is stored. And start accessing it when you need it most.
For example, let's say you are struggling with social distancing from the coronavirus recommendations. Maybe The Hermit would be a particularly useful archetype to start bringing in. The Hermit would know how to handle social isolation. The Hermit would know how to make the most of being alone and turn it into a time for self-reflection, growth, and expansion. So, you go on Google, and try searching "The Hermit myths," and you read up on it. After spending some time thinking on The Hermit, you feel like you have a grasp of who/what that energy is. You sit quiet for a bit and you imagine that you are breathing in the energy of The Hermit. You notice that you can feel it, right near your heart. That's it. And now you know: the next time you feel anxious about being so alone and isolated and bored, you can just breathe in and access the energy of The Hermit.
Just like the Bret Harte who destroyed stereotypes by breathing archetypal energy into the story, you can demolish your own limited view of self by adding some archetypal energy into the mix of your life.
If you do some exploring of archetypes and feel particularly inspired, feel free to share your inspiration in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would love to hear about your experiences and insights.