Millions of people have adopted some plan for personal growth, depending on the goals they set for themselves. Some people want to be happier, others closer to God; some have committed themselves to find enlightenment, which would be alien to someone else trying to escape suffering and self-defeat. So what part can modern psychology play?
At its roots, modern psychotherapy began, in Freud’s eyes, as a way to heal people of hidden destructive forces in the unconscious, and his motto was “Where Id was, Ego shall be,” a formula in which the “it” (Id” or aggression, fear, and the death wish would be replaced by self-control directed by the healthy individual self “Ego). It was at once a romantic ideal, because each person was on a quest to slay inner dragons, but Freud became increasingly pessimistic that people could actually overcome the darkness that crippled them from the unconscious mind.
C. G. Jung countered this view with his detailed map of the unconscious, spelling out the universal roles that all of us unwittingly play out, guided by archetypes or story models. In Jung’s psychological world, hidden forces can be positive or negative, and through personal evolution, even the darkest archetypes can be redeemed. This was ultimately a spiritual journey, and for that reason (and the fact that the Freudian model led to a very low rate of cures), Jungian archetypes have become popular for their spiritual significance.
Caroline Myss further develops Jung’s ideas and combines an archetypal path for self-development with a method of personal insight and intuition. In particular she describes four survival archetypes whose presence in the subconscious is universal and crippling in their negative effects. However, through self-awareness, each of us can identify the repeated patterns in our lives that have been dominated and harmed by the survival archetypes. A path of personal evolution is distinctly marked out, and transformation becomes possible, not as a general, hazy belief but as new behavior and beliefs that redeem the archetype, making it a psychological ally instead of an enemy.
The four survival archetypes are the victim, saboteur, prostitute, and inner child. In Myss’s system, they act in specific negative ways, all linked, however, by the survival instinct. (Because human nature is so complex and ranges across so many epochs and cultures, there are literally hundreds of different subconscious archetypes available to us, we typically only carry a handful of them during our life, these helping to define our outer personality as well as the course of our lives.)
The four survival archetypes are programed at an early age to keep us safe and small, that is, to help us maintain our survival. In most individuals, the driving impulses are centered around fear. Archetypes are universal but gain their material in each person’s life from our parents, social conditioning, and general life experience, all of which make efforts to preserve us and keep us safe. For the outer personality, the influence of these survival archetypes generally undermines our wellbeing. We might call their combined voices the “inner critic committee,” those self-judging voices that many of us are all familiar with.
Archetypes can be experienced in either their shadow or light nature and both are expressions of our actions. We could say, as things normally stand in people’s lives, that the archetypes of survival are by definition operating in their shadow nature. As an example, let’s take the victim archetype which leads to an individual continually victimizing themselves, telling the outer self they are not deserving, not smart enough, or not good enough. When we operate out of a non-redeemed victim archetype we reside in blame and control and wait to be rescued. The victim, along with the rescuer and persecutor archetypes, can keep us locked in this pattern of living. This is called the “drama triangle” of life, which is a seductive loop of victimhood, blame and control patterns learned in childhood.
The shadow prostitute, on the other hand, learns to survive and be secure in the world by negotiating away our power. This sabotages things and typically victimizes us. The inner child archetype, can be experienced as the wounded child, the nature child, the orphan child, and the eternal child, amongst others, and each shadow side is experienced differently. For instance, the wounded child will continue through adulthood living through the wounds of early childhood, often staying stuck in the “why” of things and constantly looking for someone else to take responsibility for what happened to them. In order for the inner child to be emancipated, it needs to learn that it is no longer being parented, needs to know it can trust the outer adult self to do life together. This is the first relationship of trust.
To begin the work of evolving of these four survival archetypes it is often the most advantageous to begin with the inner child, although it can also be done simultaneously with the other three. Successfully working with and evolving these four archetypes from archetypes of karma and separation into what we call “archetypes of grace” is a movement into present-time thinking and behavior, relying on inspiration from our higher self to guide our actions rather than fear.
The saboteur, for example, once redeemed realizes it can do a very good job discerning, and will guide you away from non-life-supporting actions to life supporting actions. The saboteur evolves to a co-creator by providing discernment, not condemnation. It becomes the lover of self, discerner of truth, and a supporter of conscious choice.
The redeemed side of the prostitute no longer negotiates away power but knows boundaries and becomes a co-creator in your life by conserving and directing energy. The prostitute moves into authentic self.
The redeemed side of the victim is empowerment and awareness, and becomes a co-creator in your life by moving you to choices that empowers you and your life expression. It becomes a team player rather than a team slayer.
The redeemed side of the inner child, of having a free inner child, is that you can play, let go of things quickly and be in the present moment. The inner child becomes the emancipated child, parented by yourself.
Together, this is the empowerment of knowing yourself to be able to identify those actions that need to be taken. This represents a shift to empowerment where we stop acting out of flight, fight, and freeze mode, where we stop giving away our power, and where we take that power and responsibility for ourselves. To transcend and transform life experiences is the goal, stepping off the wheel of karma, of repeating the same behaviors over and over.
- From Victimizer to Empowered-Self
- From Prostitute to Authentic-Self
- From Saboteur to Lover of Self, Discerner of Truth
- From Child to Emancipated Child
With this emancipation you can step out of the drama triangle, of living in the persecutor, victim and rescuer mode, and into what we call the “surrender triangle”, which is a way off the drama triangle and which is characterized by learning to let go, cultivating faith and trust and living through inspiration. This is ultimately unconditional self-love. As we come out of survival we can more easily live in the light side of our other archetypal selves.
When we as individuals successfully evolve the archetypes of survival into archetypes of grace, social transformation is possible; true group consciousness can become realized. Humanity at large then has the potential to step out of the action and reaction shadow of these former survival archetypes. That is, not needing to play out the same social or ancestral patterns but seeing the world differently through inspiration and enabling life-supporting transformation.
Tiffany Barsotti, MTh, C.Ht, Spiritual and Medical Intuitive Counselor, Heal and Thrive, Encinitas CA
Paul J. Mills, PhD, Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA
Deepak Chopra, MD, Co-Founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, Carlsbad, CA, and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA