The four Jungian Archetypes can be a powerful tool for spiritual evolution and can help you reach your full potential in life.
The psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung proposed that everyone’s personality contains elements of four major archetypes. These archetypes provide models for our behavior and influence the way we think and act. Jung labeled these archetypes the Self, the Persona, the Shadow and the Anima/Animus.
How understanding the Jungian archetypes can help us fulfill our potential
Jung believed these archetypes contain elements of our personality that we need to address in order to develop a healthy rounded personality. He suggested that by working through these archetypes, we can begin to choose our actions rather than responding automatically from patterns in our personalities that no longer serve us.
Jung argued that by working through the archetypes in the following order, we can achieve spiritual development and become whole.
Let’s see the Jungian archetypes in more detail:
Jung felt that the personal qualities we deny, repress or ignore do not go away but are relegated to the unconscious. Here they become personified as the Shadow. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown.
We may repress our desires or qualities because they were frowned upon by others or to protect ourselves from emotional or even physical harm. For example, a child may learn to repress strong emotions such as rage or grief because they are afraid these emotions may severely distress another family member.
When we later need these repressed qualities, the Shadow may begin to show up in our dreams. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon, or some other dark or wild figure.
We might also be drawn to shadow figures, such as villains in films and literature. When we experience the Shadow archetype, it is often a sign that we are ready to begin a new cycle in life. We can choose to resurrect the qualities that have been repressed and put them to use. For example, a man who has repressed his nurturing nature because he was taught to be brave and strong might wish to resurrect this side of his personality when he becomes a father.
According to Jung, integrating the Shadow aspects of our psyche is the first step in our spiritual growth.
The Anima or Animus
Once we have integrated the Shadow, we may find elements of the Anima/Animus arise in our consciousness. The Anima is the feminine aspect of a man’s unconscious while the Animus is the male aspect of the female unconscious. Integrated human beings are made up of a balance of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ energies.
However, society and our upbringing may have caused us to repress traits viewed as belonging to the opposite gender. In order to become whole, we must integrate both the masculine and feminine into our psyche.
Feminine and masculine archetypes contain a mixture of positive and negative traits. When unbalanced, we may behave in stereotypical ways. For example, a man might be too competitive without the complementary feminine nurturing aspect. Similarly, a woman may become too passive without the masculine competitive element. To be clear, these are really just labels we have given these attributes and not necessarily inherent characteristics of either men or women.
To be whole, we need to aim for a balance of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ elements in our psyche. Dreaming of a person of the opposite sex can be a sign that we need more balance. We can help to balance our feminine and masculine energies by consciously developing attributes traditionally associated with the opposite gender, such as assertiveness or nurturing.
Having addressed the Shadow and the Anima/Animus, the next step in our spiritual evolution is to address the archetype of the Persona. The Persona is how we present ourselves to the world. The word ‘Persona’ is Latin for ‘mask.’ We all have certain ‘masks’ we put on in order to interact socially in a variety of situations. We may have a work Persona, a family Persona or even a party Persona.
We develop our Shadow by repressing traits others did not approve of. In contrast, we create our Personas’ by over-developing traits others encouraged. The Persona often contains an element of ‘people pleasing’.
We need to understand that our Personas are not who we are in order to allow for the development of the Self. We must be careful not to identify too closely with our Personas as this can inhibit our spiritual growth. Someone who is fixed into one Persona, for example, a workaholic, might need to learn to identify less with that Persona and develop other areas of their personality.
It is by understanding the above Jungian archetypes and integrating them that we come to achieve a well-developed Self. The Self is often represented by the wise man/wise woman archetype. If you dream of a wise figure, it is an indication that you are well on the way to achieving this integration. You might also find yourself identifying with wise characters in films, TV, and books and these might take on forms such as a good boss or mentor or literally a wise woman or magician.
Knowing how Jungian archetypes work within our psyches can provide us with a powerful tool for inner transformation. By examining the archetypes’ role in our psyches, we can change our behaviors to reach our full potential in life.
To help you in the process of integrating your archetypes you might like to keep a notebook by the bed to write down any dreams. Also, pay attention to the types of stories and characters you are drawn to both in literature, TV, and movies, to see if they shed light on the state of your psyche. If certain archetypes resonate with you, it might indicate which areas to work on healing and integrating.
- Very Well
- Journal Psyche
- Jung, C.G. (1964). Man and His Symbols. New York; Doubleday and Company, Inc.
- Robertson, R. (1992). Beginner’s Guide to Jungian Psychology. Maine; Nicolas Hays.