You don’t have to be a writer or storyteller for this to resonate. Let’s discuss how we all shift between archetypes and why it’s important to recognize this aspect of ourselves. Within the context of story, of course. We are all simply the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves.
As humans, we tend to believe that we have a fixed identity and personality that remains constant throughout our lives. However, the truth is that we are all shapeshifters in the psychological sense. We change archetypes based on our current circumstances and setting.
My current audio book listen is on this theme, The Courage to Be Disliked, which is an intriguing parable that explicates Adlerian psychology—as introductions to Alfred Adler’s life work, it’s pretty good. Which means that it’s been pissing me off as daily listen during my commute, so of course I highly recommend it to you! 😈
These archetypes are patterns of behavior, personality traits, and symbols that are deeply ingrained in our psyche. I started thinking about this when I bought Katie’s new book, Writing Archetypal Character Arcs. Not long after, I saw this post from my Story Grid peeps on the same subject. Clearly the universe is goading me to speak my mind about it. Probably because my debut novel was based on the premise that memories are magic, and without them we’re not who we are. Yes, there were also literal shapeshifters in Raven Queen, Arise, too.
The Concept of Archetypes
Archetypes are universal symbols and patterns of behavior that are present in all cultures and societies in some form or fashion. They’re known by different names or merged together to produce a different gestalt. But they are deeply rooted in our psyche and are often associated with myths, legends, and folklore. In my books, I discover them as I write (the ice queen, the tyrant king, etc).
In my current editing project, Conseca entered as a sexualized variant of the virgin or maiden archetype (depending on which word you like or which is funnier, because she’s a former bedslave) who over the course of Righteous Disobedience transforms into the priestess archetype with flavors of the seer or prophetess and shades of the tactician.
Archetypes are not conscious constructs but rather unconscious patterns of behavior that influence the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. I don’t set out to write archetypes—that’s a recipe for tropy and weird. But after when I’m done writing, characters that don’t feel authentic are flat-ish because they don’t evoke an archetype or four. That’s when I go back to books like Katie’s and other cheatsheets to figure out what to fix.
My man Carl Jung was the first to introduce the concept of archetypes in psychology. He believed that archetypes are essential for understanding the human psyche and that they play a crucial role in shaping our personality, behavior, and emotions. According to Jung, there are several archetypes that are universal and present in all cultures, such as the mother, the father, the hero, the trickster, and the wise old man.
Of course, Carl—being the Pollyanna that he was—kinda skipped over or skirted around my personal favorites: the villain and the monster.
Shapeshifting between Archetypes
As humans, we all have the potential within us for all archetypes encoded into our Homo narrans genes. (I have talked before about how we stopped being Homo sapiens after the Toba Event and evolved into Homo narrans, right?) The archetype that we embody at any given time depends on our current circumstances and setting. For example, you might summon the courage to be the hero when faced with a challenge or adversity. Or you might assume the maternal aspect of the caregiver when taking care of a loved one.
We shift between archetypes depending on the roles we play in our lives, such as a parent, a friend, a coworker, or a romantic partner—sometimes in the blink of an eye. My warrior-queen is most often mild-mannered and genteel, but threaten or abuse a child within her awareness and you’ll meet Grendel’s mother.
Trust me on this, you do not want to meet Grendel’s mother. Even if you’re Beowulf—he almost didn’t make it. If the unknown author hadn’t gifted Beowulf a handy magic sword just lying on the floor of the cave, there’d’ve been no need for the dragon later.
Shapeshifting between archetypes is natural and necessary. I don’t believe they’re masks. They’re survival adaptations to different situations and roles in our lives. However, none of our archetypes are permanent. They can come and go with emotion and hormonal changes. And we can consciously choose to embody different archetypes and to develop new patterns of behavior and personality traits. (Alfred Adler would like me to remind you that all you need is the Courage to do so. Yes, he talks to me sometimes. So what?)
The Importance of Recognizing Our Archetypes
Recognizing when someone steps into or out of an archetype can help us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. Spotting patterns of behavior that may be holding us back or causing us to feel stuck in our lives is a valuable skill. By recognizing archetypes, we can consciously choose to shift between them and to develop new patterns of behavior that are more aligned with our goals and values.
Next time you’re stressed, ask yourself: In this moment, am I the hero, the villain, or the victim? Which do you want to be?
We are all psychological shapeshifters, constantly shifting between archetypes based on our current circumstances and setting. Recognizing and understanding our archetypes can help us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and others and can help us develop new patterns of behavior that are more aligned with our goals and values. Embrace your inner shapeshifter and explore the different archetypes within you!
How to Use Archetypes to Understand Yourself
Recognizing your archetypes is the first step in understanding yourself. You can start by identifying the archetypes that resonate with you the most. Take some time to reflect on your past experiences and the patterns of behavior that you exhibited in different situations. This can help you identify the archetypes that you embody most frequently.
Don’t focus on how you felt, instead focus on what you did. The archetypes that we admire most (the hero, the queen, the king, and so on) feel fear but act as if fear does not exist. The hardest archetypes to embody require Courage. Those are the archetypes we usually admire and root for the most.
Once you have identified your archetypes, you can start exploring them in more detail. Decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you wish to expunge. Read up on the different archetypes and the qualities that they embody. This can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the patterns of behavior that you exhibit.
You can also use archetypes to set goals and make positive changes in your life. For example, if you find that you embody the caregiver archetype frequently, you can set goals to develop other archetypes, such as the hero or the explorer. This can help you break free from patterns of behavior that may be holding you back and can help you grow as a person.
This flowchart is a recent favorite of mine by Liz Fosslien that I picked up from LinkedIn a week or two ago. It’s a graphical representation of what we all expect the hero archetype to do.
Using Archetypes to Understand Others
Recognizing archetypes in others can also help you gain a deeper understanding of them. By identifying the archetypes that others embody, you can gain insight into their patterns of behavior and their motivations. (Adler wants me to remind you that “You can’t change others. That’s not your task.”) But recognizing the place their behavior is coming from can help you feel less threatened and attacked.
For example, if you have a coworker who frequently embodies the hero archetype, you can understand that they are likely to be motivated by challenges and opportunities to prove themselves or even feel threatened by YOU. By recognizing this, you can work with them in a way that is more aligned with their motivations and goals.
In the immortal words of Seth Godin (paraphrased), you’ll be happier if you treat other people’s behavior like the weather.
All the Way to the Bitter End
Recognizing archetypes is an important aspect of understanding ourselves and others. Without self-understanding and self-acceptance, we’re doomed to suffer the same archetypes and patterns for the rest of our lives. We are all psychological shapeshifters, constantly shifting between archetypes based on our current circumstances and setting. By recognizing our archetypes and consciously choosing to shift between them, we can develop new patterns of behavior that are more aligned with our goals and values. Embrace your inner shapeshifter and start exploring the different archetypes within you and others!
If you haven’t read the prequel to the Temple of Vengeance quadrilogy, it’s yours for the taking, Death Descends (Temple of Vengeance Vol 0.1). Grab yours today!
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And, of course, Raven Queen, Arise, the first book in the Temple of Vengeance quadrilogy is available at your favorite retailers everywhere!