All of us have patterns of behavior that we fall back on when dealing with a pressing situation, especially something that is in some way threatening to our survival (physical, emotional or mental). Jungian psychology describes these patterns as archetypes, inherited ideas or modes of thought that are derived from the experience of the human race, hence present in the unconscious of each individual. They are deeply rooted in the history of our race to the point that we don’t even have to be aware of them, they simply are.
This explains why we exhibit patterns in our various forms of expression, including speech, reactions and interests. They express a certain level of predictability in the individual, particularly those that adhere to one archetype in all situations. If one adheres to that pattern too much, not only can their behaviors be predicted with startling accuracy, they often endanger themselves by enslaving themselves to a pattern that could be damaging depending on a given circumstance.
This is not to say archetypes are bad. They are just as helpful as they can be harmful. Much like anything else, if one does not use a certain amount of balance or moderation, an excess of reliance on a behavior pattern can be catastrophic. Archetypes are universal, they are a means of how we relate to one another. The understanding of an archetype can permit us to see something from a different viewpoint, even if we have never been in that exact position before. It offers a common ground amongst people, even if they are polar opposites of one another. There is a certain commonality that is inherent in all of us, despite being so separate and individual. Whether it’s smiling when happy, frowning when sad or irritated, a basic understanding of positive and negative concepts (though definitions do have a tendency to vary slightly from each individual aspect), there are general principles that we innately grasp without a great deal of explanation.
Technically, a person has more than one archetype they may adhere to, it all depends on the aspect you are looking at. In this case, we are looking at survival patterns, those behaviors we fall back on instantaneously when dealing with a predicament that threatens who we are. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a physically threatening situation. It can be one that threatens our emotional well-being or mindset as to who we are and where we stand in the world.
Caroline Myss mapped out four common “survival archetypes”, patterns of behavior one relies on to get through life, especially in times of adversity or dealing with something otherwise unknown. Whether it’s a struggle for physical survive or the tendency to cling to the notions of who we are (which is often done even when they are inaccurate, and thus to our detriment), these patterns are enacted without our realizing it. Each one teaches us something, but can also be extremely damaging when allowed to rule unchecked. The four archetypes are the Prostitute, the Child, the Saboteur and the Victim. (This is by no means a complete list per se, but certainly patterns that are easily identified in the majority of the populace.)
Another term that could be used for this one is “the Compromiser.” This individual will barter, trade or sell whatever aspect of the self to survive, including such things as integrity, values, thought processes, self-respect and even spiritual connections. Consider how many times people change religions because of outside pressure from peers and family, or the person who does the one thing they said they would NEVER do just to achieve some sort of status or acceptance. Surrendering one’s self-expression out of fear that the individual will amount to nothing, or that their personal traits hold no value is a common ailment. After all, it is better to do something that you are uncomfortable with than to be left out. For others, it’s a far simpler matter: money uber alles. Quitting a loved profession for the lifeless one that yields more financial reward is an epidemic (a syndrome often referred to as the “Golden Handcuffs.”) In short, the Prostitute or Compromiser has no sense of self, no self-esteem, no self-worth and no self-respect. They do not believe enough in their ideas or their reservations to actually draw the line and find something that allows them to be who they are. They are clay waiting to be molded, and as a result, usually deeply unhappy. They may get a lot of things, but usually at a devastating price. This archetype teaches us the value of self-worth and the importance of drawing boundaries.
The positive perception of the Child is a sense of wonder and optimism, seeing things in a new way every day and being playful. There is an inherent belief the world is, for the most part, a good place and the Child is more inclined to show trust. However, most people who hold this archetype take it to the negative aspects, evasion of responsibility, dependency on others, unrealistic expectations of safety and happiness and a lack of understanding to cause and affect. For the Child, the world operates on a purely individual principle and there is no fault. They can do whatever they want regardless of what might happen to others. They don’t necessarily “not care,” they just don’t get it. Child archetypes are often unreliable and suffer from the Peter Pan syndrome. They will do whatever to avoid growing up and taking responsibility. Why should they when someone else will do it for them? With a lack of maturity and the desperate need to be looked after at all times, they usually end up becoming roadkill on the highway of life. Instead of acknowledging the semi that is heading right for them, they put their hands of their ears and yell, “La la la la, I can’t hear you.” A surefire sign of the Child archetype is someone who cannot be without a love interest for more than a week or two, especially if they gravitate towards domineering partners who are very quick to tell them exactly what to do. The Child teaches us about the necessity of balance between wonder and openness and being able to be firm and take responsibility when it is required.
Somewhat like the Prostitute, the Saboteur is often rooted in low self-esteem. However, instead of selling out their identities or shifting into what seems to be ideal in order to get something else, the Saboteur holds true to the motto “better the devil you know.” They are the self-destruct mechanisms of the world. They are the people you know only too well who often throw aside opportunities or destroys anything good that comes their way. Personal growth is avoided by extreme measures as the subconscious fights to keep things exactly the way they have always been – even if that circumstance is horrible. A horrible situation is preferable usually out of a sense of predictability. There are no surprises. The Saboteur knows their current circumstance will always be bad, hence are safe within consistency. This is often connected with the deep-seated idea that they do not deserve anything better. Whether it’s self-loathing or fear of change, the Saboteur will make sure nothing changes, for when something better does come around, the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality will surface and they will make that shoe drop. This archetype teaches us what to avoid in ourselves, when to realize familiarity or self-punishment is governing our lives. It teaches us that sometimes the only thing that is holding us back is us.
This archetype is not as obvious as it sounds. It is usually the result of pessimism and paranoia. It represents the individual who always assumes they are being used or taken advantage of. It is the most common thing you will hear come out of their mouth. “Everyone is holding me back. No one takes me seriously. I am just everyone’s doormat.” The real problem is that often these accusations are nowhere near accurate. The Victim loves a good pity party, they are the consummate Drama Queen. The blame for their bad situations falls on everyone else, hence they are free of self-responsibility. (Not to be confused with the Child, who avoid ALL forms of responsibility.) If something good happens, the Victim will gladly take responsibility for that … but if something bad happens, it was someone else’s doing, someone who is hellbent to ruin their lives. The trademark emotion that is exhibited by Victims is a sense of powerlessness, that the world is just running them over or passing them by. Here is where we learn the lesson of taking control and seeing things more realistically, to take a more hands-on approach in our lives as opposed to waiting for others do what they are supposed to do or for the world to hand us an opportunity.
Questions to consider
- What opportunities have you neglected or killed by a careless action?
- When have you compromised too much?
- How often do you shut your eyes to a situation hoping it will go away on its own?
- Do you feel like everything or everyone has more pull on your life than you do?
- Do you elude responsibility by ignoring it or assigning it to someone else?
- Which archetype speaks loudest to you?