What Are the Jungian Archetypes?

Jung's Archetypes

Archetypes were a concept introduced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that archetypes were models of people, behaviors, or personalities. Archetypes, he suggested, were inborn tendencies that play a role in influencing human behavior.

Jung believed that the human psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind while the personal unconscious contains memories including those that have been suppressed. The collective unconscious is a unique component in that Jung believed that this part of the psyche served as a form of psychological inheritance. It contained all of the knowledge and experiences we share as a species.

In Jungian psychology, the archetypes represent universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious. Jung believed that we inherit these archetypes much the way we inherit instinctive patterns of behavior.

The Origins of Archetypes

A reflect of the self
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Where do these archetypes come from then? The collective unconscious, Jung believed, was where these archetypes exist. He suggested that these models are innate, universal, and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned and function to organize how we experience certain things.

"All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes," Jung explained in his book The Structure of the Psyche.

"This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form, they are variants of archetypal ideas created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness, not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses but to translate into visible reality the world within us," he suggested.

Jung rejected the concept of tabula rasa, or the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth to be written on solely by experience. He believed that the human mind retains fundamental, unconscious, biological aspects of our ancestors. These 'primordial images,' as he initially dubbed them, serve as a basic foundation of how to be human.

These archaic and mythic characters that make up the archetypes reside with all people from all over the world, Jung believed, at it is these archetypes that symbolize basic human motivations, values, and personalities. He believed that each archetype played a role in personality, but felt that most people were dominated by one specific archetype. The actual way in which an archetype is expressed or realized depends upon a number of factors including an individual's cultural influences and unique personal experiences.

Jung identified four major archetypes, but also believed that there was no limit to the number that may exist. Let's take a closer look at the four main archetypes described by Jung as well as a few others that are often identified.

The Persona

Persona archetype
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The persona is how we present ourselves to the world. The word "persona" is derived from a Latin word that literally means "mask." It is not a literal mask, however. The persona represents all of the different social masks that we wear among various groups and situations. It acts to shield the ego from negative images. According to Jung, the persona may appear in dreams and take different forms.

Over the course of development, children learn that they must behave in certain ways in order to fit in with society's expectations and norms. The persona develops as a social mask to contain all of the primitive urges, impulses, and emotions that are not considered socially acceptable. The persona archetype allows people to adapt to the world around them and fit in with the society in which they live. However, becoming too closely identified with this archetype can lead people to lose sight of their true selves.

The Shadow

Shadow archetype
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The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings.

The shadow forms out of our attempts to adapt to cultural norms and expectations. It is this archetype that contains all of the things that are unacceptable not only to society, but also to one's own personal morals and values. It might include things such as envy, greed, prejudice, hate, and aggression.

This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it on to others.

Jung suggested that the shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon, or some other dark, wild, or exotic figure.

The Anima or Animus

Anima archetype
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The anima is a feminine image in the male psyche, and the animus is a male image in the female psyche. The anima/animus represents the "true self" rather than the image we present to others and serves as the primary source of communication with the collective unconscious.

Jung believed that physiological changes as well as social influences contributed to the development of sex roles and gender identities. Jung suggested the influence of the animus and anima archetypes were also involved in this process. According to Jung, the animus represents the masculine aspect in women while the anima represented the feminine aspect in men.

These archetypal images are based upon both what is found in the collective and personal unconscious. The collective unconscious may contain notions about how women should behave while personal experience with wives, girlfriends, sisters, and mothers contribute to more personal images of women.

In many cultures, however, men and women are encouraged to adopt traditional and often rigid gender roles. Jung suggested that this discouragement of men exploring their feminine aspects and women exploring their masculine aspects served to undermine psychological development.

The combined anima and animus is known as the syzygy or the divine couple. The syzygy represents completion, unification, and wholeness.

The Self

Self archetype
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The self is an archetype that represents the unified unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. Creating the self occurs through a process known as individuation, in which the various aspects of personality are integrated. Jung often represented the self as a circle, square, or mandala.

The self archetype represents the unified psyche as a whole. Jung suggested that there were two different centers of personality. The ego makes up the center of consciousness, but it is the self that lies at the center of personality. Personality encompasses not only consciousness, but also the ego and the unconscious mind. You can think of this by imagining a circle with a dot right at the center. The entire circle makes up the self, where the small dot in the middle represents the ego.

For Jung, the ultimate aim was for an individual to achieve a sense of cohesive self, similar in many ways to Maslow's concept of self-actualization.

Other Archetypes

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Jung suggested that the number of existing archetypes was not static or fixed. Instead, many different archetypes may overlap or combine at any given time. The following are just a few of the various archetypes that Jung described:

  • The father: Authority figure; stern; powerful.
  • The mother: Nurturing; comforting.
  • The child: Longing for innocence; rebirth; salvation.
  • The wise old man: Guidance; knowledge; wisdom.
  • The hero: Champion; defender; rescuer.
  • The maiden: Innocence; desire; purity.
  • The trickster: Deceiver; liar; trouble-maker.

A Word From Verywell

Jung's ideas tend to be less discussed than those of Freud's, often because Jung's work tended to veer into the mystical and pseudoscientific. On the whole, Jung's archetypes have not been viewed favorably in modern psychology and are often studied more as a historical artifact than a major contribution to the science of the mind and behavior.

Sources:

Jung, CJ. Four Archetypes. New York: Routledge; 2014.

Watts, J, Cockcroft, K, & Duncan, N. Developmental Psychology. Cape Town: UCT Press; 2009.

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