One of the most important things in self discovery is understanding our fundamental archetypes. Or, character models of how our psyche works. Especially as a writer where a central part of our craft is creating characters and unfolding stories on the basis of their choices. To be a great writer we have to understand human characters, and the best place to start is with ourselves.
The term archetypes in psychology was formulated by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (b. 1919) and has since been a framework for understanding human behavior in various ways. Archetypes is a very functional tool for understanding who we are, and why.
Internal and external
In my version of archetypes we all have an internal and an external archetype. The internal is our main driver for our emotional states of mind and our feelings (emotions are physical sensations in the body, and feelings are conscious emotions). The external archetype is our main driver for our cognitive functions and actions.
There are 12 archetypes in total,
The ruler, the magician, the jester, the innocent, the explorer, the maverick, the hero, the lover, the caregiver, the sage, the everyman, and the creator.
Underneath each one there are several variations and characteristics that we create an even more nuanced archetype out of. Still, the overall point is that we all have at least two of these archetypes in our system. In order to be a complete human being we have to have a deep understanding of what those archetypes are.
Like said before, the internal and the external archetypes work together. Usually in the form of an emotional state, and thereby a longing for something particular arising in our internal archetype, which our external archetype then responds to. Or the other way around, with our external archetype taking some kind of action, or thinking about something in a particular way, which our internal archetype then creates an emotional pattern for.
Pretty straight forward, but this is where it gets tricky, because within our psyche we also have coping strategies; or behavioral patterns that protect us from harm. We developed them during our childhood and brought them with us into adult life. They have shaped our grown up character every step of the way and been the underlying reason for most of our choices.
The problem is that they rarely solve our problems as grown ups, even though they did when we were children. They have played their part in our lives, yet we still use them every day, and they lead us to making poor choices.
In particular, our coping strategies have a nasty trick up their sleeve: they trigger the wrong archetype. As a result, we unfold ourselves with a behavior that we think is who we are, but really it’s not. A potentially devastating pattern of behavior that can lead us off track in life.
I know this all too well from my own life, as I have carried such a coping strategy within me for decades. It has led me to a false understanding of myself and taken me to the very edge of my existence many times.
The maverick versus the explorer
To give you an example, my external archetype is the explorer, but for most of my life I thought it was the maverick; or more precisely the rebel. The reason is that as a child, whenever my internal archetype was threatened, attacked and suppressed, I would go into defiance and push back as a little aggressive rebel. Over time it led to an adult behavioral pattern as the rebel, who is always in opposition, challenging the rules, norms and opinions of others.
It became such an integrated part of me that I identified with it through most of my life. A self perception that resulted in all of my entrepreneurial projects, which were based on disruptive ideas and thinking. Mistakenly, I thought that my rebel personality was the reason why I didn’t fit in anywhere, and I chose non-conformity and disruption on the basis of that.
The truth is that it’s my explorer archetype that is the reason why I have tried so many different things and not wanted to be confined in a particular role or job. It’s my natural tendency to seek out what is out there, and how that might be part of the equation we call life. The explorer, or seeker, has always been the governing part of my personality, but I have misinterpreted it as the rebel.
The explorer always tries to change his environment in order to discover what is constant in life. He lives according to the code of, “don’t fence me in”. As a result, he always finds new paths in life in order to explore them and get a deeper understanding of life, but he doesn’t do so in defiance. He is not a rebel. He is only seeking to discover yet another layer of life.
Similar, but different
The two archetypes are close to each other, but they are not the same. There is a fundamental difference in how their psyches work in terms of the maverick always breaking the rules, and the explorer seeking out new experiences in accordance with the rules. Both are risk taking, fearless and highly individual, but the explorer would never be a revolutionary, a provocateur, or a disruptor. He would rather be organized, focused and thrill seeking to expand his understanding.
They sound similar but operate with different goals. The maverick’s goal is to obtain complete personal freedom from the establishment by breaking the rules. The explorer’s goal is to learn in order to expand his understanding of life; and thus define the need for changing the rules.
When converted into a coping strategy the difference is striking! The maverick becomes the rebel that tells everyone to go fuck themselves, and then does things his own way. The explorer starts asking questions in order to understand life at a deeper level, and then comes up with a constructive plan. One turns his back on society. The other rests on the shoulders of society.
Understand yourself first
To function well as a human being we have to understand who we really are, and why we do what we do. This takes willingness to explore our psyche and especially our coping strategies, since they rule our behavior to an extent we are often not aware of.
How did we cope with pain as a child, and where did that coping strategy take us? Is there a pattern, and if so, is it really who we are, or does it cover up our true coping pattern? Whatever our coping pattern is, does it still serve us well, or is it time for a change?
Such questions are paramount to ask, and as we grind our way towards the answers we develop as humans. We become a different and more true version of ourselves, which again makes everything in life easier; including writing and developing characters.