Archetypes

What are even archetypes? They are important to understand when it comes to Jungian psychology, and even to grasp important aspects personality types. It was when I ventured into understanding introversion in depth that I first heard about the concept that I later found out was a major building block in Jungian psychology.

Definition of archetype

An archetype, defined by google, is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing”. In terms of how Jung used the word, we’ll have to reject this notion. An archetype, according to Jung, is more than merely a typical example.

An archetype, instead, is an image or a symbol from the collective unconscious. It’s an image or a symbol that is present in our psyche, influence us constantly, and is global. From around the world, in myths and in stories, we can see archetypes, patterns from a universal aspect of our psyche, resurface over and over again, in cultures with no other connections.

The collective unconscious

One concept that is important to understand, in order to grasp what an archetype is, is the collective unconscious.

The collective unconscious is in contrast to the personal unconscious, something that exists and looks the same in every person around the globe. The idea is that, by virtue of being human, just as how the fact that we have two arms and ten fingers are parts of our human DNA, the collective unconscious is too.

Instead of being a physical representation of what it is to be human, it’s a psychological, unconscious aspect of it. Some aspects, what we know as archetypes, are universal regardless of where we find the person we look at, and we can find signs of it in every culture around the world; in their myths and in their stories.

Memes

One common confusion about what archetypes are, is a confusion between archetypes and “memes”. The word meme comes from ancient Greece, a word that originally comes means “to imitate”. A meme is an idea or a concept that spreads from person to person in a culture, creating something that at first glance might look like an archetype. It’s a symbol or a pattern that occurs in not just one person, but in a culture as a whole.

It is important though, to differentiate between memes and archetypes. Memes are, as the definition of the word implies, imitated. It’s something that is constructed by the culture. Archetypes on the other hand are pre-existing patterns in our psyche.

Archetypes as personality types

That archetypes are sometimes seen as personality types can be seen as two fold – and neither is an accurate way of looking at an archetype.

The first version is that, while looking at Jungian archetypes, taking the approach that you can “be” one of them, in the same way that you are or have a personality type. It’s tempting, since archetypes are often described in a storytelling way and colorful way. It is, however, the wrong approach to take. Instead, archetypes are patterns that exist in us, and they may be closer to the surface at times, and the way you express yourself may remind of certain archetypes, but it doesn’t mean that you are one. They all exist in all of us, as they are a part of the collective unconscious.

The second confusion regarding archetypes as types, is that there’s an “INTP archetype”, or something of the kind. As referenced above, this is a meme. It would, technically, fall under the conventional definition of an archetype, even though it doesn’t fall under how Jung described it.

How are archetypes described?

When Carl Jung, or other people following the Jungian tradition, describes archetypes, it’s almost never done directly and explicitly. This is for a simple reason – we can’t. The archetypes are abstract concepts in the collective unconscious, in a way inaccessible to our conscious psyche. Instead, we describe it through stories and examples, showing the archetype, rather than explicitly describing it. This can easily cause a headache when trying to grasp it, conceptually, if you’re not aware of it.

To learn about them is still very possible, even though we have to go around it and show, rather than tell. There are many examples throughout historical mythologies, fairy tales, and the type of stories that come up in cultures throughout the world.

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To finish off with my favorite quote from Carl Jung: Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

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