Archetypal psychology á la Carl G. Jung or James Hillman or Carolyn Myss—or via a unique Life Mapping approach I will be introducing you to in Life Paths—can help you to become more aware of how easy it can be to project aspects of your own unconscious personality or “Psyche” orientations onto, or into, others. This way others may serve as mirrors for you of traits or beliefs you may not be ready to own about yourself. It’s like my father used to tell me often, “You see yourself in others”. We do this with both positive and negatively perceived traits or orientations; it is a psychologically ‘safe’ way to assess traits we may be not ready to see as part of our own psychic makeup.
In prior weeks we have explored archetypal “ensemble casts” of characters as represented in fiction, such as in the Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite examples. Discussing TV, we realized that several successful situational comedies such as M.A.S.H. or Gilligan’s Island use ensemble casts to represent various character aspects of a basic Self character (e.g. Dorothy, Captain Hawkeye Pierce, or the marooned Gilligan). Now I’d like to invite you to do the same with regard to members of your own Family. This might be your family of origin, or your immediate family you live with, or both, and it could as easily be seen in your family of friends or coworkers that you associate with on a regular basis.
What might your perceptions of specific family or significant relationship Alters reveal about Yourself?
Here’s an easy way to start applying this understanding from archetypal psychology to your universe—i.e., your own Ensemble Archetypal Cast of relations. Simply compose a list of positive and negative (and/or neutral, if you like) character traits that you associate with those in your family or in a close, family-like social group.
What character traits, for instance, do you associate with your Father? If that has shifted over time, you can represent his traits accordingly. What strengths or weaknesses do you see in yourself that you can trace to being to some degree a result of your relationship with your father?
Now try applying those same questions to your full set of close family relations. Especially if you recognize in yourself a particularly strong ‘attachment’ to some perception you hold about a family member, describe the traits you are responding to as carefully as you can. Have you perhaps avoided expressing some character traits in your own life as a reaction to seeing those as ‘negative traits’ expressed by someone close to you? What values do you relate to your aversion to such attitudes or behaviors?
On the other hand, what noble or heightened pedestals might you have constructed for some persons; pedestals you feel you fall quite short of yourself. Why?
Now then, what if all of these character strengths and weaknesses you see in your family Alters are actually all parts of your own Total Self System (as well as being traits you associate with these others)?
Try it out. I will, too…
Here’s a sample subset of a chart I might create for my own archetypal “family projections” exploration:
Negatively perceived traits Positively perceived traits
Dad quick, harsh temper excellent gaming strategist
Mom emotional over-sensitivity excellent problem solver
Now then, looking at the negatively valued (to me) traits I’ve identified, what might they reveal about me? I definitely try to distance myself from a “quick, harsh temper” such as I associate with my father from specific memories. Does that mean this is not a trait within me? Quite the opposite. Because I do not want to own this trait, I have sometimes overcompensated in a disagreement with a relationship partner by “going away”–either physically or emotionally–when challenged by what may seem like frustrating or objectionable behavior or attitudes. Rather than erupt–as I construct my father might–I go away; or alternately, I might trigger this very response I eschew in myself, in my alter. Then though, when a situation remains tense and I finally DO express an angry temper, I might act out too much–in a brief but relatively uncontrollled outburst. Later I might apologize, or ‘go away’.
The more we can recognize “ourselves in others”, the better! An approach I use now when I recognize that I might be projecting qualities I don’t wish to own into others, is called an Archetype Dialogue, a form of active imagination, as Jung would call it. You can journal a dialogue (or imagine one) precisely with that ‘character’ in yourself that you think you have seen in someone else. Write out or sustain an imagined conversation with this part of yourself. What is he or she upset about or fearful of or uncomfortable around? Listen to what this part of YOU has to say. You might be surprised to find some of the pent up negative energy dissolves as you ALLOW this vital part of yourself to have a voice.
I invite your insights and stories! Go lightly with this one; be Gentle with YOU! (and You, and you too…….); LOL