Jungian archetypes are innate patterns of thought in human experiences that are passed through generations. According to Jung, there are several archetypes, each one representing a specific situation that prescribes how humans act and feel.
According to Jungian theory, this is one reason why a certain situation is experienced in remarkably similar ways by people that come from vastly different backgrounds and cultures throughout history.
Archetypes form the basic structure of the collective unconscious that has existed in human beings forever.
Because they are universal, archetypes can be observed in all cultures, religious systems, dreams, mythologies, and even fairy tales.
Origins of Jungian Archetypes and Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychologist (1875-1961) that developed the concept of archetypes and the collective unconscious.
His ideas regarding archetypes and the collective unconscious stemmed from a variety of sources.
In addition to being influenced by Sigmund Freud, he also developed his theory based on the analysis of his own recurring dreams and his work with psychiatric patients.
Jung believed that archetypes formed the foundation for the human experience, but that they were expressed in unique ways based on the life events of the individual, their cultural background, and personality characteristic.
As Jung stated in the translated version of his book Four Archetypes (2014):
“It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psyche substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us” (p. 2).
Jungian Archetypes Examples
Jung identified several archetypes, but was quick to point out that many more can exist, and there can be different versions of each:
1. The mother / caregiver
This archetype embodies the capacity to nurture. It is the part of the collective unconscious that seeks to help others through a kind of “maternal instinct.”
Example: We all know someone that just cannot pass by a stray dog without trying to take them in. They might take them to the vet to get checked out thoroughly, and then give them a loving and caring home, even though they already have five other dogs.
2. The child / innocent
This archetype represents innocence and the earliest impressions formed regarding family, safety, and loyalty. It has several variations that include feeling beloved, wounded, or abandoned.
Example: Some young adults find it very difficult to leave the nest and want to embrace the innocent archetype forever. Stepping out into the real world and confronting all of those challenges like adults are supposed to do eventually is just too much for some. So, they live in their parent’s basement as long as possible; it’s safe down there.
3. The wise old man / sage
The sage is the archetype of knowledge, truth, and morality. It is a masculine archetype that is commonly seen in literature as the character which guides others.
Example: By the time someone becomes old enough to be a grandfather, they have seen just about everything. This gives them a great perspective on life and a wealth of experience from which to offer advice. It’s a role they truly enjoy playing.
4. The shadow self
This is the darker side of the individual. It contains repressed urges and impulses that are usually rejected by society. It can be expressed as envy, hate, and aggressiveness, or seen in dreams as monsters or evil figures.
Example: When some people travel on vacation they really let loose and act like someone completely different. They allow their true inner self to escape for a short time and act in ways that might seem shocking, especially if their family or colleagues aren’t around.
5. The persona
This is the person that individuals try to display to others and the world around them. It represents how we act in social situations and the image we try to convey. As children grow older, they realize that they must act in certain ways to conform to society’s expectations.
Example: Being a regular church-goer involves learning about how to conduct oneself in a manner that is wholesome and righteous. Listening to sermons is a way to instill a moral compass that can guide one’s behavior down a path of the straight and narrow.
6. The self
Jung believed that each individual strives to achieve a cohesive sense of self that unifies their conscious identity with the one in their collective unconscious. When that occurs, the individual experiences a kind of self-actualization which he referred to as individuation.
Example: Discovering one’s true purpose and unique abilities in life is what Maslow referred to as self-actualization. Most people will never reach this stage of self-insight and understanding of who and what they are.
7. The anima and animus
Both men and women have feminine and masculine elements in their psyches. For women, their masculine elements are a result of the animus archetype. For men, their feminine elements come from the anima archetype.
Example: Stereotypically speaking, “real men” are not supposed to spend a lot of time and money on facial creams and body lotions. But, current trends in some cultures are seeing this feminine side of the masculine male being more and more accepted.
8. The hero
The hero archetype contains the qualities of bravery and strength. It is the champion of right and rescuer of those in peril. Although mostly containing positive attributes, there can also exist elements of arrogance and aggressiveness.
Example: The Great Man theory of leadership postulates that crises create situations that allow certain personality characteristics to emerge. Attributes such as decisiveness, charisma, and persuasiveness all come into play that allow one individual to rise above and lead others to victory.
9. The trickster / jester / magician
This is the archetype which lies and deceives others. The trickster uses its knowledge and cunning to create chaos. This archetype has been represented in literature and various religious systems throughout history.
Example: Every office has one – a person that likes to spread gossip, saying a few words to one group, then saying a few words to another group. This is done all in an effort to create tension in the office. What is the ultimate objective? Sometimes it’s to divide and conquer in the hopes of creating career opportunities. In other instances, the goal is to just create turmoil in others.
10. The Explorer
The explorer archetype is characterized by a desire for freedom and a thirst for new experiences. Individuals with this archetype are often restless, with a deep longing to discover new places, ideas, and cultures. They value adventure and are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones.
Example: Many digital nomads today embody the explorer archetype. They travel from one place to another, working remotely, all while soaking in new cultures, cuisines, and experiences. Their insatiable curiosity drives them to live life on the move.
11. The Outlaw
The outlaw or rebel archetype is one that challenges established norms and breaks rules. They believe in disrupting the status quo and are not afraid to stand up against authority. Their defiance can sometimes lead to positive change, but it can also result in chaos.
Example: Punk rockers in the 1970s and 1980s embodied the outlaw archetype. With their radical music, style, and anti-establishment attitude, they challenged societal norms and created a cultural movement that celebrated rebellion.
12. The Lover
The lover archetype is all about passion, intimacy, and connection. This archetype doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships; it’s also about love for friends, family, or a cause. The lover is deeply emotional, empathetic, and often seeks unity.
Example: Romantic poets like Lord Byron or John Keats exemplified the lover archetype, expressing deep emotions, passion, and longing in their writings.
13. The Everyman
Also known as the common man or the orphan, this archetype represents the ordinary individual. They are relatable, down-to-earth, and value community. The everyman seeks to belong and is often seen as a representative of the majority.
Example: Sitcom characters like Jim Halpert from “The Office” or Leonard Hofstadter from “The Big Bang Theory” showcase the everyman archetype. Their daily struggles, relationships, and aspirations resonate with many viewers.
14. The Ruler
Description: The ruler archetype exudes control, authority, and responsibility. They seek power, not for its own sake, but to create order and structure. They often have a vision of how things should be and will work diligently to see that vision come to life.
Example: CEOs of major corporations or monarchs from history, like Queen Elizabeth II, often display characteristics of the ruler archetype. Their roles necessitate leadership, responsibility, and governance.
15. The Artist
The artist archetype is characterized by creativity, imagination, and a deep need for self-expression. They view the world through a unique lens and seek to share their perspectives with others. This archetype is not limited to just traditional arts; it can manifest in any form of creative expression.
Example: Legendary figures in art, such as Frida Kahlo or Vincent van Gogh, are quintessential representations of the artist archetype. Their works were deeply personal and conveyed their unique perspectives on life, pain, and love.
Similarity and Differences with Freud
Jung’s notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious were in part inspired by Freud’s theory of personality.
There are many similarities in their beliefs, as well as significant differences (Jung, 1961; 2015).
According to Mattoon (1985), when Jung and Freud met for the first time on March 3rd, 1907, in Vienna, they talked for 13 straight hours.
Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious was different than Freud’s concept of the unconscious. For Freud, the unconscious consisted of each individual’s repressed or forgotten thoughts and impulses. It was very specific to the individual and not part of a collective whole shared by all human beings.
Jung referred to Freud’s unconscious as the personal conscious, but maintained that there was a deeper layer of the human psyche. This deeper layer is not unique to the individual, but rather it is universal and exists in a similar form in all human beings.
Both agreed that the unconscious was revealed in the use of symbolic language, analogies and metaphors (Bobroff, 2020). Some of these revelations occurred in dreams, of which both Jung and Freud were highly interested.
However, Jung believed that Freud’s interpretations of the images in dreams might be too literal (Bennet, 1995). Rather than always being expressions of repressed conflicts and impulses, Jung also believed that the images could reveal much more about the individual’s psyche, even point to future directions of the self and its purpose (Jung, 1960; 2014).
Jung’s thinking also departed from Freud’s notion of the libido. While Freud believed it to be primarily sexual in nature, Jung had a much broader conception. He considered the libido to be a form of psychic energy that compels adults into action to achieve (Sherry, 2013).
They both agreed on defense mechanisms and the existence of repressed impulses. For Jung, the shadow archetype is the functional equivalent of what Freud considered to be the primary components of the subconscious.
They both agreed that repressed conflicts and impulses were discomforting to the self’s conscious awareness and therefore had to be resolved through some means one way or another.
|Feature/Concept||Carl Jung||Sigmund Freud|
|Unconscious||Believed in a collective unconscious that is universal and exists in a similar form in all human beings.||Unconscious consists of individual’s repressed or forgotten thoughts and impulses; specific to each person (e.g. Freudian Slips).|
|Dream Analysis||Dreams can reveal more about the psyche and even point to future directions of the self. Interpreted symbols more broadly.||Dreams are expressions of repressed conflicts and impulses. Might interpret symbols more literally.|
|Libido||Libido is a form of psychic energy that drives adults into action. It’s not just sexual, but also about creativity, growth, and life energy.||Libido is primarily sexual in nature. It’s the driving force for all behavior.|
|Repressed Impulses||Agreed on the existence. Jung described them as part of the shadow archetype.||Freud focused on these as discomforting elements that were hidden from consciousness but influenced behavior.|
|Defense Mechanisms||Both believed in the existence. Jung discussed them in relation to the ego and its relation with the outer and inner world.||Freud detailed specific defense mechanisms like repression, projection, displacement, etc., to defend the ego.|
|Nature of Symbolism||Symbols can reveal insights into the collective unconscious and personal unconscious. They can be universal or personal.||Symbols, especially in dreams, are representations of repressed desires or memories.|
|Scope of Unconscious||Introduced the idea of personal unconscious, similar to Freud’s concept, but added the layer of the collective unconscious.||Focused primarily on the personal, individual unconscious.|
|Nature of Development||More spiritual and holistic approach; individuation process.||Psychosexual stages of development.|
|View on Religion||Saw it as a necessary part of the human experience, reflecting deep psychological truths.||Regarded it as an illusion or a form of neurosis.|
Applications of Jungian Theory and Archetypes
1. In Psychotherapy
Several elements of Jungian theory have been adopted by modern practitioners.
Although his worked evolved to become more of a theory of personality than of psychopathology, it yielded a role in psychotherapy referred to as Analytical Psychology.
For example, Jung believed that separation from one’s true inner self was at the heart of many psychological ailments, a notion that is held today by many therapists and counselors.
The path to psychological recovery for some is to discover one’s true self and engage in purposeful behavior accordingly. In the modern world, many people feel disconnected and purposeless. A symptom, according to Jungian theory, of the conscious self being separated from its true manifestation in the unconscious.
In addition, and not well-known, Jung invented the famous word-association task (Jung, 1910). Initially he thought that the task would reveal patterns of words associated with specific psychiatric illnesses (Hall & Nordby, 1999). Not until later did he accept that mistake but still see the task as a valuable tool to better understand the patient.
He noticed that some words caused patients to pause, which he considered to be quite revealing.
He even utilized measures of physiological arousal to help identify physical symptoms of those emotional disturbances. He measured pulse rate, fluctuations in breathing, and changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin as a marker of nervousness (Hall & Nordby, 1999).
Roesler (2013) conducted a literature review of studies which examined the effectiveness of Jungian psychotherapy and concluded “All the studies show significant improvements not only on the level of symptoms and interpersonal problems, but also on the level of personality structure and in everyday life conduct. These improvements remain stable after completion of therapy over a period of up to six years” (p. 562).
2. In Personality Assessment
The most famous application of Jung’s theory, albeit not specifically related to the archetypes, is as the foundation for the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBPTI).
The MBPTI is a self-report questionnaire used to identify an individual’s personality type, in addition to their strengths and preferences. The test contains four scales: extroversion-introversion, sensing-intuiting, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving.
It began being developed in 1942 by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. They found the personality types described by Jung as being highly consistent with their own observations of people’s personality profiles.
So, they set forth developing a paper-and-pencil measure that could be easily administered and scored. Today, it is one of the most widely used psychological instruments in the world.
The scale is widely used in the business world and has evolved into a multi-million-dollar enterprise that is still going strong today.
3. In Literature
As Jung believed that the archetypes come from the collective unconscious, he pointed to common themes and characters which have been portrayed in literature, the arts, and religious practices for centuries and across cultures.
Analyzing artistic manifestations of the Jungian archetypes has become so prolific that it even has its own term: archetypical literary criticism.
Some of the earliest examples include Bodkin’s (1934) analysis of Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Coleridge. Other examples include Drew’s (1949) examination of T. S. Eliot and Singer’s (1970) interpretation of William Blake.
The study of individual characters in terms of their archetypal relevance include Frodo and Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings (Skogemann, 2009).
According to Leigh (2011), Christopher Booker examined fairy tales, biblical stories and popular films from a Jungian archetypal psychology and identified several common plots, including: rags to riches, overcoming the monster, and voyage and return, among others.
There are literally thousands of articles, books, and university courses that utilize Jungian archetypes as a basis for literary analysis.
See Also: Maiden Archetypes
The Jungian archetypes consist of common personality dimensions in the human psyche that have existed since the beginning of human history.
The archetypes comprise the structure of the collective unconscious and can be seen in literary works, religions, and cultural symbols across time and cultures.
We can see examples of archetypes in ourselves and the people around us, in the books we read and the movies we watch. According to Jung, their commonality is evidence for the existence of a collective unconscious that we all share.
Unlike Freud, Jung believed that the unconscious was not solely devised by the individual’s repressed conflicts and impulses, but also provides an opportunity to see the individual’s purpose in life and guidance for their unique journey.
According to Jung, to be well and whole, one must discover one’s true inner self, integrate it with the collective unconscious, and exercise its purpose in daily life, called individuation.
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