Toppling The King

One of the lessons of Jungian psychology is that we are not one single entity. The thing we call ‘me’ or ‘the self’ is really a collection of voices or ‘selves’. Rather than one entity seated at a table, there are, in fact, multiple sitting together, all sharing a meal.

Jung used the metaphor of archetypes to help make sense of these multiple entities. You can’t look at the brain and find the archetypes any more than you can look at the brain and find the ego or the subconscious. They are just metaphors. That’s the first thing to note. The second thing is that we are all very different and our archetypes will express this. Even the ‘same’ archetype in two people will operate differently in content, even if the general context remains the same.

The personality can be divided into archetypes in numerous ways, it could be four, five, or sixteen; the best way to consider one’s own archetypes is not reading a list of general ones online (unless as a description and not a prescription) but looking at oneself and seeing how certain behaviours reflect certain actors in life. To take an example, there is a part of you that is the joker, the everyman, the serious, the seducer, the baby, the commander, and the magician. But, there can just as easily be the mother, the daughter, the materialist, the calculator (or rationalist), and the writer (if you’re someone like me who thinks this particular colour has specific traits). While every person is different, one of the points of Jungian psychology is to appreciate that we are a confluence of varying forces of varying degrees, each corresponding to a different part of our personality, and therefore, very likely to change over time. The magician may be a relevant archetype today, but not so tomorrow.

However, we tend to operate under the model that there is only one internal voice, the ‘ego’. But, this is just a model, and models are never direct reflections of reality, only metaphors; and metaphors can be changed.

Archetypes 2, Chris Miles, undated

This type of modelling invites what Adam Phillips calls ‘over determination’. That is, from every perspective you can think about something, there are so many other ways of looking at it. Your ego presents itself as absolute but ultimately, it is only one (and a therefore, limited) perspective.

To take an example, say you have recently been dumped and are the type of person taken to self-critical assessments. You may say to yourself ‘I don’t blame her; I’m clearly a piece of shit’. Okay, maybe so, but this is only one part of you saying so. If you consider this internal voice to be the whole of your available voice, then you come out with an entirely different perspective than if you considered it only one part of the internal conversation. A Jungian model of archetypes invites further interpretations. ‘Indeed’, the ego may say, ‘I am a piece of shit’, but; when you contemplate for a moment, anothera voice may say (agreeing, however doubtedly) ‘but you were never really working, so someone had to end it’, and this is the mother; ‘calm down, and try to think clearly about this’, and this is the calculator; ‘I hate her, she’s a terrible person for leaving me’, and this is the baby; ‘you could have made it work if only you changed x or y, maybe there’s still time…’, and this is the magician; and ‘you never needed her anyway, you’re stronger on your own’, and this is the commander.

Different points of view attain a unique salience when, rather than seen as expressions of the single ego, they are seen as alternate dimensions of the self, which when taken together constitute a ‘personality’. Rather than a single one (the ego) reaching out in different directions, it is different perspectives bleeding in.

In thinking about ourselves from a Jungian perspective, we don’t invite split-personality disorder, because all of these voices are mere aspects of ourselves. They are never separate; no, they are intimately connected by the table at which they sit, but they all have something rich and insightful to give. But, that richness can only be appreciated when we see there has never been a single voice speaking to us but many, each giving a unique version of events. When we see this, we can topple the king from his throne, and no longer be beholden to one voice, because we know there are so many others waiting to speak.

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