The Inner Community: Archetype and Identity Part Two

The Inner Community: Archetype-and-Identity Part Two

A middle-aged woman was complaining about her relationship with her daughter-in-law. “Sometimes I hate who I turn into when I am dealing with her,” she said. “The problem is more with me than it is with her, I think. Nevertheless, I still can’t prevent that side of me from coming up!”

I complimented her on her level of awareness. Just the fact that she was able to take ownership of her problem was a huge step forward, beyond what most people usually do. That was, I told her, more than 50% of the battle. More commonly we tend to blame and scapegoat others when we feel badly.

As we begin to take responsibility for the part we play in our relationships and the dramas that surround us, we need to parse out the various aspects of our psyches. It’s almost like each part has a personality of its own, at the core of which is the complex. These are the archetypal energies that inform us. Sometimes they even have voices. Most of us have strong enough egos to manage or control these ‘factors’ most of the time, but most of us have had a similar experience to this middle-aged woman when something rises up in us and we totally ‘lose it’.

The complexes are at the negative polarity of these archetypal factors, and they act like the swamps of our inner landscapes. Like a vortex of energy, they will suck you down when you least expect it, unless you have done enough inner work to navigate your way through most situations. When we have suffered enough from the damage, humilation or fall-out from our emotional outbursts, we are forced to face up to what I now jokingly call the inner community. We are all informed by a number of different archetypal patterns, some of which are more dominant than others at different times of our lives.

In one of Rumi’s poems he said, “I can’t tell you who I am, only who I am not”. In order to tune into the guidance of the Self, we need to deal with the complexes that pull us away from the place of our core wisdom. In the beginning it feels like the clamouring of many different voices, opinions, points of view, usually with some negative, emotional charge of some sort. Sometimes it can feel like a monster erupting from within. As we come to know these different parts (often referred to as the Shadow) we disempower the complexes surrounding them.

There are many variations on these different archetypal patterns, all of which can carry both negative and positive attributes, so this is a very simple overview. I will focus on the more troublesome ones:

The Great Mother
This archetypal pattern can be present in either a man or woman. He/she comes across as very giving and kind. It is the way this person gets a sense of power and strength because other people come to him/her for solace, guidance etc. However the problem is that eventually this complex burns you out, leaving you exhausted, drained and resentful. Deep inside is the feeling of ‘why does no one take care of me the way I take care of others’. Eruptions of anger or depression result. Many ‘good’ therapists, or ‘good’ parents or ‘good’ friends have this one.

The Starving Orphan
This part is very needy and starving. He/she never gets enough and always experiences a lack in relationships. Unfortunately this complex when activated will actually push significant others away. People simply get tired of the constant whining and dissatisfaction, so it is a sad result for the person who has this running in a major way. They create a reality in which others avoid them.

The Martyr
This was and still is very common among an older generation of women who felt trapped and disempowered by patriarchal cultures if they were discouraged from holding powerful jobs or places of importance in society. It is still common among people who subscribe to religious values that stress ‘being good’ over being authentic. The shadow is low self-worth, sadness and depression.

The Bag Lady or Pauper
This complex is very common in our culture because of the fear around money and poverty. Money is the highest value for many in our society, and when we are not dealing with money in a conscious way this complex is probably running underground.

Mr. or Mrs. Control Freak
This complex has a desperate need to control the variables in life as well as others through money or power manipulation. It comes out of a deep-seated feeling of being totally out of control and not trusting that Life will provide. Think perfectionist or tyrant.

The Manipulator
This part does not have a deep core sense of empowerment, and feels that the only way he/she can get power or love is through manipulating others. Think Scarlett O’Hara.

The Puer/Puella
This is the young, creative part of ourselves that does not want to grow up or be burdened with responsibility. A person who has this complex as a dominant part of their everyday life will be evasive when asked to make a commitment of any kind. They revert to charm, wit and humour as a way of compensating for this lack, and they often skip or slide out of obligations. They don’t want to be pinned down and will dance away or go into avoidance mode. The problem is that while it may be charming or cute in a young person, it becomes very grating in maturity. Think Peter Pan.

The Senex or Hag
This part is bitter, old, jealous and resentful of youth, enthusiasm and joy. Think Scrooge.

Archetypes of the Self
The Wise Old Woman or the Wise Old Man often personify the Self in dreams. The Innocent Babe can also personify a new emergence/connection to the Self. When these figures show up in your dreams, pay attention!

As we come to know and understand the dominant factors of our inner landscape, we can with understanding, self-compassion and humour begin to disempower these complexes. They are who you are Not, to paraphrase Rumi. Who you most deeply are is your deep, core Self which you can only access after you have done the hard work of disempowering or loosening the grip of the complexes. Part of the problem is that we spend so much energy trying to ‘manage’ these forces. We try to shove them underground and keep them there, but sooner or later they erupt and poison our relationships. If instead we can meet and face them with compassion and learn to unblock the energy, we can move into a more harmonious relationship with the Self and with others.

This poem of Rumi’s addresses the danger of being governed by a complex:

You miss the garden
because you want a small fig
from a random tree.
You don’t meet the beautiful woman.
You’re joking with an old crone.

It makes me want to cry
how she detains you,
stinking-mouth, with a hundred
talons, putting her head
over the roof edge to call down,
tasteless fig, fold over fold, empty
as dry, rotten garlic.

She has you by the belt,
even though there’s no flower
and no milk inside her body.

Death will open your eyes
to what her face is. Leather spine
of a black lizard

No more advice
Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull
of what you really love.

This is an interesting visual of a community that works under the direction of a central governing authority!

And this is Carmen:

How’s That Working For You? Archetype and Identity. Part One

Many people, young and old, struggle with the whole notion of identity. Who am I? What should determine how I present myself to the world? Where do I fit in? Do I belong anywhere?

As young people struggle with life directions and career choices, these can feel like awkward and difficult questions. Similarly, many people in mid- life wake up and realize that the choices they made as young people were misguided. Nevertheless, these choices have had a huge shaping influence on their lives. Some of the problem is that for the most part we identify ourselves by what we do, and sometimes by our interests. Of course there is a convenience factor to this in the social fabric of things. Unfortunately however, we often get caught by our own labels. We become prisoners of the boxes we jump into.

One of the primary goals in any journey into consciousness involves an exploration into who you most deeply are. If you don’t ask the questions, chances are you won’t get an answer. Asking questions comes with the territory when you start waking up to who you are. One of the most interesting ideas that Jung re-invigorated (it didn’t originate with him) was the whole notion of the archetype. Plato was one of the first teachers to talk about this concept. It is the idea that there are patterns of energy that exist a priori (before) manifestation.

A simple example of this is the tulip bulb that contains the archetypal energies or potential form of the tulip, or the embryo that contains the DNA coding of the human. On a physical plane of course we now simply refer to the DNA, but if we are talking about the spiritual or psychological imprint, it is useful to think in terms of the archetypes that inform us.

Very often, when exploring this notion of identity with a client, I use an animal analogy as a metaphor. The other day I was with a middle-aged woman who was struggling with what she wanted the 2nd half of her life to be about. I mused aloud about what animal she might feel most akin to. In other words, if deep down she were more like a butterfly, she would be very unhappy with a job and a set of relationships and expectations that expected her to be a mother bear.

She got the point. My question was simply a jumping off point for a process of inquiry that would demand attention and rigour. There is no point trying to shape yourself into something you are not. Forget trying to fit in with someone else’s idea of who you should be. If you are a bookish academic, you are not going to become a jock. And if you are a jock, you are probably not going to become a ballet dancer.

Paying attention to your dreams is something I consider essential. When I have a client bringing a dream to the session, it makes my work as a therapist so much easier. It feels like we start at a core place and work outwards, like a thread unwinding. When the client doesn’t have a dream, it can be much harder. We are starting from the outside and trying to get underneath the persona (the mask we show to the world). It is very easy for both the therapist and the client to get led away from the core issues because the ego finds this kind of exploration challenging and provocative. The client may show up claiming he/she wants to get to the root of his/her issues, but then resists like mad when confronted. The ego is threatened by change. It has developed a certain identity, and even if it is dysfunctional, it feels safer than the unknown. The ego cannot know what it cannot know.

However, as we loosen the grip and constraints of the egoic box we have tried to fit into (for a myriad of reasons) we begin to free up all the latent energies of our deep archetypal patterning. As we give ourselves permission to explore and be who we most deeply are, we give ourselves an opportunity to stretch, become and live more fully – to engage with our lives and purpose in a more creative, dynamic way.

Listen to David Whyte recite Rilke’s poem, The Swan: (although it is scratchy it is well worth watching)

The Swan – Rainer Maria Rilke

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on
and cling to every day,
is like the swan,
when he nervously lets himself down into the water,
which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan,
unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried,
each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

translated by Robert Bly

Watch Maya Plisetskaya dance The Dying Swan: Music – Camille Saint-Saens. She is a marvel.

Relationships: Purpose versus Drama

Relationships: Purpose versus Drama

“What’s the point?” A man recently asked me this rhetorical question. We were discussing that age-old topic – relationships. In this case he was talking about whether or not he should stay with his girlfriend. I knew he didn’t really expect me to answer with a yes or no. In fact I had no answers for him, and he knew I wouldn’t. It’s a dangerous business giving advice and there is little pay off. I try to restrain myself as much as possible, but some very general commentary follows!

His question made me think about the common problems in relationship. We are always looking to the other to fill our needs. It seems to be part of being human, but it is such a treacherous pit to fall into. Expectations are set up in the early starry-eyed days, usually followed by disappointment. Don’t get me wrong; I am not against relationships. In fact, they are very important to me. However the art of being in relationship is one that comes with a certain maturity and probably a few grey hairs. Successful relationship often seems to depend on another art – the art of conversation.

Some years ago I learned about the Conversant model of conversation. It is geared towards structuring conversations in the business world, but it has real applications for any conversation that can become contentious.

The first and most important point is to get clear about purpose. Why are you having the conversation and what do you hope to achieve. What principles and values do you share? If for example you are talking about whether or not to continue to be in relationship, then you would each have to think about that purpose. In other words, what is the point? Sometimes it is helpful to consider what success would look or feel like. Both parties should be rigorously honest with each other about what they want, and what they are hoping for.

The next part of the conversation is about alignment. Do our goals align? Can we support each other in obtaining those goals? Can we get aligned? It is important to stay away from all you language, which mostly devolves into blame and criticism in which the other person invariably feels judged, attacked and lacking. Try to stay with statements or expressions that begin with “I think or I feel” or “When X happens, I feel….”

The other side of this of course is listening. Many of us have never learned to listen and become quite impatient when we are asked to do so. We often listen to others in very surface ways. I am sure most of you have had the experience of telling a story, only to be interrupted by your partner who will tell you some version of, “Oh that’s nothing – wait til you hear what happened to me!” What they are listening for is a break in the conversation so they can turn the focus back to themselves.

In order to truly listen to another, the ego has to be willing to set aside its agenda of aggrandizement. One common listening exercise is to see if you can say back to your partner what he/she has just said without adding your commentary or judgment. In fact, you simply try to repeat back the meaning of your partner’s words. You are actually just verifying to see if you have really ‘gotten it’. Chances are your partner will feel heard in a whole new way, which in turn will possibly lead to a more meaningful and deeper communication.

If the two of you can get aligned on purpose, and feel that you can support each other’s individual purposes, then the next step is agreeing on some action steps. What are some action steps that would help you achieve your goals, both individually and as a couple? Remember that all goals do not have to be shared, but the important ones do. These goals should not fight against each other.

As we let go of the requirement that the other fulfills all our basic needs, we start to take responsibility for ourselves in a new way. There may be some things that are non-negotiable. Can your partner live with that? Yes or no? Try to take as many requirements and expectations off your partner as you can so that you can strip it down to the most important elements of relationship for you.

Learning to love another person is to always keep in mind your partner’s deep-seated needs and to be gentle with that. I am not advocating that you sacrifice your own soul needs to your partner’s agenda. Staying true to your deep Self should always be your highest purpose. If your relationship is fruitful you will support each other’s connection to That, and help each other along the path with as few demands as possible.

We are all ultimately alone with the One. A vision of relationship that is helpful to some is to imagine two parallel paths that dip in towards each other from time to time at agreed upon intervals. Finding a friend or partner who is in sync with you can be a source of joy and true friendship.

For more information on the Conversant model of conversation:


Watch this beautiful video of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Wild Geese:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Self Help or Transformation?

Self Help or Transformation?

How about another self-help book? Maybe Ten Ways to Improve your Love-life or Seven Essential Tips for Losing Weight? Or Become a Leader with these 10 Important Steps? Or how about Seven Tips on How to Lose Friends and Gain Enemies?

All joking aside, we live in a culture that is obsessed with self-improvement. The ego gets fixated on its various goals, telling itself that ‘if I can just fix this or change that, then I will be happy – or at least happier. Well if not happier, at least have a better love-life, or more money or more power, or more houses, or cars or mistresses – or whatever.

From the ego’s perspective, the focus is always on growth – which is essentially uni-directional. You hope to get more of what you want or know or are familiar with. You want more of who you already are. That is all the ego knows and of course it thinks it is in control. Even evolution is uni-directional growth in which a system gradually becomes more complex as it adapts to new circumstances.

So is transformation any different from the type of growth implied in the self-help discourse? Jung felt that at the core of every psyche is the longing for wholeness. It is this principle that drives the transformative process in every individual. It is the deep-seated impetus towards individuation. If we look at the root meaning of this word, it means the undivided whole.

The ego tries to manage and direct this deep-seated urge by being the stage-manager and director of the various self-improvement projects. Otherwise it would have to submit to the guidance and direction of the Self, or Spirit, and the ego doesn’t want to give up control.

We are all fearful of the unknown, and the ego strives to manage this fear with its own personal agenda, but this has nothing to do with the transformative process. So the ego keeps bumbling along, putting the cart before the horse, creating karma left, right and centre, until it gets the big wake-up call. This can feel like getting hit over the head with a 2 by 4, often repeatedly. (I know I’ve been there.) There is a value in this, however, because it as if the ego finally gets exhausted from trying to control everything, and maybe is prompted to turn towards the Higher Self, or the divine (God has become a suspect word – did you know?) for guidance.

As a culture, we do not generally value the process of things disintegrating and falling apart. We mostly fear it or consider it a tragedy because we resist moving away from what is known. However, the alchemist of yesteryear saw it differently. Jung became very interested in alchemy in the latter part of his life, because he saw in alchemy a symbol system for the transformative process that paralleled the transformation process of the human soul. The first step in that process is a breaking down of the original structure. The closest analogy we have of this in nature is in the insect world, with those insects that transform from the cocoon stage to the butterfly. When the caterpillar spins its cocoon and rests within it, it doesn’t just grow wings. First it must completely dissolve into a black gooey substance.

When a human being hits the wall and the ego is forced to give up control of the way it was doing its life, the human enters into what has been termed, ‘the dark night of the soul’. In alchemical terms, it is called the nigredo. This is probably the most important, but most painful step, because without it – nothing new can come forth. It is the break-down of who you think you are. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Life has a way of throwing us off the deep end – but not for malevolent reasons. It is simply to get you to wake up to what is important, and get you to turn and face your higher purpose.The bottom line is that if you are interested in your life being transformed in a deep and meaningful way, you can give up all the self-help. The ego cannot be in charge of the transformative process; only the Self can.

There is nothing wrong with losing weight or learning to manage your anger in a more productive way, but don’t expect that it will free you to engage in your life in a more authentic, joyful way. In other words, all the self-help in the world won’t, by itself, make you happier.

The ultimate goal in alchemical language is the philosopher’s stone. Jung understood that this paralleled the individuation process. There is much to be said on this subject, but I won’t do it here. If you are interested, Jung wrote extensively on the symbolism of alchemy. Probably one of his most accessible texts is in the Collected Works, Vol. 16, The Practice of Psychotherapy, specifically the section on the Psychology of the Transference. Another suggestion: Marie Louise von Franz, a close associate of Jung’s, wrote a book called Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology.

Stefan Hoeller also gives a wonderful series of lectures on Jung and Alchemy which you can access at:

From Rumi:
I have lived on the lip of insanity,
Wanting to know reasons,
Knocking on a door
It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside

Another from Rumi spoken by Coleman Barks: