On Heroes and Heroines


One of my favorite contemporary heroes, Jack Shepherd from Lost
One of my favorite modern day heroes, Jack Shepherd from Lost.

The following is adapted from Archetypes: Who Are You? by Caroline Myss

I have long believed that it is impossible for us to know who we truly are unless we understand archetypes and, more specifically, our own personal archetypes, because they are the psychic lenses through which we view ourselves and the world around us. As a society we have been on a quest to understand how we function psychologically, what makes us the way we are, and what makes us heal. These questions have awakened a need in us to not only be aware that archetypes influence us but to understand how they express themselves in our individual lives.

If I said to you, “See that man over there? He’s my hero,” or, “That woman is the perfect mom,” I know without a doubt that you would understand exactly what I was communicating to you about two people you had never met. With just three words — hero, perfect, mom — I would have awakened in you two complete archives of myths and symbols that you automatically associate with those terms. In seconds, these two people would cease to be strangers, as your psyche wrapped them in stories, fairy tales, and your own memories. The man would instantly take on the appearance of a super-strong hero able to face any adversary. Despite knowing nothing else about him, you would instantly trust him.

Heroes and heroines are the most popular movie figures of our day. Make a movie about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, or Wonder Woman, and it will be the #1 draw on opening week. Why? It’s simple: We not only love our heroes and heroines, we need them. A society without heroes is a defeated society.

You, too, have at least one hero. If not, you long for one. You may not be in the market for your own personal comic-book figure come to life, but the idea of having someone to rely on, who gallops in to save the day — psychologically, if not literally — is right up there on most people’s list of necessities for a happy and secure life. We all share this need for heroes in some way because it is built into our emotional DNA. What we call human nature is also our archetypal nature. Certain qualities and characteristics are inherently human: caring for others, protection of the young, loyalty, the ability to love, the need to safeguard home and family. And all of these innately human qualities are represented by archetypes, by these universal, impersonal patterns of influence that reside in the collective unconscious — in the psyche of the species, as it were, that we share with every other human being.

Consider the archetype of the Perfect Mom. You don’t need to meet the woman I’m speaking about to flesh out an idea of her in your imagination. The words “perfect mom” pack a powerful punch, especially in our society. The instant someone tells you that a woman is a perfect mom, you picture a great cook with a charming, well-ordered home who helps her kids with their homework, attends all their sporting events, listens to their problems, hosts sleepovers with their friends — and bakes brownies. Even if the words “perfect mom” bring up painful associations with a not-so-perfect upbringing, you still have the projection of the ideal mother figure firmly planted in your psyche.

So how do those words “hero” and “perfect mom” communicate so much visual, emotional, intellectual, and mythic information to us? They carry the power they do because they are archetypes, psychic power patterns in the  unconscious mind. Although archetypes are collective symbols that everyone in the culture shares, they can also speak to us individually, as personal archetypal patterns that are the foundation of our beliefs, drives, motivations, and actions, organizing and energizing all our relationships in life. Archetypes are the power images we identify with as children. The Athlete or the Artist or the Actor or the Princess represents a complex of stories and myths that we somehow imagine happening in our own life. As we grow up, we continue to pattern our lives around these images, unconsciously living our archetypes.

Consider for a second the question around which I wrote my most recent book: “Who are you, really?” We all ask ourselves “Who am I?” at many times in many ways throughout our life, but we need the right language to excavate the answers from deep within us. We ask that question because we are actually seeking to understand the reason why we were given the gift of this life: For what reason was I born? This question marks an archetypal passageway, a turning point in our desire to know ourselves more deeply. It symbolizes a maturing in which we shift from defining ourselves by what we owto wanting to know ourselves by what we can dor be or contribute. Do I have the Artist in me? Was I born to be a Visionary? To know the deeper truth about yourself requires traveling to your interior on the power of your archetypes.

Once you connect with an archetype that you know is genuinely you, it will inspire you to find out about other archetypes that may be influencing your life. Connecting with an archetype is a bridge to your true self, to who you really are.

You are far more than your personality, more than your habits, more than your achievements. You are an infinitely complex human being with stories and myths and dreams — and ambitions of cosmic proportions. Don’t waste time underestimating yourself. Dream big. Use your archetypes. If you’re an Artist, make art. If you’re a Visionary, imagine something the future needs, then join forces with an Entrepreneur to make a venture out of it. Use the energy of your archetype to express the true reason you were born. Life was never meant to be safe. It was meant to be lived right to the end. <—- Published on Archetype.com

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