Don't Be Defined by Your Archetype
Updated: May 10, 2019
Jock. Nerd. Dumb Blonde. Band Geek. We all know the titles. We all know roles.
Welcome to the modern era's version of Archetypes. An archetype (or stereotype as though tend to be referred to), is a culturally understood role (set of behaviors, way of dress, manners of speech) that people fall into. Archetypes are far older than the understanding of a high school jock. Carl Jung, a mastermind of psychology, spent the early 1900s pioneering the study of archetypes. We he found revealed how embedded they are in our myths and story telling.
We can see this tendency even in something like Game of Thrones. Consider, for instance, just a few names of the Seven-Faced God: The Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Maiden...
The list goes on...
All of these faces of the Seven-Faced God represent deeply rooted and thoroughly ancient roles fulfilled by humans.
Archetypes are manifested in different ways. Personality tests are a good way to start. One that corresponds with the Jungian system of archetypes is the Meyers-Briggs, personality test, which I recommend.
Yet we are more than an acronym, and that's worth remembering. The labels we recieve in personality tests are meant to be helpful: They illumine something about our character. That, in turn, is meant to help us exercise better control over our lives. A warning that should be distributed with these tests, then, is that you aren't a slave to your label. Don't make the mistake of letting a 40-some question online personality test rule your life.
That's not what archetypes are about. That's cerebral--and archetypes are far from cerebral. In fact, they are immensely pragmatic.
What contributes to our archetypes the most is probably our social roles. That's why artists, jocks, nerds, and socialites all tend to split up inside a high school cafeteria. We look for basic instruction books on how to live our lives, and archetypes help provide that. Football players, for instance, often follow the archetype of the Warrior more closely than they do others. That's because one of the key traits of the Warrior is that he is strong; and that resonates with football players because it is useful for them to be strong.
Their archetype helps them make sense of the world.
Archetypal roles are weird. It's very rarely that they are assigned in a formal way. Think about the Popular Kid in high school--a very basic but common role. Nobody sat down and decided that so-and--so would be popular. It just happened.
Our social relationships impose roles onto us. Which is why school is so traumatic. We're ripped from the comfort of elementary school, where our parents determine so much for us, and now we are thrust into the social world dominated not by caring adults, but by our own peers. Thus, it's just a boiling pot of terror and weaponized hormones.
So, in the name of safety, you and all of your peers assign you a role as fast as possible for the good of the group. You become the Band Nerd, or perhaps the Bruiser.
Yet there is a mutual confirming of your archetypal role between you and those around you. Which makes sense. We all make up the social fabric together. The threads need to be in agreement that they make up a quilt and not jeans. Since we all make up the social world together, everyone has to accept the archetypes that appear, and work with them.
Which is why some people may receive push back when they try to change their self-image midway through high school, or get made fun of when they are a goth one week and a prep the next, even though it's natural to do that during adolescence. It disturbs the archetypal order.
When someone is constantly shifting their archetypal role, it makes it difficult to work with or understand them, and if there is one thing people don't like, it's instability. Which is why college is such a restart button for so many people. It's an opportunity to either confirm within yourself the archetype you've picked up/been given, or it is an opportunity to try again without all of the social pressure of high school because the fabric has not been sewn together yet.
In this game of cat and mouse that happens surrounding archetypes, it's extremely easy to get bogged down into it. We begin to become tribalistic. The nerds stick with the nerds, and the jocks flirt with the popular girls and so on. These roles, which are deeply important and make the social world a colorful blanket rather than a sullen wool sheet, can sometimes make us think in an us vs. them mentality. The sporty kids are always out to get us nerds. Not to mention, pop culture only reinforces these ideas of the archetypes warring against one another in some kind of social competition.
Now a little competition is healthy. It forces us to grow. And of course we will naturally collect around others that are like us, but if we start to think of other archetypes as threats or malicious competitors to us in our life's journey then we have serious problem.
Don't be defined by your archetype. So many people don't like things because it doesn't fit the social role they play. I can't wear that because I'm a goth. I can't say I like old things because people will call me a hipster. We're so worried about crossing archetypal boundaries that we stagnate, and we cease to be ourselves fulling an archetype and become an archetype parading as us. We cease to be authentically ourselves and become puppets controlled by these invisible forces that lie both in our unconscious and the social world.
In fact, when you stop behaving in this manner you actually ascend the ladder of archetypes towards better and better ones. The Warrior, for instance, is part Bruiser and part Artist. He's sensitive to the world around him, like the Artist. At the same time, though, he's powerful enough to alter the world to the way he wishes it to be, like the Bruiser.
This all means that you can not just enjoy an archetype you identify with (like the Jock or the Geek) but you can move beyond it without needing to feel that you have somehow betrayed your identity. And, ultimately, that's pretty nice to know.
So when you finish your latest Batman comic, feel free to turn on the Pirates game. Finish your Starbucks and go to a heavy metal concert. We can't escape our archetypes, but we don't have to be manipulated by them.