Archetypes, Parenting and Shadow Work

How is archetypal theory related to good parenting?

Archetypal theory, rooted in the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, explores universal symbols and themes that appear in myths, stories, and human experiences. These archetypes represent fundamental aspects of the human psyche, and they can be applied to various aspects of life, including parenting. While archetypal theory is not a strict guide for parenting, it can provide insights into understanding and navigating the complexities of the parent-child relationship. Here’s how archetypal theory might be related to good parenting:

The Parent Archetype: In archetypal terms, there is an archetype known as the “parent.” This archetype embodies the nurturing, protective, and guiding aspects of parenting. Understanding and embodying positive aspects of this archetype can contribute to effective and caring parenting.

The Child Archetype: Similarly, there is the “child” archetype, which represents innocence, curiosity, and dependency. Recognizing and respecting the child’s need for guidance and support is crucial for good parenting.

The Hero’s Journey: The hero’s journey, a common archetypal theme, can be applied to the parent’s role in guiding the child through challenges and milestones. Parents often take on the role of mentors or guides, helping their children navigate the journey to adulthood.

The Shadow: Jung’s concept of the shadow refers to the unconscious and often hidden aspects of the psyche. Good parenting involves acknowledging and addressing one’s own shadow aspects to avoid projecting unresolved issues onto the child. Awareness of personal struggles can contribute to a healthier parent-child relationship.

The Wise Old Man/Woman: The archetype of the wise old man or woman represents experience, knowledge, and guidance. Parents, as they age, can embody this archetype and offer valuable insights to their children.

Archetypal Stories and Lessons: Many traditional stories and myths contain archetypal characters and themes that convey important lessons about virtues, values, and challenges. Parents can use these stories to teach moral and ethical values to their children.

Recognizing and Nurturing Individual Archetypes: Each individual, including children, may have dominant archetypal patterns that influence their behavior and personality. Parents who understand their children’s archetypal inclinations may better tailor their parenting approach to meet their children’s needs.

While archetypal theory provides a lens for understanding the deep patterns in human psychology, it’s essential to recognize that parenting is a highly individualized and dynamic process. Good parenting involves a combination of empathy, effective communication, setting boundaries, and fostering a supportive environment that takes into account the unique qualities and needs of each child. Archetypal theory can be one of many tools for self-reflection and understanding in the context of parenting.

About shadow work

About training as a shadow work facilitator

How can shadow work help good parenting?

Shadow work, a concept developed by Carl Jung, involves exploring and integrating the unconscious aspects of one’s psyche, known as the “shadow.” The shadow consists of repressed or hidden thoughts, emotions, and desires that are often considered socially unacceptable or personally uncomfortable. Engaging in shadow work can be beneficial for good parenting in several ways:

Self-awareness: Shadow work encourages self-reflection and awareness of one’s own unresolved issues, fears, and insecurities. Understanding these aspects of oneself allows parents to be more conscious of how their unresolved issues might impact their parenting.

Emotional Regulation: Shadow work involves acknowledging and accepting uncomfortable emotions. Parents who engage in shadow work are better equipped to regulate their emotions, preventing the unconscious projection of negative feelings onto their children.

Breaking Generational Patterns: Many aspects of the shadow are influenced by familial and societal patterns. By addressing and working through the shadow, parents can break negative generational cycles and provide a healthier emotional environment for their children.

Increased Empathy: Shadow work fosters empathy by helping parents understand their own vulnerabilities and struggles. This understanding can make it easier for parents to empathize with their children’s challenges and emotions.

Modeling Healthy Behavior: Parents who actively engage in shadow work model the importance of self-awareness and personal growth for their children. This can contribute to a family culture that values emotional intelligence and open communication.

Effective Communication: By being aware of and addressing aspects of the shadow, parents can improve their communication skills. They can express themselves more authentically and openly, creating a space for meaningful conversations with their children.

Reducing Unconscious Projection: Unresolved aspects of the shadow can be unconsciously projected onto others, including children. Shadow work helps individuals recognize and own these projections, preventing them from negatively impacting the parent-child relationship.

Fostering Emotional Safety: Children thrive in environments where they feel emotionally safe. Parents who engage in shadow work are more likely to create a safe space for their children to express themselves without fear of judgment or rejection.

Cultivating Compassion: Shadow work involves embracing one’s imperfections and vulnerabilities. This self-compassion can extend to compassion for the imperfections and struggles of others, including one’s children.

Enhancing Personal Growth: Engaging in shadow work is a continuous process of personal growth and development. Parents who prioritize their own growth are more likely to encourage and support their children’s development as well.

It’s important to note that shadow work is a deeply personal and ongoing process. Seeking the assistance of a therapist or counselor trained in Jungian psychology or shadow work can provide valuable guidance and support in navigating this introspective journey. Ultimately, integrating the lessons from shadow work can contribute to a more conscious and emotionally supportive parenting approach.



King Warrior Magician Lover

Archetypes are templates or patterns which shape the way we think, feel, and behave.

Take an example: if I say the word Warrior, you instantly know what I mean. And the same is true if I speak of a Magician, or a King, or a Father. These are all human archetypes, each of which can take many different forms.

Carl Jung was the first person to realise that archetypes are something we all have in common, and he believed they resided in what he called the “collective unconscious”. Nowadays most people see them as stored in the unconscious mind, like permanent programs etched into the memory of a computer chip.

And what do archetypes actually do for us? Perhaps it’s easiest to think of them as genetically determined potentials or possibilities for different aspects of our personality. The exact way in which a particular archetype will be expressed in each of us will be influenced by our individual experience of life and the culture in which we live.

The important point about these archetypes is that they’re common to all humanity. They’re like an internal foundation upon which every man and every woman builds their own particular experience of life. To make the point again, the way in which each archetype finds its expression in an individual man or woman will be shaped by what they learn for themselves, what they learned about life from their parents, and influences from their cultural background.

The archetypes I work with are the Sovereign (the King or Queen), the Warrior, the Magician, and the Lover.

Many writers have adapted those names and come up with words they believe are more representative of the energy in each archetype. For example:

Sovereign = Leader, Chieftain, Chairman, Director

Warrior = Action Taker, Worker

Magician = Thinker, Wise Man or Wise Woman, Sage

Lover = Sensor, Feeler, Connector

However, for me the original names really sum up the main areas of our personality. Here’s a brief introduction to each of them.

The Sovereign Archetype

The Sovereign archetype within you is either a King or a Queen. This is the part of you responsible for leadership in your life. It has responsibility for finding your vision, giving you a sense of purpose and direction in the world, and running your life in the best possible way. This is the part of you that makes (or at least should make!) the important decisions about how to live your life, what career to follow, where to live, and how to manage your Kingdom, your particular realm.

Your Kingdom might be your family, your business, your circle of friends, your own life, or maybe all of those and more. Whatever it is, your Sovereign is the leader in each area. When his energy is expressed fully, your Sovereign makes you a mature, decisive, powerful and potent leader.

And, just as every Sovereign throughout history has been responsible for “holding” the wounds of his kingdom, and ensuring the safety and protection of the citizens of the realm, so your own internal Sovereign is responsible for holding your emotional wounds and finding ways for you to grow into your full potential.

The work on the human shadow and archetypes is work I’ve done in one form or another with men and women over the past twenty years. It leads me to believe that the most deficient archetype in our world today, certainly the least expressed, is the Sovereign. Here’s a book on shadow and archetypes, including the Sovereign that explains it all. You only need to look at our political system to see how true this is.

The Warrior Archetype

The Warrior is an archetype which is all about taking action in the world and setting boundaries.

To operate at his highest level, a Warrior needs a strong Sovereign to control him and send him out on missions which serve a purpose – to protect people in the kingdom, to defend the boundaries of the kingdom, or simply to get things done.

Warriors can fight from an offensive or defensive position, depending on what’s needed of them. But the world could well do without the warlike quality of the Warrior, which is why I prefer to think of the Warrior in terms of male energy, an energy which is simply about taking action in the world, about getting things done. Some people call this archetypal energy “The Worker”. In either case, warrior energy is all about setting boundaries, accomplishing tasks, and achieving objectives.

The Magician Archetype

Many names have been used for the Magician archetype, including the Sage, the Witch, the Wizard, and a whole lot of other things – Trickster, Wise Woman, Mystic, and so on. They all come down to the same thing: the Magician’s main motivation is problem solving and coming up with solutions, for this is an archetype concerned with thinking in all its forms – rational thinking, creative thinking, logical thinking, and creativity.

This is the archetype which serves the Sovereign as an adviser or counsellor. The Magician finds solutions to problems and creates ways around difficulties; he likes an intellectual challenge. It’s an archetype that’s abundantly present in the world today, particularly in the world of hi-tech industry and technological development.

As we shall see, there are both advantages and disadvantages to the abundance of Magician energy in the world today: in some ways it helps us, but in other ways it can be quite destructive, because Magicians aren’t so much concerned with the emotional consequences of their actions as simply meeting the challenge presented to them.

The Magician is also the part of us which comes up with strategies to keep us safe when we’re children. For kids who are raised in less than perfect environments, or even in downright abusive environments, the part of the Magician we call the Safety Officer or Risk Manager is vital: he creates strategies which keep the child as safe as possible, even in circumstances that can’t really be controlled. One of the challenges we all face in life, though, is that the Risk Manager continues to play out those strategies for the rest of our lives, even when the need for them has long since passed. This can be unhelpful and limiting, as we’ll see when we look at the Magician in more detail later in the book.

You can read a great book on the archetypes of King Warrior Magician Lover here (USA) or here King Warrior Magician Lover (UK). This is an excellent summary of the King Warrior Magician and Lover archetypes in men.

The Lover Archetype

You may think of sex and romantic love when we refer to the Lover archetype, but that isn’t really what the Lover is all about. The archetypal energy of the Lover is much more primal than the expression of sexuality: it’s about establishing connection with other human beings. We are social animals, and when we don’t have the opportunity to meet others and connect with them on a social level, we may descend into mental disorder and even madness. You see this in prisoners who are kept in solitary confinement.

The Lover is a primal archetype, probably the first one to appear after birth, because our first and most urgent need as a helpless baby is to bond with mother. Our very survival depends on it. Our Lover archetype helps us to do this: it’s programmed to connect with other people from the moment we appear in the world. In fact, the power of this drive is immense, yet it’s not consciously felt by most people, even though it controls much of what we do, and how we are in the world, as adults.

One of the unavoidable problems with such a powerful urge to bond is that it can never be fully satisfied – it’s impossible for any child to have all of his or her needs met perfectly. That would require a perfect parent, and as far as I’m aware there’s no such thing. So every one of us is inevitably hurt or wounded, at least to some extent, in our Lover archetype. The same is true of our other archetypes too. Here’s some more information about how you can train to work as a shadow facilitator and help others ot heal their emotional wounds.

Unfortunately many children are born into an environment where their needs are barely acknowledged, let alone adequately met, and their lives are subsequently blighted by the pain of connections never made, or made and broken. We’ll see how this can affect a person’s entire life later in the book. Addictions, dependency and neediness are some of the most common outcomes of emotional wounds in this archetype.

The Nature Of Emotional Wounds

Obviously, we do not all have equal amounts of sovereign, magician, lover and warrior energy. This is because what happens to each of us during childhood influences the growth of the archetypes within each of us in a very particular way. There are techniques o rebalance the archetypes. You simply need to find a facilitator who is skilled enough to help you with this work.

In an ideal world, all the archetypal energies would find a fully mature and healthy expression in each of us so we could all achieve our full potential. In reality, we are all emotionally hurt or “wounded” in various ways during childhood, and this wounding can inhibit or transform the way an archetypal energy is expressed later in life.

The good news is our emotional wounds can be a catalyst for change. But until you’ve worked with an experienced facilitator who understands how to access the unbalanced, repressed or shut down energy in your archetypes, and restore balance and full potency to each of your archetypes, it’s hard to imagine how powerful this method of working on yourself can be, in any and every area of life.

Healing your emotional wounds, large or small, is much easier when you have some insight into your archetypes and you know about the idea of “shadow”. Once you have recaptured the essence of who you are, you may even wish to train as a facilitator and work with shadow healing techniques to help others heal their own emotional wounds. Here is more information about training as a shadow work facilitator.

Shadow & the archetypes – Carl Jung

The Shadow

Where there are archetypes, there is also shadow. Your shadow is the part of your unconscious where you put all of the energies, emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviours that for some reason or another were not acceptable when you were a child. Not acceptable, that is, either to you or to the people around you.

Robert Bly wrote about how a child is born into the world with a 360 degree personality – an all-round, complete, whole personality. This, as Alice Miller put it, is the child’s gift to the world: his arrival in the world, “trailing clouds of glory”. Fortunate indeed is the child who discovers a world which welcomes his wholeness and glory, the gift of himself, just as he is.

Many, perhaps most, children do not. Instead, they soon discover their parents do not want the gift they have to offer, at least not in the form on offer. Their parents wanted something different. A boy not a girl, or a girl not a boy. A quiet baby, or a compliant child. A “good” boy or a “feisty” girl. An amenable child, not a defiant, angry one. A placid child, not a needy, demanding one.

Whatever, a child soon learns which parts of himself need to be suppressed for maximum love to be bestowed upon him; and the parts which are not wanted by the world usually get shoved forcibly into the child’s unconscious, into what Robert Bly aptly termed the “Shadow Bag”.

This attempt to suppress those parts of his energy which are not acceptable to the all-powerful adults, siblings, or peers in his world can massively impact every aspect of a child’s later life. So much so that one day he (or she) may well  try to find the parts of himself he senses are missing, or wondering why he has such unhelpful patterns in his life.

To take a simple example, children often repress their power, their magnificence, and their glory, all qualities that make them stand out and shine in the world – or at least, qualities that could make them stand out and shine in the world if they were supported emotionally in their growth through life.

There’s a big problem here. What you put into shadow doesn’t lose its energy – far from it. Imagine a child who puts his anger into shadow because his parents don’t like that particular energy in their little boy, or a child who suppresses his tears and pain because Dad doesn’t like his little boy crying; in fact Dad thinks it shows the boy is a sissy, and somehow the boy knows that, even when Dad doesn’t explicitly say it. The message always gets through somehow.

And so, to please his all-powerful parents, on whom the child knows his survival depends, the child may well repress his anger, sadness and weakness – or any other quality which his parents don’t accept or approve of.

But putting these feelings and behaviours out of sight, out of mind, into the unconscious mind, into the shadow bag, doesn’t take their energy away: in fact their energy can intensify. They are a part of who the child is, and they continue to be energetically supported by his psyche.

These shadow energies can make us behave in ways that cause difficulties in relationships. Shadow energies make us do things which cause embarrassment and shame. They often take the form of unmanageable emotions: guilt, depression, shame, rage, jealousy, sadness, and so on. They are irrational. They make us say things we regret and which destroy harmony and goodness in our relationships. We do not understand what comes out of our shadow, and no matter how much we try to control it, nothing ever seems to change.

Video – what is in the shadow?

The point about shadow energies is that they’re out of our awareness (it’s dark in the shadow bag!) and when they emerge into the light, they often do so unexpectedly and unhelpfully. They get in the way of us expressing who we are, getting what we want, telling others what we expect and desire, and expressing our needs. In fact, to put it another way, shadow energies stop us being we truly are!

Our shadow can prevent us from getting into relationships, or ruin existing relationships. It can keep us lost in a cycle of addiction, unable to stop self-defeating behaviours. Shadow makes people compulsively behave in ways which are harmful to them, and seek out things which are destructive to them, and it all happens in a way they can’t understand and which makes no rational sense.

What we do in my highly effective system of “healing the shadow” is to make the unconscious conscious. We take the parts of yourself you stuffed away as a child out of shadow and bring them back into the light, honour them, heal or transform them if necessary, make them a positive and helpful part of you, and finally integrate them into the essence of who you are today.

Some people call this “working with the shadow” or “shadow work”. I call it emotional process work or “healing the shadow”. Whatever you call it, this is all about getting your sabotaging, holding-back, limiting and generally now unhelpful parts out of shadow and giving you control over them so you can access their energy in a helpful form.

In short, together we can make your shadow energy available to you in a healthy, emotionally mature way to use in your life today.

And if that sounds exciting, so it should!

You’ll discover how to step into your power. You’ll become more emotionally mature, stronger, more independent, more balanced, and better able to give and receive love. You’ll be more able to set healthy boundaries, you’ll become a stronger and more powerful leader in your life.

You’ll develop the strength and will to get things done more effectively, think more clearly and stop making harsh judgements about yourself and others. You’ll develop a much easier relationship with love, so you can give and receive genuine love freely. In fact, just about every other problem that you have in your interactions with other human beings will simply melt away over time.