The Shadow Side
During a private coaching session, I had introduced my client to the whole concept of Archetypes and led him through an exercise that helped him to connect with, and release, his ‘Sage’ in a very powerful way. The results were immediate and, he told me later, had made a huge difference in his relationship with his fiancée. As we rounded up he asked me a very good question, “Is it possible to have too much of one of these archetypes?”
What we’ve focussed on thus far have been the healthy, mature expressions of each archetype; emphasising the good things that each one is naturally able, and inclined, to contribute. We wouldn’t normally be concerned with anyone being ‘too mature’ or ‘too healthy’, but it is possible – in fact we should acknowledge that it is actually very common – for some of these archetypes to get out of balance – sometime chronically.
Something that Carl Jung recognised many years ago is that each of these archetypes also has a dark side; a characteristic set of negative behaviours that can cause real damage to both the individual and those within their circle of influence.
It is often said that someone’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness and this phenomenon can be predicted very specifically for each archetype.
This dark side will often arise with the purpose of meeting our personal needs as rapidly as possible, often when we are stressed or fearful, and it will manifest itself in two broad ways; either as too much of an archetype’s traits, or too little of them.
If you can imagine each archetype being measured by its own thermometer, you can probably grasp the idea of there being a moderate zone of temperature that would represent the healthy, mature archetypal traits we’ve discussed thus far. But if the temperature rises above this zone, we’d say this character is now getting overheated; and, equally, if the temperature dropped too low, the same character would become frozen, inactive and stifled in its expression.
A similar metaphor we might use for this is found in the various states in which we can experience water: H20.
Water is, of course, vital for every kind of life. Yet it has to be at a moderate temperature for any living organism to benefit from it, because only then can we drink it or wash with it or even give it to our plants. However, if the very same water becomes too hot (or too energised, we could say) it can scald, hurt and even kill. Likewise, if it is frozen it can’t be absorbed, it can’t nourish us - we can’t even wash things with it. Turning to ice, it can block or burst our pipes, weigh down and break our power lines, paralyse our transportation, stifle our movements, immobilise our muscles, or even kill.
So the very same substance can sustain life within a certain range of temperature and can cause much damage when too far above or below this range.
In exactly the same way, each of our archetypes can provide great benefits to us if expressed within a moderate, balanced (healthy and mature) range of temperament – and can equally do great damage outside this range; either overheating or freezing.
The Balanced (or mature) zone contains all the positive qualities we’ve detailed so far. It should be our aim to remain in this place, where a healthy expression of our archetypes’ key traits is evident and everyone around us benefits.
The Overheated zone is where we launch into a predictable set of excessive expressions that invariably cause hurt and damage to ourselves and others.
The Frozen zone represents an evident lack of archetypal expression. Here the individual appears unable to access the abilities and strengths of a particular archetype, even when the situation is demanding it from them, and such a lack of appropriate response will render them quite ineffective.
What’s interesting is that each archetype displays very specific behaviours when it either overheats or freezes; when it operates with either too much, or too little energy.
Most people will find that their strongest traits, whilst mature and balanced much of the time, will on occasions flare up and overheat. This ‘untempered’ strength needs to be effectively managed if damage is to be limited.
An archetype may also dive into a ‘frozen’ state of inactivity – usually in response to stressful situations or a major failure after giving something their best shot. Even strong archetypes can lapse into this state when they’ve thrown everything they’ve got at a particular challenge and it is still not overcome. For under-developed or immature archetypes however it may take little more than a certain tone of voice or a certain look from someone to cause them to ‘freeze up’ this way.
Jung referred to these negative zones as ‘shadows’; giving us a sense that the very thing that can bring us the help we need - the positive, mature archetype - also carries with it a darker side that is always present and potentially very damaging.