Archetypes, Shadow and Emotional Wounding

Men Beyond 50

Midlife and beyond can be the most fun a man has ever had, the time to find out who you really are, and live it. But it’s also a time of huge change, when it’s easy for a man to feel lost, with nowhere to turn to.

This website offers a wide range of information and help for men from their mid-forties into their seventies and beyond. Some of it may be helpful for women too.

The Resources section includes lots of briefings and blogs in three main sections: The Physical Journey, The Emotional & Spiritual Journey, and The Practical Journey.

Some of this content is excerpts from the book Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50, by Alan Heeks

Archetypes, Shadow and Emotional Wounding

One of the keys to moving into wise elderhood, and for that matter fully embodying the Sovereign archetype, is Shadow Work. 

Using this self development tool, you can heal emotional wounds incurred during childhood.

These two statements will be understood by anybody who has experience of this kind of work, but for those who do not, some things will need explanation.

To start with, archetypes are what we could think of as certain patterns within the human mind that control aspects of our behaviour, thinking, and feeling.

Carl Jung was the psychologist to come up with a detailed explanation of what archetypes are – he formed the concept of 12 archetypes. These were later distilled down by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette into four archetypes: the sovereign, the warrior, the magician, and the lover.

Now although Moore and Gillette produced a very good summary of archetypal energies, their work was directed entirely towards an understanding of how these archetypes manifested within the mature masculine. (You can read an updated book on archetypes here.)

Listen to a podcast by Marianne Hill and Rod Boothroyd:

My work with Marianne Hill has demonstrated that all of these archetypes are equally present in women. They are just as powerful and fundamental to the make-up of personality in the feminine as they are in the masculine.

Some writers have given alternative names to the archetypal energies in the feminine, for example: the Sorceress or Magician becomes the Priestess, the King, or Sovereign, becomes the Queen or Heart Centered Leader, the Warrior becomes the Action Taker, and the Lover can become the Inner Child or Feeling Body archetype.

Of course the name you give to these archetypal energies don’t alter their function. Broadly speaking, the Sovereign is the leader within your world. World means your inner world, as understood by your perception, and your outer world as manifest in those people and entities and things over which you have some responsibility.

The Warrior is the Action Taker, the part of you responsible for you going out into the world and getting things done. It’s also the energy that gets you out of bed in the morning. So you can think of it as the essence of your life force itself.

And besides getting things done and achieving objectives, this is the energy that is responsible for asserting yourself and expressing your needs and desires in the world. It’s also how you set boundaries about what and what is not acceptable in your world.

The Magician is the thinking part of you, responsible for working out solutions to problems and, particularly in children, offering a protective function when danger threatens.

The Lover or Feeling Body is the sensitive, feeling, part of you concerned more than anything else with connection to other human beings, to the planet, to sensuality and to yourself.

This is where the inner child mostly lives, and it’s generally sensitive and tender in the way that a child is. It’s also the source of much of our emotional wounding as children. This wounding plays out in adulthood in various ways including neediness, dependency, self-soothing behaviour such as alcohol and drug taking, sexual excesses, overeating, and other forms of dysfunctional behavior.

Each of the archetypes has the potential to express dysfunction in its own way. For example the Action Taker or Warrior can drive you to an early death through a compulsive work ethic (something like Type A behavior). Alternatively, it may be expressed weakly so that you do not assert yourself and you can’t set boundaries.

The Sovereign may “inflate” (grow) in a way that suggests that you’re a Tyrant King or Queen, or it may be absent so that you have little impact on the world around you and you’re rarely seen or heard.

And the Magician may inflate to produce endless overthinking, where nothing happens, but thinking spirals into a vortex of unproductive anxiety.

Video – integrity and the king archetype

Emotional Woundings

When we talk about emotional woundings were really talking about anything that inhibits the natural development of these archetypal energies. A very common example, certainly common in the West, is the idea that little girls shouldn’t be angry, and little boys shouldn’t cry.

It’s not as widespread as it was, but these were certainly two patterns of behaviour and emotional woundings that were widespread in the past. But whatever the injunctions that are imposed on children to prevent them expressing their natural energies of grief, joy, sadness or anger, you can rest assured that in many cases it was traumatic for the children.

And “trauma” doesn’t mean the kind of major trauma that we as adults might associate with army veterans. We’re simply talking about things which adversely impact a child’s nervous system. These are incidents which disrupt a child’s natural development, and leave the boy or girl feeling emotionally wounded, abandoned, isolated, or unloved.

Much of children’s behaviour in past times was regulated by physical punishment. That was certainly a traumatic event, although perhaps no more or less traumatic than the thousands of small “insults” received by most children as they grow up.

Where punitive measures have been applied to change children’s behaviour, such as physical abuse or emotional abuse, a part of the child’s Magician archetype will become focused on self-protection. This is the Safety Officer. 

For a child, any kind of emotion that is not welcome in its world will be suppressed into what we call The Shadow. So will any kind of behavior that the adults around a child regard as unacceptable.

The Nature of The Human Shadow

Now what does “the shadow” mean? We can think of the shadow as some kind of bag that you sling over your shoulder as a child. As you grow up you gradually stuff more and more parts of yourself into this bag as you grow up, thereby reducing your expression in the world.

And this is a good metaphor,  although in fact what the idea of the shadow bag actually represents is the unconscious mind. All of the aspects of children which are not welcome in their world tend to be pushed into the unconscious by the child. This is an attempt to hide, repress or deny these parts of themselves so as to gain the love, affection, or attention of the adults around them.

These indeed are the emotional woundings that are part and parcel of the fabric of growing up. That doesn’t make them acceptable or helpful to a child – quite the opposite, in fact. Any child that experiences this kind of emotional trauma or abuse as he or she is growing up – for that is what it is – will find that as an adult, much of their behaviour is regulated, adapted, or modified because they put parts of themselves into shadow.

To give some simple examples: a woman might not be able to assert herself or express her needs and wishes in her relationship. A man might not be able to express his tenderness and vulnerability in a relationship. Men may be driven to overwork, while women imagine that their work prospects in a male environment are limited because they don’t possess the drive and thrust of a man in a similar position.

And in general people may have no confidence because they were disempowered as children, and therefore rarely step into a place where they stand out, or even  can be seen or heard, for fear of criticism.

And so it goes. I’m sure you can imagine how many different forms of emotional wounding is possible for a child to experience!

But the question that arises is what limitations do we unconsciously have on our behaviour as an adult because our natural archetypal imperatives – in other words the urge to express ourselves in certain natural ways – have been inhibited by the experiences we received during childhood?

Video – the empowering man podcast

For most people a large proportion of their energy is actually expended in keeping this material repressed into the unconscious mind. So not only do we lose out because we are not accessing all the natural parts of ourselves, but we also lose out because we are using energy to stay that way.

So over the years a modality of therapy known as shadow work has evolved.

This is emotional process work, whereby you can delve into the unconscious mind and extract the material that’s been repressed into it. You can then attend to it in a wholesome way that ameliorates the damage done during childhood. And, asa result, you can express yourself more fully and completely as an adult.

Shadow work is not for everyone. To start with, you have to have an inner sense of it being the right modality for you.

Second, you have to be brave enough to go into the unconscious material that once caused you such distress. As you can imagine, this can sometimes be a challenging experience.

An example of this is the fact that lots of people feel reticent about expressing grief, even when they know that they’re carrying it. Their fear is that by expressing their grief they’ll descend into a bottomless pit of tears and never be able to get out of it. And yet unexpressed grief is a massive burden on the human system. It reduces joy. It stops us from expressing our full range of feelings, let alone sorrow and sadness. It prevents our access to our vulnerability, and all in all, it makes us a much less rounded human being.

Many of us have been seriously abused during childhood and have never had the opportunity to express our grief for the losses we experienced. And these losses aren’t just about things like losing people to death or illness, though these are certainly losses that need to be grieved.

In shadow work we look at such issues as the loss of childhood innocence, the loss of opportunity, the loss of personality, the loss of self, and much more tangible losses such as the loss of power or prestige & status. Basically the truth of the matter is that anything we have had and valued, and later lost, needs to be grieved for/ Only in this way can we maintain a healthy energy within our emotional system.

Equally, if we haven’t been given the opportunity to develop true Warrior energy, remedial action could allow us to express ourselves more fully and completely in the world.

Or, if we haven’t been allowed to develop Sovereign archetypal energy, then shadow work will enable us to become more truly who we are, and access our power. And so on.

The most powerful and effective shadow work is that concerned with the inner child. I said earlier that the Lover archetype is the place where the inner child tends to be found. I also mentioned the fact that when the inner child is wounded, an adult can be consumed with the need for self-soothing behaviors, ranging from codependency to  troublesome addictions.

Rather than giving way to the power of the inner child, a better approach might be to engage in shadow work. By exploring your shadow you can find where the emotional wounds occurred and do some healing work on them.

If you’re interested in exploring shadow work – or even training as a shadow work facilitator – then Marianne Hill and Rod Boothroyd offer both personal work and the opportunity to training as a shadow work facilitator.

The truth is, simply looking into your shadow to understand why “you are the way you are” can be in itself  a transformative experience. Having said that, the golden rule with this kind of work is to take it one step at a time: you don’t need to plunge into the deepest inner work straightaway. You can take it step by step.

I highly recommend that if you’re interested in exploring any issues that are jostling for attention in your mind, you seek out a competent shadow work facilitator and see what possible options are available to you. More here.