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The Four Archetypes of Survival

The Child, Victim, Prostitute, and Saboteur are all deeply involved in your most pressing challenges related to survival. Each one represents different issues, fears, and vulnerabilities that you need to confront and overcome as part of your Sacred Contract. In doing so, you come to see these four archetypes as your most trusted allies, which can represent spiritual as well as material strengths. They can become your guardians and will preserve your integrity, refusing to let you negotiate it away in the name of survival. Keep in mind that, like all archetypes, their energies are essentially neutral, despite the negative connotations of their names. (Although the Child itself sounds positive, variants such as the Wounded, Needy, or Orphan Child have a similar negative tonality.)

The outline of your Sacred Contract may have been agreed on before your birth, yet the way in which you respond to the challenges presented to you, and how you choose to interact with the people with whom you have Contracts, is fully up to you. If your choices are made unconsciously and you act defensively and fearfully, you may not learn and grow as you should. The more conscious you can remain about the archetypal patterns influencing your behavior, the more likely that your choices, and lessons, will be positive. Now let's take a brief look at each of the four survival archetypes and see how you can learn from them.

The Child

The mature personality of the Child archetype nurtures that part of us that yearns to be lighthearted and innocent, expecting the wonders of tomorrow, regardless of age. This part of our nature contributes greatly to our ability to sense playfulness in our lives, balancing the seriousness of adult responsibilities. The balanced Child is a delight to be around because the energy that flows from this part of our personality is positively infectious and brings out the best in others, as well as in us.

The Child also establishes our perceptions of life, safety, nurture, loyalty, and family. Its many aspects include the Wounded Child, Abandoned or Orphan Child, Dependent, Innocent, Nature, and Divine Child. These energies may emerge in response to different situations in which you find yourself, yet the core issue of all the Child archetypes is dependency vs. responsibility: when to take responsibility, when to have a healthy dependency, when to stand up to the group, and when to embrace communal life. Each of the variants of the Child archetype is characterized by certain tendencies, including shadow tendencies.

Wounded Child

The Wounded Child archetype holds the memories of abuse, neglect, and other traumas that we have endured during childhood. This is the Child pattern most people relate to, particularly since it has become the focus of therapy since the 1960s. Many people blame the relationship with their parents that created their Wounded Child, for instance, for all their subsequent dysfunctional relationships. On the positive side, the painful experiences of the Wounded Child often awaken a deep sense of compassion and a desire to help other Wounded Children. From a spiritual perspective, a wounded childhood cracks open the learning path of forgiveness.

The shadow aspect may manifest as an abiding sense of self-pity, a tendency to blame our parents for any current shortcomings and to resist moving on through forgiveness. It may also lead us to seek out parental figures in all difficult situations rather than relying on our own resourcefulness.

Orphan Child

From Little Orphan Annie to Cinderella, the Orphan Child in most well known children's stories reflects the lives of people who feel from birth as if they are not a part of their family, including the family psyche or tribal spirit. But because orphans are not allowed into the family circle, they have to develop independence early on. The absence of family influences, attitudes, and traditions inspires or compels the Orphan Child to construct an inner reality based on personal judgment and experience.

The shadow aspect manifests when Orphans never recover from feelings of abandonment, and the scar tissue from family rejection stifles their maturation, often causing them to seek surrogate family structures to experience tribal union. Therapeutic support groups become shadow tribes or families for an Orphan Child who knows deep down that healing these wounds requires moving on to adulthood. For that reason, establishing mature relationships remains a challenge.

Magical/Innocent Child

The Magical Child sees the potential for sacred beauty in all things, and embodies qualities of wisdom and courage in the face of difficult circumstances. One example is Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary that in spite of all the horror surrounding her family while hiding from Nazis in an attic, she still believed that humanity was basically good. This archetype is also gifted with the power of imagination and the belief that everything is possible.

The shadow energy of the Magical Child manifests as the absence of the possibility of miracles and of the transformation of evil to good. Attitudes of pessimism and depression, particularly when exploring dreams, often emerge from an injured Magical Child whose dreams were "once upon a time" thought foolish by cynical adults. The shadow may also manifest as a belief that energy and action are not required, allowing one to retreat into fantasy.

Nature Child

This archetype inspires deep, intimate bonding with natural forces, and has a particular affinity for friendships with animals. Although the Nature Child has tender, emotional qualities, it can also have an inner toughness and ability to survive--the resilience of Nature herself. Nature Children can develop advanced skills of communicating with animals, and in stories reflecting this archetype an animal often comes to the rescue of its child companion. Many veterinarians and animal rights activists resonate with this archetype because they have felt a conscious rapport with animals since childhood. Other adults describe being in communication with nature spirits and learning to work in harmony with them in maintaining the order of nature.

The shadow aspect of the Nature Child manifests in a tendency to abuse animals and people and the environment.

A love of animals is not sufficient to qualify for this archetype, however. A life-long pattern of relating to animals in an intimate and caring way, to the extent that your psyche and spirit need these bonds as a crucial part of your own well-being, is your best clue.

Puer/Puella Eternis (Eternal Boy/Girl)

This archetype guides us to remain eternally young in body, mind, and spirit, and not to let age stop us from enjoying life. The shadow Eternal Child often manifests as an inability to grow up and embrace the responsible life of an adult. Like Peter Pan, the Eternal Boy resists ending a cycle of life in which he is free to live outside the boundaries of conventional adulthood. The shadow Puella Eternis can manifest in women as extreme dependence on those who take charge of their physical security. She cannot be relied on nor can she accept the aging process. Although few people delight in the end of their youth, the Eternal Child is sometimes left floundering and ungrounded between the stages of life, because of not having laid a foundation for a functioning adulthood.

Dependent Child

The Needy or Dependent Child carries a heavy feeling inside that nothing is ever enough, and is always seeking to replace something lost in childhood - although exactly what is never clear. As with the Wounded Child, this leads to bouts of depression, only more severe. The Dependent Child tends to be focused on his own needs, often unable to see the needs of others. As with all apparently negative archetypes, you can learn to recognize its emergence and use it as a guide to alert you when you are in danger of falling into needy, self-absorbed attitudes and behavior.

Divine Child

The Divine Child is closely related to both the Innocent and Magical Child, but is distinguished from them by its redemptive mission. It is associated with innocence, purity, and redemption, god-like qualities that suggest that the Child enjoys a special union with the Divine itself. Few people are inclined to choose the Divine Child as their dominant Child archetype, however, because they have difficulty acknowledging that they could live continually in divine innocence. And yet, divinity is also a reference point of your inner spirit that you can turn to when you are in a conscious process of choice. You may also assume that anything divine cannot have a shadow aspect, but that's not realistic. The shadow of this archetype manifests as an inability to defend itself against negative forces. Even the mythic gods and most spiritual masters -- including Jesus, who is the template of the Divine Child for the Christian tradition -- simultaneously expressed anger and divine strength when confronting those who claimed to represent heaven while manifesting injustice, arrogance, or other negative qualities (think of Jesus' wrath at the money-changers in the Temple). Assess your involvement with this archetype by asking whether you see life through the eyes of a benevolent, trusting God/Goddess, or whether you tend to respond initially with fear of being hurt or with a desire to hurt others first.

The Victim

Don't be misled by the name of this archetype. When properly recognized, the Victim can alert you to the possibility that you are about to let yourself be victimized, whether through passivity or inappropriate actions. It can also help you recognize your own tendency to victimize others for personal gain. We need to develop this clarity of insight, however, and that means learning the nature and intensity of the Victim within.

In its shadow manifestation, the Victim tells you that you are always taken advantage of and it's never your fault. We may like to play the Victim at times because of the positive feedback we get in the form of sympathy or pity. Our goal is always to learn how to recognize these inappropriate attitudes in ourselves or others, and to act accordingly. We are not meant to be victimized in life, but to learn how to handle challenges and outrun our fears.

In establishing contact with your own inner Victim, ask yourself:

  • Do I blame others for the circumstances of my life?
  • Do I spend time in the pit of self-pity?
  • Do I envy others who always seem to get what they want out of life?
  • Do I feel victimized by others when situations don't work out the way I wanted them to?
  • Do I tend to feel more powerless than powerful?

The Saboteur

This may be the most difficult of all the archetypes to understand, because its name is associated with betrayal. Yet the purpose of this archetype is not to sabotage you, but to help you learn the many ways in which you undermine yourself. How often do you set new plans in motion, only to end up standing in your own way because of the fears that undermine those optimistic plans. Or you begin a new relationship and then destroy it because you begin to imagine a painful outcome. You begin a working relationship with another person and find yourself once again in a power struggle that could be settled peacefully -- but you fall into the same destructive pattern because you fear the other person.

The Saboteur's fears and issues are all related to low self-esteem that causes you to make choices that block your own empowerment and success. As with the Victim and Prostitute, you need to face this powerful archetype that we all possess and make it an ally. When you do, you will find that it calls your attention to situations in which you are in danger of being sabotaged, or of sabotaging yourself. Once you are comfortable with the Saboteur, you learn to hear and heed these warnings, saving yourself untold grief from making the same mistakes over and over. Ignore it, and the shadow Saboteur will manifest in the form of self-destructive behavior or the desire to undermine others.

To learn how to become aware of the action of the Saboteur within, ask yourself these questions:

  • What fears have the most authority over me? List three.
  • What happens when a fear overtakes me? Does it make me silent?
  • Do I allow people to speak for me?
  • Do I agree to some things out of fear that I otherwise would not agree to?
  • Have I let creative opportunities pass me by?
  • How conscious am I in the moment that I am sabotaging myself?
  • Am I able to recognize the Saboteur in others?
  • Would I be able to offer others advice about how to challenge one's Saboteur? If so, what would it be?

The Prostitute

None of us thinks kindly of the term 'prostitute,' and yet from this archetype we learn the great gift of never again having to compromise our body, mind, or spirit. You may have already reached the point in which the Prostitute has become a mature part of yourself that circles you with a strong vibrational field that says, "Not for sale."

The Prostitute archetype engages lessons in the sale or negotiation of one's integrity or spirit due to fears of physical survival or for financial gain. It activates the aspects of the unconscious that are related to seduction and control, whereby you are as capable of buying a controlling interest in another person as you are of selling your own power. Prostitution should be understood as the selling or selling out of your talents, ideas, and any other expression of the self. The core learning of the Prostitute relates to the need to birth and refine self-esteem and self-respect.

We prostitute ourselves when we sell our bodies or minds for money or when we compromise our morals and ethics for financial gain. That may include remaining in a marriage or job that endangers our well being for reasons of financial security.

In identifying this archetype, ask yourself:

  • Have I ever sold out to people or organizations that I did not truly believe in?
  • Have I ever remained in a situation that offered me financial protection because of a desire for financial security?
  • Have I ever put another person in the position of compromising him- or herself in order to gain power over that individual?
  • Have I ever 'bought' another person's loyalty, support, or even silence, in order to have my way?

From another perspective:

  • Have I ever offered to help another who was weakened by his or her Prostitute archetype?
  • Do I judge others because they find themselves continually compromising themselves?
  • Do I think of them as weak and myself as a better person?

And from yet another perspective:

  • Have I ever felt myself being pulled into a circumstance that would require me to sell out my ethics, but then found myself strong enough to say "no"?

Once you have answered these questions, you may proceed to determining the rest of the 12 archetypes that make up your personal support team.

Archetypes »