The influence of our past on our personalities is a frequently researched topic. It is difficult to conceptualize how our past influences our future. One way to think about how our past can influence our personality is to think about the concept of archetypes.
Arche- prefix in greek refers to ‘primal element’. Archetypes are imaginary personality types that we develop in our minds throughout childhood. Archetypes represent an ‘averaged-out’ set of characteristics held by a supposed type of person. They can be based on our experiences with our family, friends, and other influential people we may have or have not met. They can also be fabricated symbolically from media and storytelling.
A personality is made up of a set of characteristics that define who we are and how we interact with the world. Our personality is shaped by our genes, our environment, and our experiences.
Archetypes might come from our well-meaning parents attempting to warn us about “types of people out there.” Alternatively, they might be from tales delivering a moralistic lesson or from those which portray individuals in detail. Our knowledge of these general personality types can stay with us into adulthood, and they can influence the way we interact with our environment. These character sets may be based on reality but are often over-simplified. They can symbolize natural phenomena like animals or plants, as well as abstract ideas such as death and rebirth.
An important aspect of how we relate to archetypes is the implication that these character sets are ‘common and typical’. If we think they’re “usual,” we may start to consider them on a regular basis. When we think of archetypes, our minds turn to how we would interact with them. Therefore, frequent interaction with imaginary archetypes can lead to rich and complex imaginary behaviors with these archetypes. These encounters are the groundwork of imagination. Consider it similar to child’s play, the importance of which is to prepare for future events.
As we come into age, we may begin to act out these imaginary characters with people we think are categorized under the umbrella of these archetypes. When meeting new people for the first time, we may respond to them according to how we’ve preconceived their closest archetype. These early interactions might be cringe-worthy and need serious re-orientation, or merely require minor modifications depending on how reality-based the pre-set archetype is.
The notion of “object-relations” is commonly used by psychologists to express our usual emotional relationships with those who had the most significant impact on us. They are often used when describing how interactions lay the foundation of future interactions. [I separate the words environment and experiences because the environment can also mean nature-biological events, such as food and weather’s impact on our biology at certain stages of life.]
I bring this concept up to make a point that we may be able to better conceptualize childhood experiences by considering how our experiences with early-object relationships, but also adding that narrative, such as in the form of storytelling, can impact the diversity of our early archetypes. Furthermore, the combination of the information, both real and imagined, create archetypes that may be the precipitant of hidden imaginary play, and thus, be the primal elements of real future interactions.
As a result, it would be reasonable to think of regressed or mature personalities as the consequence of less developed, non-diverse archetypes that may have been true in a limited and restricted home environment but do not function in the global context.
The idea of archetypes is helpful in understanding how our past can influence our future. If we know which archetypes were created in our early years, we can be more aware of their impact on our current personality and behavior. We can also work to create new, more refined, and reality-based archetypes that will allow us to better resonate with the world around us.