One of the most studied aspects of human nature is how our experiences shape who we are today. Although it may be impossible to fully know, one possible lens through which to understand the ways in which our past has shaped our personality is provided by the interplay of experiences and fantasy.
One element of fantasy imagery is the archetype. The ‘arche’ prefix in Greek refers to ‘primal element’. Archetypes are imagined characters, composed of universally recognized traits. They represent an ‘averaged-out’ set of characteristics based on our experiences and second hand knowledge. Archetypes are often fabricated more for symbolism than realism. They aid in storytelling and shape our heuristics. The stories serve to educate and warn, often leaving us with either better understanding or greater avoidance.
An issue with using imagination to compile a diverse set of human traits into a single character is that often, certain qualities cannot realistically coexist. For example, it is very difficult to find someone whose personality is simultaneously highly open and highly conscientious. This may represent the archetype of “the perfect partner,” a character that may be used in fantasy to change how we deal with the present.
A personality is a set of characteristics that define how we are understood by others and ourselves. It is the set of traits that indicate how we tend to interact with the world. Our personalities, influenced by nurture and nature, shift through time like sands under ebbing tides. One way of thinking about how we would normally describe personality types is by thinking about how we see our value or burdens to others. Similarly, we emphasize positive or negative aspects of archetypes based on how they relate to our personal interests. It’s difficult to see evil in those who protect us.
We run a high risk of assuming the archetype’s realness based on how fundamental the archetype is to the foundations of our comprehension. The more accumulated stories that cast our archetypes, the more plausible the archetypes feel. Our thoughts naturally drift to how we might engage with the archetypally described, should we meet them one day, releasing a plethora of possibilities for storylines and characters. The characteristics we ascribe to ourselves in these imaginative stories orient our developing personalities. Plausible-enough stories are used as the basis for other spin-off stories, and so on. Unchecked, a fantasy world could develop that widely deviates from reality.
This is why, I believe, it is important to share wishes and fears. Nothing refines understanding better than consistent feedback from a diverse world.
We are inclined to fantasize. Our minds naturally drift into dream-like worlds, like a balloon being carried by the slightest breeze. Fantasies are often relied on to motivate us through difficult periods of life. Imagination and fantasy are the results of an intricate neural sandbox, a mental arena of simulation, where we test different scenarios to see if they would feasibly work in the real world. (There is shame surrounding the act of fantasizing, possibly from the implication that fantasizing may mean we are not focused on a subject of someone else’s choosing.)
Fantasies are shaped and reshaped through regular sharing and feedback. Early-age fantasies that remain unshared with thoughtful mentors become more difficult to unshape later. An issue with fantasy development is that when the belief in the reality of an archetype is challenged, the entire fantasy may also be affected. This may force us to decide whether we are willing to let go of a fantasy or insist on believing in things that do not exist. For example, we may cling to the belief that most people secretly doubt us in order to maintain the fantasy, and its motivating energy, of one day proving those people wrong.
As we come of age, we begin to act out scripts developed through years of imagination. These early behaviors, and their consequences, coexist with our dream world, leading to ongoing mutual modifications.