Psychotherapists often work with archetypes – recurring motifs or images that occur in mythology and culture. They are used in depth psychotherapy to help work at a level deeper than symptoms and cognitions. When archetypes are successfully expressed in our lives, psychological wellbeing is improved. When they’re distorted – either over-identified with (possessed by the archetype) or underdeveloped (in deficiency of the archetype) – problems occur.
As it’s Movember, a month when we focus on the physical and mental health issues affecting men, I thought I’d look at the warrior archetype, and how possession by, or deficiency of this important force might be playing out in the male psyche.
From a psychological perspective, the warrior is an important archetype in our collective and individual psyches. The warrior represents an instinctual energy. The obvious one is courage: needed more than ever as we face social and environmental turmoil. The archetype also evokes the ability to think and act decisively and with persistence to filter through distractions and take action. Importantly, the warrior only acts when it is truly necessary and only toward a cause which is greater than the individual. This is key. While the warrior is capable of destruction, it should only do so when something stands in the way of the common good.
Courage, decisiveness, persistence. These qualities sound great. But all too often, men are not able to successfully balance this archetype with other aspects of the psyche. Possession by the warrior might lead to compulsive behaviour such as workaholism. It may also mean that relationships with others and being in touch with one’s own feelings are seen as weakness, which must be eliminated. This is critical as it often prevents men from seeking help when they’re in psychological distress and raises concerns around self-harming or suicide. In some way, those possessed by the warrior believe they ought to be able to fight through whatever they face.
The possessed warrior is unfortunately often seen to be a trait modelled by political and business leaders who show decisiveness and persistence, but act in their own interests rather than for the common good. Such figures may resist recognising the significance of emotional and mental health issues, perhaps in part as they diminish vulnerable aspects of themselves.
The opposite distortion of possession is the absence of the warrior. Someone with an underdeveloped warrior archetype might feel impotent or weak and be pushed around, or they may align with others perceived as being able to be ‘real’ warriors. The impotent warrior might not be able to make a decision, especially when under pressure.
In psychotherapy, we’re often working with the warrior archetype, whether it’s directly acknowledged or not. The key strategy is integrating with other archetypes within the psyche to try to create some balance. Identifying feelings and improving relationships (through the lover archetype) may help to develop empathy and allow the person to act with others in mind. It is also the root of self-love and creative expression, both of which may improve mental wellbeing.
Big picture thinking and boundaries (through the king archetype) can help to balance out obsessiveness and encourage consideration of the greater good. This often helps create autonomous space for the psyche to develop. And it’s from this autonomous, grounded space that one can, with courage and strength, reach out to others in order to begin to relate from a position of equality, rather than a need for supremacy.
And here’s the crux: for men to operate from this position, we must accept our own vulnerability: to recognise it takes great strength to feel our hurt. And that while the possessed warrior needs to “know” and be right, the balanced warrior allows himself to be in relationship with those around him, in order to feel the way forward together.
More than ever, we need men who are able to act with passion and clarity, to partner with warriors of all genders toward a greater, transpersonal good. And who knows, together we may just be able to heal the world.
If you are interested in understanding more about the archetypes which underpin the male psyche you may like to read King Warrior Magician Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, by Robert Moore and Douglass Gilette.
And if you’re interested in finding a psychotherapist who can work with you to explore difficult thoughts and feelings then visit the UKCP find a therapist search to find one near you.
You can also find support by contacting:
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) helpline (Daily 5pm – 12am): 0800 58 58 58 (nationwide) or 0808 802 58 58 (London)
The Samaritans 24-hour helpline, call: 116 123
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47