Alternative Health: Healing With Archetypes
The mind as “healer or slayer” is a key tenet of the alternative health world. Western medicine also recognizes the power our attitudes and beliefs have over body functions.
Such luminaries of holistic medical thought, such as Deepak Chopra, Bernard Siegel, and Larry Dossey (among many others), contend that the body-mind connection is so strong that, in fact, a person will not be able to heal until the mental processes supporting healing are activated.
The Type A personality is one example of how attitudes affect health. Type A’s never feel there’s enough time, so they do multiple things at once, speaking rapidly, gesturing wildly and always under pressure.
And, they get more heart attacks and die earlier than the rest of the population. People who “always knew” they would get cancer do, indeed, come down with it.
Others who say long life spans are characteristic of their family seem to live longer than the average. Where do these beliefs and attitudes come from?
Even within a family, there are hypochondriacs and health nuts. Looking at illness patterns of societies, you can observe diseases that rarely occur in one but are rampant in another.
Medical technology, sanitation, lifestyle and diet certainly play important roles in this, but there’s another larger influence-the effects of archetypes.
Archetypes are “primary or original patterns” of qualities and predispositions that have been formed by the collective thoughts of millions of people through the ages. Carl Jung described them as inherent potentials in the psyche, drawn from the vast pool of the collective unconscious.
The images and thought forms in the collective unconscious hover at the fringes of our minds, until one forms in our awareness and activates its potential in us. Joseph Campbell and Jung both said that archetypes are expressed through myths, which contain symbolic lessons of particular archetypes.
We all know an archetype when we meet it in others, though we may not be as perceptive about ourselves. We make remarks like “Well, there’s a Queen if I ever saw one” about our friend who just naturally lords it over everyone. We admire the “fearless Warrior” who takes on a battle to save old growth trees. When someone we know can see the merit of both sides in an argument, we observe, “He’s certainly a philosopher about life.”
According to the Archetype Queen herself, Caroline Myss, everyone has four archetypes in common and a unique set of others (12 in all, according to Myss).
It’s easy to see how the four common ones affect our lives: We’ve all been a Victim, perhaps multiple times.
The Child in everyone shows up as wounded, abandoned, or naturally joyful depending on circumstances in our lives.
How many times have we shot ourselves in the foot with the Saboteur? And, whenever we sell out, don’t live up to our principles, or don’t speak up when we’re strongly called to, that’s the Prostitute showing up.
Archetypes have big effects on health. Take Sally, an ardent environmentalist who became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome after years of doing battle with corporations and industry.
Her Servant archetype carried the belief that she had to take on the illness of the environment, becoming exhausted from exploitation. Her Saboteur prevented her healing because she wanted acknowledgment of how much she sacrificed for her work.
She was a Martyr for the environment, believing she had to suffer for the cause while also seeing the world as suffering and being ill.
Sally’s healing involved shifting attitudes and bringing out the positive sides of her archetypes, such as serving without expecting payoffs, letting go of her need for accolades, and viewing nature as innately beautiful and perfect.
Many people can use their Alchemist for healing. This archetype guides us in turning the lead (traumas) of our lives into gold (wisdom, strength). When we take to heart the lessons in our most trying experiences, we integrate our shadow and become more complete beings.
The Victim calls for taking a broader perspective-one that shows us how we actually set up circumstances through which others use us; thus we can realize our part in every conflict.
Being unable to forgive is a main reason why people don’t heal. Growing in wisdom leads to forgiveness. The healing power of the Wise Woman is expressed by many midlife women, who draw from life experiences to help others cope with challenges.
Getting to know your archetypes brings new insights into your healing issues-and can reveal the path to resolution.
Lennie Martin and Pam Jung are co-founders of Women at the Gateway. Their focus is mid-life health issues for men and women and menopausal women.
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