Caroline Myss writes in Sacred Contracts that archetypes are our energy companions and guides to our highest potential. Even if we cannot name the 12 primary archetypes1 that Caroline Myss herself works with or those of Carl Jung, archetypes are very much present in every aspect of our lives.
They are templates that connect us with the collective unconsciousness. These are universal patterns that we fill with our personal history, biography, and biology for our own purposes of growth.
This is the default language2 and one we are all familiar with.
In this article we will discuss the four survival archetypes that Caroline Myss teaches. These archetypes – Child, Victim, Prostitute, and Saboteur – deal with themes relating to survival including power, sexuality, creativity, safety, and existence. These constant companions inform how we choose to use or not use our power to create the life we desire.
We all work with these four archetypes.
(How) do we negotiate our power in exchange for security?
Despite the names of these four survival archetypes (and possible negative connotations), their energies are neutral.
Once we understand their lessons and gifts – their shadow and light aspects – they become our “guardians and will preserve your integrity, refusing to let you negotiate it away in the name of survival.” 3
Working with these four survival archetypes reveals our patterns that affect the quality of our relationships, the decisions we make, our habitual responses, and how we struggle on and on with the challenges in our lives. We keep ourselves looping because we are blinded. Transforming the shadows of these survival archetypes into their light aspects can help lead us out of the valley of darkness and pain and open us to a healthier way of being.
A personal experience filtered through an impersonal or symbolic attitude creates a vastly different psychic chemistry from taking everything personally.3
What are Archetypes?
The word “archetype” has roots in “archein” and “typos” which mean “original or old” and “pattern, model, or type”. An archetype can be understood as the original pattern. Archetypes, universal and ancient energies, are found in fairytales, myths, psychology, and literature. The writings of Carl Jung, Clarissa Pinkola-Estés, Joseph Campbell, and Carol S Pearson are fertile grounds for deeper discovery and further exploration of this vast field.
Each archetype has a shadow and a light aspect. The shadow is about the subconscious and the light is how we can reach our potential.
“The shadow aspects of our archetypes are fed by our paradoxical relationship to power. We are as intimidated by being empowered as we are by being disempowered.”5
When an archetype is constellated, our whole body is engaged and its emotional arousal focuses and motivates us with a force that is very difficult to resist.
Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon on ourselves. The shadow is not necessarily always an opponent. The shadow becomes hostile only when [it] is ignored or misunderstood.
Marie-Louise von Franz6
The Four Survival Archetypes
The Child Archetype
This archetype includes the Wounded Child, the Abandoned or Orphan Child, Magical or Innocent Child, the Dependent Child, the Nature Child, and the Divine Child. A different aspect is at play depending on the situation and the wound that occurred in childhood.
The central theme of the Child Archetype is the balance between healthy dependence and responsibility.
All children can see into that world when they are young. The door between worlds closes as you get older and begin to believe that there is no such thing.
Sir George Trevelyan
As children we are reliant on adults and as we grow, we learn responsibility and the skills necessary to take care of ourselves. We also become aware of the need to make choices and their consequences. Ideally we come to accept both our vulnerabilities and our strengths. It is also the child that learns about fairness, cause and effect, and do-deserve.
The shadow side of this survival archetype is when we evade responsibility and instead want to be taken care of. We allow others determine how we survive. The light side is living through the eyes of a child, with unlimited imagination, wonder, and playfulness.
The Child Archetype is the guardian of innocence.
This is a child who feels apart from the family, whether from a lack of belonging or from actual absence of the family. They may continue to feel abandoned and rejected or they can develop independence and an inner reality, overcoming fear of being alone.
Fear of abandonment, loneliness
A Wounded Child has suffered abuse or neglect in childhood. The traumas can continue to affect their adult life. They can also develop compassion and learning to heal through forgiveness.
Both enchanting and enchanted, the Magical Child sees beauty and goodness in all, believes anything is possible, and can show great wisdom and courage in times of adversity.
Wisdom and courage
This archetype has an affinity with animals and nature, that goes beyond a love for them. These bonds are crucial to their being.
Cruelty, disconnected from nature
Tenderness, grit, survivalist
The Victim Archetype
The Victim Archetype is about personal power.
Self-esteem comes from the knowledge that we can take care of ourselves. Victims believe that they have no power or control, that things happen to them, and someone else has authority over them.
A manifestation of this shadow is when people manipulate others, using sympathy for example, to get what they want. They have learned to play the victim card; the price is a loss of personal power and the erosion of self-esteem.
We are vulnerable to being used, preyed on, and victimized when we look outside of ourselves for answers and give our power and sovereignty to someone/something else.
Some give-away phrases to spot this archetype – “I don’t have a choice”, “This always happens to me”, “I have bad boundaries” and “I always get hurt”.
Caroline Myss suggests that we observe our responses when we feel threatened or when we feel we have no power in the situation, be it in a professional, social, or personal setting. Be aware of how the Victim Archetype steps out when we are around people and issues that we lack personal boundaries.
The Victim Archetype is the Guardian of Self-esteem and Self-worth. Every time we confront and challenge the voice of the victim, we build our self-esteem. To help us develop the strengths of this archetype, be on the lookout for people around us who exemplify honesty, integrity, courage, and self-respect.
The Prostitute Archetype
The Prostitute is commonly seen as someone who sells his/her body but that is not the only thing we sell for survival. Morals. Ideals. Our word. Integrity. Loyalty. Honour.
How can we be bought?
The challenge with this survival archetype is the subtle and numerous ways that it is in play. People prostitute themselves in exchange for physical, financial, and emotional security, often without realizing it.
The fear that underlies the Prostitute Archetype is so closely tied to control and many “if only” and “when this happens” beliefs. If only I had the time, I would … When I have the perfect job, I’ll be happy. If only I had the money, I could…
The Prostitute Archetype is the Guardian of Faith. “If you have faith, no one can buy you. You know that you can take care of yourself and also that the Divine is looking out for you. Without faith, however, you will eventually meet the price you cannot turn down.” 7
What is the offer you cannot refuse? Where do you shortcut for financial gain? What will you give up – freedom, creativity, expression, honour? Think: the movie “Indecent Proposal”.
By copping onto the workings of the Prostitute Archetype we can see where we are being honest or dishonest, with ourselves and others. We can use these opportunities to drum up our inner strength to act with integrity and dignity and follow our heart’s true desires. The ability to understand this survival archetype leads to better boundaries.
The Saboteur archetype can trip you up if you do not face its considerable power, but you can also use its energy consciously to dismantle areas of your life that you need to face or fix or heal.
The Saboteur Archetype
This is the survival archetype that gives us an endless litany of reasons why something is not a good idea and why we are not good enough. The Saboteur does not like change, denies personal responsibility, and avoids looking at what we do not like or do not want to face. We can then project onto others, exhibit self-destructive behaviour, and sabotage our efforts to be more responsible. We end up undermining ourselves and our dreams, and blaming that person or that thing instead.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
We all work with these four survival archetypes in some way as we learn about survival, power, faith, and self-esteem. As they are interlinked and work together, it takes skill to see which is in play when. This journey to unhide our survival archetypes’ shadowplay takes perseverance and courage. It takes awareness to recognize the patterns. With practice we become adept at asking which Archetype is in control and which aspect is speaking in the moment.
Are we responding through our Wounded Child Archetype? Have we integrated all the moments and all the fragments of our psyche? Do we truly know ourselves?
It takes strength because, as Caroline Myss points out, living authentically could mean making choices that put your personal needs above the collective needs of your tribe. It could even lead to you leaving your tribe. What adopted beliefs do we have that are actually misaligned with who we are? When we give away our power, we are really allowing other people to create our reality.
1 There are endless archetypes, created as our consciousness evolves and as our society changes. The Computer Nerd, for example, is one that did not exist before.
2 How do we begin to recognise our other archetypes? by Laurel Rond (retrieved November 22 2016)
3 The Four Archetypes of Survival on Caroline Myss’ website (retrieved November 22 2016)
4 Sacred Contracts. Caroline Myss. Bantam Books, 2001. p143.
5 Ibid. p160.
6 Marie-Louise von Franz, in Carl G Jung et al., Man and His Symbols. Garden city, NY, Doubleday, 1964. pt3
7 Sacred Contracts p152.
8 Advanced Energy Anatomy. Caroline Myss. Sounds True. Chapter 2 The Four Archetypes of Survival.