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IN YOUR LIFE article

Working With Archetypes as Characters and Narratives

Kesstan Blandin, PhD is the Vice President of Research and Development at the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type in Gainesville, FL. Previous to this, Dr. Blandin was a research psychologist specializing in dementia at the Dartmouth Centers for Health & Aging at Dartmouth College.
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There are two primary ways to understand and interpret the Pearson-Marr archetypes: as characters and as narratives. As archetypal characters each archetype has traits that we identify with (or not), and this level of identification varies. We might be highly identified with the full range of qualities of the Magician, for example, who may reliably show up as an Ally at the top of the Archetype Profile in our report each time, or we may be only mildly identified with some of the Sage’s traits, who might rank as a Sidekick, in the middle seven or eight archetypes of the profile. In the lower ranking archetypal characters, particularly the bottom Blind Spot archetype, we may have little or no identity or connection with their traits. 

The archetypal characters we identify with are where our gifts show up because these are the qualities, and talents, we have leaned into over time that have become highly developed. And because they are a leading part of our identity, we have likely stamped them with our unique style—not every Magician employs the same kind of magic; a Sage is always the smartest one in the room but each one on different topics. The drawback to identifying with an archetypal character is that the limited range of attitudes and actions, of a single archetype, can limit us; we can become stuck on being identified this way. If you are in a situation or relationship where your position, action, or communication are simply not working, consider that you may be stuck in an archetypal identity—you feel you have to act this way because this is who you are. In this case, reach out to an archetypal character who is an Ally, or top Sidekick, and see if their unique attitudes and actions can give you more options.

Another primary way to interpret the PMAI® archetypes is as archetypal narratives, or prominent story lines. These narratives can be thought of as frames we apply to everything, people (including ourselves), situations, events, goals. These frames look for specific features that an archetypal narrative innately values and emphasizes them.  An archetypal frame can lead to effective and impactful decisions by winnowing out the unimportant, peripheral information that distracts or skews your ability to see what is most important.

On the other hand, an archetypal narrative is also a filter that ignores certain details of a situation or person that it does not value. This kind of suppression can lead to blind spots, missed opportunities, or poor decisions based on facts irrelevant to the matter at hand. With frames and filters, we impose or lay archetypal narratives onto situations we find ourselves in—usually unconsciously or implicitly—and only pay attention to what they emphasize. 

If somewhere in your life you and/or others feel misunderstood or have consistent miscommunication, it may be that you are applying an archetypal narrative that does not fit the situation. When we have had success with a specific narrative, typically one of an Ally, we can automatically apply it ineffectively. When doing this, look to your bottom archetypes, as these are often unused narratives. What might your lowest archetypal narrative see and say here?

Try this: reflect on your Archetype Profile, your top three Inner Allies, and your Blind Spot in the lowest position. With your Inner Allies, identify your strengths and gifts, if you have not already, and then look to their negative expressions. Where have those negative expressions shown up in your life, what specific situations? It is there that you can bring in an alternate Ally or top Sidekick archetype who is still a skilled and comfortable part of your identity. Next, reflect on your lowest archetype, the Blind Spot. To use the attitudes and skills of your Blind Spot archetype demands a lot of energy from us and is not necessarily the most productive aim in relationship to this archetype. Rather, look at it as an archetypal narrative: what does the frame of this archetype value and highlight? Do these overlooked factors bring fresh insight to a current circumstance, be it position, action, or communication?

Do not try to change yourself. You do not need to stop being the person you are identified with and living the PMAI archetypes the unique way you do. There is no getting away from identification and unconsciously applying narratives—this is how human minds are designed. The key is development, not change. Our goal is to become aware of ourselves, which is what the PMAI system is all about—developing deeper self-awareness that gives you more room to act, know, and decide; more room to be you in all your potential.

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