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Warning: salty language ahead!
In his 1919 essay, “Instinct and the Unconscious,” Carl Jung proposed that, far from being born an entirely “blank slate,” we all come equipped with a number of innate characteristics.
The most prominent of which was the collective unconscious.
Simply put, this is a body of knowledge deriving from the sum total of human history that comes already installed in our minds, in the same way that a laptop already comes with an operating system.
This understanding, in turn, directs both our conscious and subconscious behavior on an individual level.
(Yeah, I’m not fully convinced by any of that either.)
Central to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious is the concept of archetypes, which are essentially reoccurring themes, patterns, and figures that appear not just throughout history but in the story of our own lives.
In Hollywood terms, the figures might take the shape of the Hero, the Shadow, and the Damsel in Distress, which are all pretty shallow examples, but they do the job.
However, it’s time Jung’s ideas got an upgrade (and, yes, I am fully aware of the sheer ridiculousness of claiming that I am somehow going to improve the words of one of the founding figures of psychology. Don’t worry, my tongue is firmly in my cheek with that last statement.
So, with apologies to Carl, I’ve created my own list, entitled “Archetypes to Avoid to Protect our Mental Well-Being.” And like the Deadly Sins, there are seven of these miscreants:
1. The Ungrateful
Despite being a proven boon to emotional well-being, gratitude (like most human emotions) does not come standard. Sorry, Carl, but it’s not something we automatically do.
If we did, there wouldn’t be a million books teaching us how to be grateful.
It’s something we have to learn.
And some people learn faster, and more effectively, than others. While others never learn at all.
For instance, ever done something kind for someone else and then been made to feel like shit? Yeah, sucks, doesn’t it?
We don’t do nice things for others in order for them to laud us with appreciation; if you’re only doing something nice for someone else because you expect something in return, then (news flash!) you’re not a nice person.
Most of the time, knowing that we did something good is enough, even if the appreciation is trivial in proportion to the deed we did.
The bare minimum, however, is to not end up being made to feel like crap after doing something good.
If you do something nice for someone, and they make you feel like shit, it’s okay to walk away. If they have a problem with being unable to accept help, or see that you’ve done something nice and accept it with grace, that is not your battle. And if this is the umpteenth time they haven’t seen that you made a sacrifice and turned up for them, accept that a pattern has been established, and leave a bit more quickly.
In a past life, I knew someone who, every time I did something kind for them, ended up arguing with me. Instead of hearing “Thanks,” such episodes climaxed with me being told to “Go to hell.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, I don’t miss that. I’m capable of making myself feel like utter shit on my own. I especially don’t need to feel that way after I’ve just gone out of my way to help you.
Thanks, but no.
2. The Assumer
I once knew someone who, after a two-hour conversation with a person from my past (someone who was themselves a virtual stranger to them), decided they were now an expert on my entire life.
This was strange because I couldn’t remember them playing any big part in it. I’d only known them for a few years, and I was in my mid-40s, so how they could suddenly appoint themselves my official biographer, and claim authority on a life they had never lived on the basis of one conversation with someone else, was probably the greatest single act of arrogance I’d ever directly experienced.
But, it did teach me that people who are willing to make assumptions about you but not give you the opportunity to say, “Hang on, you’ve got that utterly wrong,” don’t really much care for you. If you mattered, you would have been given a right of reply.
The irony is The Assumer is incredibly prickly when people make assumptions about them. They really don’t like that. However, this lack of consistency will dissipate once you leave them in your rear-view mirror.
3. The Re-Writer
Ever been utterly bewildered by someone’s retelling of an event you were actually part of? Ever been left bemused at the ease in which another person has redacted whole incidents and behaved as if such events never even occurred?
Welcome to the world of The Re-Writer. It might be your life that is being discussed, but you won’t know that; in fact, you won’t even recognize whose life it is. All you will know is that you’re the bad guy.
Events that, in reality, had nothing to do with you will magically become your fault. Any good you did will be erased; in the final telling, you actually did nothing positive at all. Sorry.
Don’t waste time scratching your head. Go ahead and write yourself out of their story.
4. The Runner
If someone doesn’t want to be in your life, let them run. In fact, throw a little party, and wave them off.
Don’t chase after them; there’s only pain if you do.
The Runner will often claim that their departure was your fault: “I only did that because you did this.”
When you point out that their pattern of running was established long before they ever met you, the chances are they’ll morph into The Re-Writer and you’ll end up drowning in the quicksands of inconsistency.
Saying goodbye as they run away, and moving on, are the best things you can do.
5. The Virtue Signaler
We’re all flawed, damaged, hypocrites; the dangerous people are those who don’t see this. Thus, the people who pontificate the loudest about their wonderfulness? They’re normally the ones you need to steer clear of.
In “Hamlet,” Queen Gertrude criticizes one of the players with the withering zinger, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” The Virtue Signalers often do; their protests regarding their inherent decency are endless.
Meanwhile, genuinely good people feel no need to do this. Their actions say it all.
An added factor in this situation is that so many of us aren’t terribly self-aware.
Notice the people who describe themselves using adjectives that, in actuality, they’re in no position to use about themselves, but that should be reserved for other people to describe them. You really don’t get to say how loyal you are; that’s for your friends, family, and partners to decide. After all, they’re the ones who would’ve felt the effect of that.
Same with caring, supportive, and honest. I really couldn’t give a hoot what you’ve got to say about your perceived levels of kindness. I think I can judge that based on how you treat me, thanks.
Saying you’re something doesn’t mean you actually are that thing. You’ve actually got to be it.
And when there’s a gulf between someone’s words and actions? Well, bye.
6. The Splitter
“Splitting” is normally seen as something only done by people with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD, formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD).
It’s when a person gets caught up in the moment and projects what they are feeling at that moment onto a situation or a person while ignoring past history. When splitting, everything is black and white—all good or all bad.
When we’re having a tough day and feel lost, it’s not uncommon for a friend or partner, who isn’t even responsible for the events that have made you feel that way, to suddenly become the sole reason for the distress. We might say, “I feel alone, so that must mean I don’t have a supportive friend/partner.” Black and white.
But no, it just means you’re having a tough day.
If you stepped back for a moment, you might see that the other person actually has been as supportive as they could be, or that they’re wrestling with something themselves. What you’re feeling is for you to figure out, and not just lazily project on someone else.
Except it’s not just people with EUPD who do this; we all do this at some point.
However, some do it more than others. And it’s important to recognize the people in your life who do this regularly.
You’re a living, breathing, four-dimensional human being, not a two-dimensional charcoal sketch. The moment someone decides you’re either Mother Theresa or Adolf Hitler, thank them and call a taxi.
Because if they can, depending on their mood, cast you in one extreme light, they’ve got the power to cast you in the opposite shade as well. And they will. When their mood changes, so will the way they see you. One day you’ll be the reason everything is great in their life; the next, it’s your fault everything sucks.
Not only is neither description true—you’re a mere human being; you really don’t have that kind of power—it’s also exhausting.
7. The Projector
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you’re not to blame for someone else’s toxic attachment style, nor for every single issue in your family, nor—as is often the case—for someone else just being a bit of a dick.
And that last one is the biggie: Don’t let someone else blame you for the mistakes they made whilst they were busy being the aforementioned dick. (Especially if they were also being an ungrateful, assumptive, re-writing, running, splitting dick.)
Unless you have a superhuman ability to be in multiple places at once, as well as being able to travel back in time and fuck up someone else’s childhood, and all their past relationships, and every job they’ve ever had, everything you’re being blamed for is not actually on you.
You can (and should) be honest and admit that you’re not a saint, and you’re not entirely innocent, and you probably did screw up somewhere along the line. But the rest of it? Nah, that ain’t on you.
If someone is willing to meet you halfway, if they’re willing to see their mistakes in the way you’re willing to see yours, then run toward that person in a full-on sprint. Trust me: they’re as rare as rocking horse shit. Treasure them, and never let those weirdos go.
But if someone is willing to blame you for everything that is wrong in their life, for every bad emotion they’re experiencing? Well, they’re unfairly projecting blame onto you.
Thank them for having such an inflated opinion of your abilities, and then kindly tell them to fuck off (and maybe not in those exact words).
So those are the Seven Archetypes to Avoid. And when you do, you’ll thank me.
However, what about the archetypes to embrace? If there’s a list of ones to avoid, then it stands to reason there’s an opposite list as well, right? There is. And it’s just that—the opposite.
Embrace the people who say “Thank you” and appreciate you; who don’t make assumptions about people or situations they’re in no position to; who don’t re-write the past to make themselves look more favorable; who don’t run; who don’t claim to be things they’re not; who don’t see you through color-blind eyes; and who don’t dump all their unhappiness at your feet.
Those people are rare. Heck, I can’t even claim to be such a person myself. I know that I’ve done each and every single thing I’ve said not to do. More than once. I’ve done them all, as in all likelihood, you have too.
But trying to not be that person? Well, that’s a quest that even Jung would support.
To be an archetype who is good for someone else’s emotional well-being…well, I’d settle for one day being called that.
In fact, I can’t think of any greater praise.