Myss’s “Archetypes”

Caroline Myss is the maven of New Age Thought. Her presentations have always included personal development themes in that curious abstract way that takes no account of sociological, cultural, environmental, or genetic factors. Her themes rely on a model that identifies completely with modern technological Western culture.

In her book Archetypes, Myss takes a classically-weighted concept crafted by Carl Jung to refer to a trans-cultural pool of psychological structures and transforms them into distillations of the latest lifestyles and mindsets prevalent among her well-to-do readers, specifically women readers, and specifically women “professionals.” The female preference for emotional life is contrasted with the male preference for concreteness in her list of archetypes — although her website includes men, and the same archetypes are used.

Where Jung sought multiple sources to identify specific psychological manifestations, Myss promotes the multiplicities as emotional responses, generating multiple archetypes, even in the same person. We are no longer talking about Jungian archetypes but social roles and behaviors, with some of the psychology behind them. The problem, of course, is that social roles are affected by the time and place of the society, but even Myss admits that ten years ago she would probably had offered different archetypes. Such mutable “archetypes,” therefore, should better be called roles and behaviors, not archetypes.

Myss says that her archetypes are the “primary power issues that define women today,” with women being defined today as “professional.” Given the technological and political culture of the present, the dilemma here is to distinguish women’s roles (“archetypes” for Myss) from those of men who, in the modern world, have defined the marketplace and its social roles and behaviors. This process of refining the archetypical models of behavior of women only works when the target audience is the better-off, the well-to-do, the captains of industry and finance, and the women in that world who can be profiled as “professional.”

The list of ten archetypes:

  • Advocate
  • Artist/Creative
  • Athlete
  • Caregiver
  • Fashionista
  • Intellectual
  • Queen/Executive
  • Rebel
  • Spiritual Seeker
  • Visionary

A convenient checklist under each archetype summarizes challenges, lessons, myths, behavior patterns, inner shadow, and affirmations. Plus male counterparts that women professionals should be watching for. The jumble of occupational styles (Queen/Executive) to values expression (Advocate, Artists, Caregiver, Rebel) to personality (Fashionista, Intellectual, Spiritual Seeker) makes sorting the behavior types a necessary process of mixing and matching. Advice to one archetype contradicts advice to another, based not per situation but per values. Thus the Spiritual Seeker is told to “Be humble,” while the Fashionista is told to “Be ruthless.” The descriptions seem vaguely grounded in Daniel Goleman’s multiple intelligences, mixed with Myss’s preconceived notions of professions of women today. But not archetypes.

Myss provides plenty of self-help; the bookselling industry labels Archetypes rightly as “Self-help/General.” The book is not about psychology, not even pop psychology. Presumably readers will only read what they already think they are, what they already want to hear. After all, the subtitle of the book is “Who Am I?” so the answer must lie within the summaries. The website makes it a lot easier to take the quiz, and its free.