Will the Real Little Orphan Annie Please Stand Up?


Archetypes have enormous power over us whether we realize it or not. Usually we do not, and it is precisely our ignorance of them that fuels their power. Most people could care less about archetypes. Some of you will stop reading at this point because what I’ve just said holds absolutely no meaning for you. But if you’re still reading, indulge me for a moment in a little experiment. Think of the people you dislike: some you know personally and maybe a public figure or two like a politician or media personality. Now, without reading any further, write down at least five qualities about those people that annoy you the most.
Finished?  Okay.  Here are some qualities I might have listed around the age of 40.  I would have said I disliked 1) people who secretly feel superior to other people, 2) people who feel mistreated, unappreciated, or sorry for themselves but deny their own pain, 3) dependent people who expect to be taken care of, 4) pseudo-martyrs who sacrifice their own needs to stay safe and be loved, and 5) people who blame people close to them, God, or the culture as a whole in order to feel less bad about themselves. Now here’s the embarrassing truth. The qualities we most dislike in others are strong unconscious components of our own personalities. Hint: If you are tempted to feel superior to me, re-read the first quality on my list!
So what does this have to do with archetypes? After discovering Jungian psychology I began a regular program of study. One of the earliest books I read was Carol S. Pearson’s brilliant The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By. It contains a self-test of 36 statements — each related to one of the archetypes — which are to be scored from 0 to 4 in terms of how frequently they reflect our attitudes. When I tallied my score the Orphan got zero points. Great! I thought, giving myself a mental pat on the back. That’s my least favorite archetype.  Thank goodness I’ve grown beyond that childish mentality!
But when I began recording my dreams that same year I found that orphans kept popping up to demand my dream ego’s attention. At first I couldn’t imagine what these sad, needy urchins had to do with me. I was nothing like them. I had high ideals and saw myself as the heroic person I wanted to be: brave, humble, tough, competent, independent. But with continued self-study I gradually saw the powerful hold the Orphan archetype really had on my thoughts and behavior.
The Orphan’s primary characteristics are the very attitudes I most disliked in others during those early years! The fact that I disowned them and tried so hard to be their opposite proves how unconscious I was and how unworthy I felt. I had not grown beyond the Orphan mentality: it was such a deeply buried bedrock reality of my psyche that I simply could not see it. In truth, beneath my plucky Little Orphan Annie persona lurked the Orphan’s problem: despair. Pearson says, “The Orphan is a disappointed idealist, and the greater the ideals about the world, the worse reality appears.”
If it causes you pain to know that the attitudes you dislike in others describe the attitudes of your undeveloped archetypes, please do not despair.  There is hope for us the moment we set out on the path to self-knowledge. Everyone goes through an Orphan stage on the hero’s journey and we can encourage the development of our archetypes along the way. To that end you might want to add The Hero Within to your backpack.

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0 Responses

  1. Thank you for your honesty, Jean. You really know how to open the space up for us to not only look at ourselves, but to seek out avenues of expressing what we discover. You truly touch my soul.
    One of the things that has blossomed for me is an interest in looking at the roots and origins of words. It’s great fun and helps me see the need to use words consciously and well, reverently—they are laden with power. And the word archetype is one of my favorites. The way I look at its Greek origins is that it’s the “first stamp” or “the first mark,” “the ruling blow.” Taking this idea into my life, I used to beat myself up for being overly sensitive—too “impressionable.” Now I know, we are all that way—more importantly, I accept and embrace that I am that way. The soul is malleable, sculptable, and it takes in or on, the impressions from the world around it. In my case there were experiences from my childhood that left deep impressions. These became (and perhaps still are) the ruling-types—the ruling marks on my soul. And since (I believe) the soul “thinks” in pictures, the images of orphan, wounded child, holy child, warrior all begin to rise from these impressions. For me however, the key is in the idea that the soul is forever malleable and sculptable. The impressions or archetypes are not set in stone. They are set in a magical, alchemical substance of clay, water, wind, and fire…So they can change. I can use the existing impressions and place paper over them and rub a pencil across them and make new patterns from the old—I can trace them with the watercolor brush of my tears or run my fingers through them with my eyes closed and sense their shapes– imagine them to be dragons or wolves, angels or the moon. I can weather them down with the wind of my sighs, smooth them out with the sweat of my labor to be born again. Part of the power of these impressions is that they are relief sculptures so they can be filled with water or glitter, mustard seeds, or, as is most common for me lately—words. I can trace them all into words. I can also accept them as rulers and magistrates if I choose too, but I am more called to look at them all as orphans—even the hero and warrior—they all come from the land of the lost. Orphan literally means “deprived,” and it is my job now to provide for their needs, to mother and father them—adopt them all into my family of wounds and triumphs. In so doing they become my parents, my protectors, my guides—for the grand illusion is that I am an orphan. If I am a child of God then I am never really an orphan—I simply need to allow myself the dignity to go on the journey of discovering, for myself, my origins—and that means feeling the depravity and learning to make some sense, or at very least some beauty, out the impressions that have touched my soul.
    Oh, one more quick thing– A few years ago, I learned powerful dance called, In’Lakash, which is a Mayan word,meaning: “ I am another you and you are another me”, or put another way, “we are mirrors for each other.”
    This means that not only the negative qualities, but the positive ones as well. I recognize your gold because it is reflecting off the gold I carry within my heart and am letting shine in my life. I need to focus more and more on the things I see (and actively look for) in others that I admire and love and want to emulate. I am acutely aware of the judgments and the faults, and as I move through the journey of embracing them as true and feeling their pain, then the more I am able to focus and embrace their gold.

  2. Dear Joseph,
    I really like your explorations into the roots of words. It invariably brings new understanding. I too think of the “first stamp” or “first mark” of the archetype as being a basic pattern of the soul. Jungians imagine an archetype to be something like an outline, like an image in a child’s coloring book, which we color in and flesh out according to our early experiences of life. Since we’re not really aware of doing this, most of that material remains unconscious. Then it’s up to us to bring these images into our conscious awareness so we can learn from them, heal their weaknesses, benefit from their strengths, and find the gold in ourselves and others.
    Thank you for telling me about the Mayan dance. It’s a wonderful reminder that one doesn’t have to be a Jungian to get in touch with these truths. Every culture and religion has ways of accessing and expressing the deep stream of wisdom that flows through our souls. One journey; many paths.

  3. Was this piece intended for me, Jeanie? Only kidding, but I had to laugh when I got to “some of you will stop reading at this point.” But I knew better; when you write, I pay attention. So I read on. I must say that I have never projected what I dislike in myself upon others. I have, however, on occasion, railed against politicians who are dishonest, untrustworthy, unintelligent, duplicitous and self-absorbed. Please tell me that is the exception to the “projection” rule, Jeanie.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      You’re too funny! I’m tempted to try for a humorous response, but alas, I’m no match for you so I’ll treat this one seriously.
      Actually, we’re all in the same projection boat you describe because most of humanity is still in an ego-centered stage of consciousness. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t railed against the kinds of politicians you describe, myself included. We want our leaders to show us the best in ourselves. We want them to rise above their self-serving egos and show us that they care as much about us as they do about themselves because that would give us hope of being able to transcend our own self-centeredness. If they can do it, maybe we can too. We want to be inspired and instead we’re betrayed again and again.
      So, sorry, Charlie! (I’ve been wanting a chance to say that!) We’re doubly angry at these easy targets from whom we expect so much because at bottom we’re as disappointed in ourselves for being all to human as we are in them.
      My best,

  4. Very nice piece!
    I’ve found that the Orphan/Divine child archetypes in myth and folklore are particularly resonant with adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families. Although many of us often feel orphaned metaphorically – for adoptees, cut of legally or logistically from their families of origin- the archetypal images in deep folklore/scriptures speak of the path to identity consolidation and individuation and the obstacles on the way. I look forward to following your work!

    1. Thank you, Martha,
      Yes, most of us can identify with Cinderella at some point in our lives. I understand there are scores of versions of that tale from around the world. You might know the Native American story about Turkey Girl who is magically given a new dress to wear to the pow wow and then has to get back to the turkeys before a certain time. The magical help from something or someone outside oneself speaks to a powerful image from the unconscious that breaks through into ego awareness via dream, fantasy, etc., bringing a meaningful new insight and signaling a new level of growth.
      I appreciate your stopping by and look forward to future conversations.
      My best,

  5. hi guys did you know anything about how to Pearson’s archetypes relationships with jungs thinking-emotion and sensing-intuition approach? I think innocent, explorer and sage, belong to thinking, and orphan, lover and jester belong to Emotion. Any idea?
    sorry my english

    1. I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s a very interesting idea. The only one I’d question at first glance is the innocent, but I don’t really remember Pearson’s description of this archetype. Does anyone else have any thoughts? Thanks for your comment. Jeanie

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