Instincts wield powerful influence over us in all areas of life. For example, everyone has an instinct for nurturance: We all need food, water, clothing, shelter, love, and protection from others who would take advantage of us. As children we cannot give these things to ourselves so parents and caregivers must assume this role. Later on, leaders like teachers and coaches nurture our talents and skills and channel our instinctual needs in healthy ways so that we will ultimately assume responsibility for nurturing and protecting ourselves and others. Society also takes a role by establishing and enforcing laws and providing helpful services.
Carl Jung said the archetypes are psychological images of our physical instincts. My research has taught me that the archetypes of King/Father and Queen/Mother are the primary representations of the instinct for nurturance. In the psyches of babies these images are like the empty outlines of the kings and queens you would find in a child’s coloring book. As we mature we automatically fill them in with different shades of expectations, emotions, and ideas about nurturing depending on our early experiences. Our personal images will then control us in all sorts of ways.
For example, if we are neglected, unloved or abused as children, we “fill in” our King and Queen patterns with the attitudes and behaviors of our caregivers. These images will then create problems for us as we try to nurture others, and as long as we depend on others to take care of us, we will consciously or unconsciously expect them to be neglectful, uncaring and abusive. We might actively rebel against them and their policies, or we might simply find it very difficult to trust them, even if they are nothing like our early caregivers.
Likewise, if our caregivers are tender, fair-minded and quick to respond to our needs, we will expect to be treated this way by everyone and will behave the same to them. However, if we are coddled to the point of being “spoiled,” we might expect those who take care of us— loved ones, teachers, employees, bosses, bankers, salespersons, waiters and waitresses, ministers, politicians and even God—to be equally attentive and we will be disappointed and angry when they are not. We will believe our responses are reasonable and justified, but they are actually dictated by our shadow King and Queen.
When we project a dysfunctional King and/or Queen onto those from whom we expect nurturing, our behavior is confusing to them and problematic for us. When they don’t give us exactly what we want from them—and many of our wants are unconscious or conflicting—we will misinterpret their words and motives and believe they are flawed or don’t really care. We will judge, criticize and sever relationships. We will look for someone else to assume the roles we gave to those we left behind: to understand us, help us understand ourselves, make us happy, take care of us in ways we want and think we deserve. If we can’t recognize the flaws in our thinking or see how immature and unrealistic our demands are, we’ll sabotage every important relationship we have.
So how do we assume responsibility for taking care of ourselves? How do we empower our own King and Queen? By committing ourselves to a regular program of inner work that will help us understand and accept our shadows. We are so much more than our egos know. It’s time they accept the fact that they share the house of the psyche with entities far more powerful than their puny little selves. Chief among these are the clear-thinking, justice-seeking King and the caring, merciful Queen, the sovereigns of our psyche. Their goals of lawful order and moral virtue within and without are ours to claim. Whether we do is up to us.