Dreams are a common occurrence for most of us as we sleep. Dreams are a combination of memories, fantasies, and thoughts that the brain sorts through when we are asleep. When we dream, there is often a main character or characters that appear and play a major role in the dream. These characters may appear as people we know, or they may be a completely unfamiliar face. These characters are sometimes referred to as dream archetypes, a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
What are Dream Archetypes?
While we all dream differently with different images and different characters, Carl Jung believed that dreams fell into a dream archetype, and he developed this theory in the early 1900s. In this theory, Carl Jung believed that our life experiences carried over into our unconscious mind to play a vital part in our dreams. Because of this, Carl Jung developed five main dream archetypes: the self, the shadow, the anima, the animus, and the persona.
The 5 Main Dream Archetypes: Definitions, Explanations, and Examples
1. The Self
The self is the center of the psyche, sometimes referred to as the archetype of wholeness. It is the unification of your conscious and unconscious. Carl Jung believed this archetype possessed your consciousness (what you know about yourself to be true) and your unconscious (what you don’t know about yourself or what may be the opposite of your consciousness) in a contrasting effect. This means that your conscience, which is what you know about yourself to be true, will be the opposite of your unconscious.
An example of this would be nervous vs. confident. If you are nervous in your life, your unconscious will be confident. This is the self as a whole, covering both the conscious and the unconscious of your psyche.
Part of Jung’s theory of dream archetypes as it pertains to the self is in the individuation process. Jung described the individuation process as the journey a person takes to discover their true destiny. In this journey, the person increases their consciousness, which has an effect on themselves as a whole.
2. The Shadow
The shadow is appropriately named because it is dark and unknown. The shadow is symbolic of our dark side and represents the area of our psyche that we have denied, suppressed, or unacknowledged. The shadow can manifest itself as any lifeform that brings fear. This may include a monster, a drug addict, a killer, or a criminal. The shadow is typically the same gender as the dreamer.
With the shadow archetype, it is important to remember that this is normal. Everyone has fears, regrets, insecurities, anger, and frustration. Just because you have the shadow archetype doesn’t mean that you are a representation of evil personified. It is simply the darker side of your psyche coming out in your unconscious that you have otherwise tried to suppress.
3. The Anima
The anima is the feminine qualities, image, and attributes within a male dreamer. Jung believed that every man possessed feminine qualities within his psyche, and those qualities would come out in the manifestation of dreams. Further, Jung believed that the anima archetype was developed during infancy, as a male infant begins to gravitate towards the mother-figure in his life.
There are symbols and animals to represent the anima. These include the cow, tiger, cat, ship, and a cave. These symbols and animals are associated with the female. For example, a cave symbolizes a woman’s womb. These symbols and animals represent the anima archetype.
4. The Animus
Opposite of the anima is the animus. The animus is the male qualities, image, and attributes within a female dreamer. Just like the anima, Jung believed the animus archetype was developed during infancy when the female infant began to gravitate towards the father-figure in her life. Jung believed that women possessed male qualities within her psyche, and those qualities would come out during dreams. Jung believed that the anima archetype was one dominant female figure, while the animus encompasses many complex parts.
Symbols and animals that represent the animus archetype are an eagle, a bull, a lion, a tower, a spear, or any other phallic symbol. Spears and towers are symbolic of a male because they represent a phallic symbol, the metaphor of an erect penis, something that has been studied in psychology since Ancient Egypt.
5. The Persona
The persona is your public image. It is how you feel you are viewed in public, but it is also the mask you put on when we present ourselves to the world. The persona is usually our best impression, but it can also be a false impression of who we truly are.
The persona archetype begins at a young age when children are learning how they need to behave and be perceived in public. The persona is where all urges, impulses, and reactions are controlled. The persona archetype can adapt to any situation or environment it is in.
Understanding The Great Mother Archetype
While these are the main 5 archetypes that are most discussed when studying the analytical psychology of Carl Jung, there is one additional archetype that is worth mentioning: the great mother.
The great mother archetype contains a dominant mother-figure that appears in the dream and plays a major role. This role can be either positive or negative.
The positive role of the great mother is a nurturer and protector. The great mother may appear as your own mother, grandmother, or another mother-figure in your life. The great mother may also possess features that represent nature and growth in nature.
Alternatively, the great mother can also be negative. The negative version of the great mother may give an appearance of a witch or unsightly woman. In addition to a repulsive appearance, a negative great mother will likely be seductive, vile, dominant, and mysterious. The negative great mother will seek to get the attention of the dreamer through seduction, dominance, or temptation.
Archetypes and Dream Characters
As Carl Jung explained, there are several categories of archetypes that a dream will fall into. Within these archetypes will be certain characters, and it is important to be able to distinguish the difference in the characters for what type of dream you are having.
One of the most common types of dreams that we often experience is to dream we are being chased. It’s a common dream for many of us, especially those who are in their 20s. These dreams are known as chase or pursuit dreams. These types of dreams occur when you are going through a transitional period in your life, such as starting a new job, getting a divorce, or ending a relationship. In the beginning, these dreams are intense and nightmarish, but they dissipate over time as you get older, and your conscience becomes wiser.
If a monstrous figure, such as a dark, evil creature, is chasing you in your dream, this is an indication that you are losing control of your emotions. These dreams can also be associated with wild predatory animals, such as wolves or wild dogs.
Expanding Your Consciousness by Working with Dream Characters
Because we have identified these archetypes and dream characters that are commonly found as we dream, we can now understand how to identify them and work with them to expand our consciousness as we dream.
Archetypes have the power to change our behavior, control our emotions, guide our minds, and help provide meaning to our lives.
Dream Characters and Behavior
The characters in our dreams, according to Jung, are personified instincts. When instincts come to life in the form of these various archetypes, a specific behavior within us is triggered. You can begin to predict these patterns and triggers. Depending on the archetype of the dream, you can predict the characters that will appear and what behaviors, traits, and characteristics they will possess.
Dream Characters and Emotions
Archetypes are related to our conscious, unconscious, or both, so it is no surprise that they have the ability to prompt emotions. Characters within these archetypes will prompt an appropriate emotion that relates to the archetype. For example, a shadow archetype in the form of a monster will invoke fear and panic.
Dream Characters and Our Minds
A person’s mind is compiled of many different parts, so it only fits that many characters also exist in our minds, subsequently make an appearance in our dreams at any time. The presence of this variety of characters has given them the term subpersonalities and parts.
Subpersonalities are half-permanent and half-autonomous that combine together to act as a person, and there are many of these subpersonalities within our mind. When dream characters appear, they play a specific role, and they have the ability to have an effect on many different areas of our minds.
Dream Characters and the Meaning of Life
The last area of dream characters that you will want to be familiar with is the association between dream characters and the meaning of life. The meaning of life often transpires in our dreams and fantasies before they come to life. It is in this space where archetypes help guide us to our meaning of life by taking our innermost thoughts to give our lives a sense of purpose.