The Four Survival Archetypes


As promised, we will discuss the four survival archetypes based on Caroline Myss’ system outlined in Sacred Contracts. The idea of these four archetypes is that they are the pillars upon which our sacred contract is built; they are constants, the foundation upon which we build. Everyone has these four universal archetypes in common; the other eight, which make up our unique twelve, varies from person to person. The four are considered “survival” archetypes because they symbolize the major life challenges that require us to choose how we survive, move forward and empower/disempower ourselves along our life’s journey. They represent spiritual development on our path. They work together to teach us the lessons necessary within our lives to develop genuine Self-empowerment. Whether we rise to the occasion and develop a healthy, consciously aware relationship with these facets of our selves is what determines how much of our sacred contract we can uncover and consequently carry out. 

The four archetypes Myss references are:  the Child, the Victim, the Prostitute and the Saboteur. The Child archetype can further be expanded to include: Orphan, Wounded, Magical/Innocent, Nature, Puer/Puella Eternis (Eternal Boy/Girl) and Divine. The psyche has a touch of all these facets of the Child within; however, we tend to identify with one or two more than the others. There are subtle differences in them that need to be looked at before choosing which one resonates with us strongest.

According to Jung the Child portion of our psyche is the heart center of our creative spirit. We look to this portion of ourselves to find our innocence, our creativity, our imagination, our playfulness and our dreams. According to Myss our Child is the “Guardian of Innocence” who helps us establish our perceptions on life, family, safety, nurturing and dependency. The Child archetype is the part of us that knows how to be blended with another and knows what it is like to be separate from another as well. It is the portion of us that sometimes does not know any better but can always learn. When we embrace our creativity and engage in child-like, not childish, behaviors, we are in touch with the creative child spirit from whom all playfulness flows. Our child spirit keeps us young at heart, fresh in our ideas and curious about life. When the child is forced to give up its dependency (as is normal in healthy ego development) it can develop feelings of fear based on perceptions, or actual experiences, of not getting what he/she wants or needs. This first foray into the powerlessness of the Child gives rise to our next archetype, the Victim. 

The Victim is the “Guardian of Self-Esteem”. As the child discovers that it is separate from its caregiver but subject to its caregiver’s whims (in other words, it does NOT control the universe as it once thought) it begins to experience the world of the Victim. The Victim archetype is “always” at the mercy of another’s whims, or at least that is the perception. Whether actual or true, and I am in no way minimizing actual victimization rather I am discussing the archetype of victimhood, the issues at the center of the Victim’s perception are dependency and empowerment. If one is dependent upon another for having their needs met, then they are at the whim of the other. If one gives up the dependency and empowers themselves to meet their own needs, then the nature of the dependency shifts and the fear of being responsible for their own self emerges. In an attempt to avoid being responsible for their own actions, they can fall back on their Victim identity and suggest it is out of their control what happens to them, thus re-entering the dependent circle of “other control”.  If they choose to embrace their independency and assume responsibility for their own actions and thus empowerment, they develop self-esteem and lessen their chances of being victimized or of victimizing others. By learning to embrace and integrate the Victim archetype one learns great lessons about Self, personal accountability, control, power/powerlessness, responsibility, boundaries, saying NO, self-pity, being victimized and victimizing. However, sometimes there may be some “benefit” to playing the Victim! 

When we learn that we can get sympathy or pity or assistance when we play the Victim, and we make that choice to get a little bit ahead, we have just been introduced to our Prostitute archetype. While one generally associates the Prostitute with selling one’s body for money, the archetype is actually about giving away your self, or bits of your self, for anything that disempowers you by “selling your Self short”. This can happen all at once or slowly over time. Where do you not trust that you are worth it? How much faith do you have that all will be fine and that all of your needs will be provided? The Prostitute archetype in Myss’ system is the “Guardian of Faith”. If you have faith you are not easily rattled and thus are not as vulnerable to being anyone’s “beckon call girl”. In other words, your spirit and soul are not for sale; there is no price high enough that would encourage you to violate your Self. Yet, we know that we do sell ourselves out for comfort and security at times; we do occasionally put material considerations and security above self-empowerment. The key is remembering that self-empowerment is, in fact, the journey. The question here is are you negotiating your spirit throughout the process on your path? If so, it is time to embrace and integrate the Prostitute archetype immortalized in the movie Pretty Woman, “I say who, I say when, I say how much”. In that way you are in control of your power and not negotiating it away. If you do, you have now come face to face with your Saboteur.

The Saboteur is our “Guardian of Choice” and our unawareness of its importance in our lives is where we “shoot ourselves in the foot” as we traverse our path to self-empowerment. The Saboteur rears its head when we are afraid to take responsibility for our lives and our choices. On the road to self-empowerment, or owning our power, we each have to decide what empowerment looks like. It will vary from person to person, based on life experiences, gifts, talents, passions, desires, up-bringing, and on and on; but the choice to become empowered, or remain disempowered, is the work of the Saboteur. The Saboteur generally speaks to us through that small nagging voice inside that tells us just how much we should fear the journey to self-empowerment and just how many of the things it will change in our lives all along the way. It is the voice inside that begs, practically pleads us, to stay small. The only way to win the respect and cooperation of this archetype is to follow your intuition and go forth bravely, with courage of heart, despite fear. Befriending the Saboteur is an important protection that helps you to discern what is truly in your best interest and what will ultimately empower you into your highest potential, regardless of the inevitable change that will ensue.  

The development of the psyche and its components is not a linear process and so the awareness and development of the archetypes is not either. These four survival archetypes are necessary to provide insight into our Sacred Contract and so should be explored and integrated as they express themselves, in all their facets, as we become more Self-aware. The journey of self-empowerment is the journey of knowing ourselves clearly and deeply and becoming masters of our own destinies. Fate sets the circumstances of our lives; it is up to us to consciously decide and pursue destiny. Archetypes are symbolic mirrors that help us discover what calls us from our own depths and sets us upon the path we promised to follow a long time ago.

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”


To explore archetypes in more depth:


Mary Sutton