In the past posting we looked at how the evolution has conditioned us to react with automatic reflex under certain context. The reptilian brain was designed to aggressively protect ones own territory. If someone came into our territory they got aggressively chased out. When we are afraid and sense danger we automatically  go  into  fight – flight mode to get out of danger.

As life got more sophisticated, evolution found a way to allow living in-group setting without being overly aggressive and seriously harming each other. There is a distinct advantages of  being able to live in a groups. As mammals started to live in a groups their behaviour got more sophisticated; the need for fighting and the rule of sexual engagement was handled through rules of status hierarchy . Long before Carl Jung described the workings of the archetypes in humans, and even long before we come on the scene, mammals were dealing with the archetypal themes that enabled sexual competition, loyalties and betrayals,group living and tribalism, submission to leaders and fear of dominant males , the striving for status and social position, cooperative hunting and working together.

Our minds are still preoccupied with these themes today. Our desires that flow within us were implanted in us not only long before us but long before all humans. It is tragic that sometimes our brain gets turned on and off according to the evolutionary journey our brain has taken; resulting in knee jerk behaviour causing enormous damage. I myself have said things to my loved ones in anger, which with all my heart I wish I could take back. This happens when we simply turn off our capacities for compression and let cruelty flourish. We are then in danger of losing balance. We may become cruel and callous to ourselves with self – criticism , self dislike or even self-hatred. Because we are doing it to ourselves, like bullies who have no one to stop them, we think its fine to be self -uncompassionate. But it’s not fine.

We have an intelligent and creative mind; let us not be dominated by the past protective but now destructive evolutionary strategies. It is these strategies when triggered out of context that puts us at risk. They don’t work very well in our fast paced and sophisticated society of today. We can reduce the risk of these strategies being triggered inappropriately by conquering fear,anger and desire to harm with simple caring and compassion.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

Jungian Archetypes – another way to understand ourselves.

Is appearances and current fashion important to you? Do you need social approval ? Are you open to being loved and cared for or do you feel anxious about losing the love of others and need constant reassurance; or do you avoid close relationships ? These and many other questions of our behaviour may be better understood in terms of Jungian archetypes.We have already discussed how evolution has shaped our mind , brain and behaviour. The archetypes are further refinements in trying to understand ourselves.

The idea of archetypes have been around since the time of antiquity, in the days of Plato; but Carl Gustav Jung used the term ‘archetype ‘ in a particular way. He suggested that our behaviour towards different themes in our lives is directed by  special systems in our mind, which organizes our motives, thinking, feelings and fantasies. He called them archetypes. They are like inner guides that orientate us towards certain things and motivate us in certain ways. They have evolved over time and helped us navigate through the basic tasks of life. These tasks include children becoming attached to parents and obtaining care, adults forming relationship with peers, becoming sexually interested and engaging in procreation, caring for off spring, growing old, seeking meaning, becoming wise and coming to terms with death.

Lets look at some examples. Mother archetype represents a caring figure and makes us respond to being cared for or mothered. The sexual archetypes, anima in the man and animus in the woman, gives us sense of the desire and behaviour towards the opposite sex. The persona influences our social orientation and tries to keep our reputation clean so that we will find acceptances socially. The shadow represents those aspects that exclude information from consciousness about our true intent or motives. the hero archetypes motivates us to take risk, excel in the eyes of others and propel ourselves forwards. It can be linked to social motives such as helping others or  to darker motives such as wanting power to control others.

Jung suggested that archetypes can over or under develop in us. For example people with over developed persona organize much of their behaviour around the need for social approval. They think only of current fashions and their appearances; often losing sense of their own individuality. A person with deflated Persona care not at all for what others think; they either become courageous changers of the world or anti-social.





Jung suggests that the way an archetype matures and functions is affected by both our personality (genes) and our experiences. For example, we can have a stunted mother archetype if our relationship with our mother didn’t work out; we would not have been inspired and guided towards love and comfort in the arms of our mother when we were infants. As adults, we might spend a lot of our life searching for mother or father figure who will love and protect us like a parent. Or we can completely shut down our need for care and love and not want anything to do with close caring.

Like all archetypes, hero archetype can also develop in different ways that could be either good or bad depending on your perspective . The point is the archetypes are just a ways of describing and thinking about different aspects of ourselves. Because the archetypes are evolved predispositions, they are shared with all human beings and , in this sense , are  our ‘collective consciousness‘. They are largely unconscious but we feel them in us when caring for others, our desire for sex, our desire for friends and to belong to groups or our desires to destroy our enemies.


The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

Has Our Brain Evolved Enough To Show Us The Way To a Better Life?

In the last post we looked at how the reptilian brain evolved to solve problems of survival and how we are still influenced by that pattern of behaviour; since what is encoded in our genes cannot be changed, future life forms can only evolve by building onto what we have already inherited from the previous life forms. I also mentioned how the  mammals attempted to adapt to new situations and what some of the drawbacks were  associated with their strategies. Today I want to look at how humans have evolved, what strategies have been adopted by us and if they are working for us to live a good life.

Remember with primitive brain, as I mentioned in my previous posting, there is a quick, aggressive and  automatic response in a given situation; either to satisfy a desire or to protect oneself or to protect a territory . These are strategies that got evolved and developed over millions of years; and have a survival value. That’s why we still carry them in our genes today. They have become like a game plan for life. Overtime these game plans or strategies have become very elaborate and there are components in our minds that are quick to pick on certain types of information and then helps direct our attention, feelings, reasoning and behaviour. These patterns of behaviour can be activated quite fast and sometimes become active before we are even aware of them and you find yourself asking ” why did I do that, what was I thinking ?”

Lets looks at some of the strategies/ archetypes and how they influence us in everyday life. Quite often some of these guiding strategies and archetypes have element of a seductive quality to them because we like the way it makes us feel and its mode of thinking. Let say for example we belong to a particular religion, we like the way we feel about it and its way of thinking. This suggests that we have accepted the archetype of the religion and identify ourselves as belonging  to it. It also means that this religious archetype will fill us with passion and direct our thinking so that we believe and follow all its teaching. So far so good. Now, suppose another religion who we had been working with for many years on joint projects, suddenly started to advocates for having abortion in certain situations and your religion thinks allowing an abortion in any situation is a serious error.We will automatically , without thinking , starts to condemn this new position taken by the other religion because we have already endorsed the archetype of our religion. When we first endorsed  the archetype of our religion no one at that time advised you of the risks of losing your own individuality or the potential of violence due to disagreement with other religious groups. One simply gets infused with the desire to belong, be part of , follow and conform. We forget we maybe limiting our way of being.

Lets take another example of girls with blonde hair. You say “she is starting a new job and she is a blonde.” Immediately image of this person flashes across our minds without even giving it a thought. Or a blonde girl may say I can’t do mathematics because I am blonde and we immediately understand her reasoning. It’s because there is an archetype about girls with blood hair. You can see these strategies and archetype limits our thinking and therefore our behaviour ; but they do communicate information which can either be accurate in certain situation or very distorted in others. We can also see we can easily fall in with archetypes of  feeling and thinking; which doesn’t allow us to think critically about the assumptions we adopt. Knowing this can lead to some very important insight about the whole nature of our minds.

Let us see now see how the human brain has been improved so that our behaviour is not just a destructive reaction triggered by impulses of our desires? The major new abilities are the use of language and symbols, to think things through, to reason, to reflect, imagine new possibilities and even impossibilities. These new abilities allows us  to stand back from and reflect on what is going on in our minds, and in what we are feeling and doing,that we can do things differently then what our impulse dictates. This potentially  gives us a great flexibility in how we choose to enact different desires and motives. For example, we can separate sexual pleasure from the consequence of the act by using contraception; acquire status and put off having children altogether ; or become celibate in pursuit of enlightenment.The point is than that the desires may not have changed that much over time but because of  our human brains, we can invent thousands of ways to act them out or to refrain from them,which is both a blessing and a curse.

So what can we do to improve ours lives so that we are at peace, live without fear and with ease ? We can learn to understand how the old strategies and archetypes influence us. We can then learn to stand back from identifying with any archetypal process and instead, first think of ourselves as sentient life form that owe our current existence, experiences and competencies to the millions of other life forms that have gone before us. Next, we can identify ourselves with other human. We have all ‘simply arrived here’ and are trying to do the best we can with the brain we neither designed nor, to some degree, understand. We can recognize that we have enormous capacities for being benevolent or malevolent,which we need to understand with compassion. Only then should we start to think about ourselves in more local terms, such as our religious or political group. Our mind seems to be wired in the opposite direction, to stir up strong passions of identification with our local group. BUT it is understanding how we work against those passions generated by selfish interests AND by identifying ourselves as human being in the flow of life that can become key to our action for a better life.


The Compassionate Mind  By Paul Gilbert 

Question For Fathers From A Daughter.

I recently come across example of how important fathers are to their daughters. One of my patients in her mid twenties having difficulty trusting men, especially older men but also younger men of her own age. Resulting in her having difficulty forming a healthy relationships with men. After talking to her for a while there was nothing remarkable about her childhood. She seemed to have had a happy childhood. In her early twenties however she had a bad experience with one of her professors at a university. She looked to the professor as a father figure with wisdom and life experience. They had many conversations about life and the topics she was interested in his field of speciality. The girl found him to be very knowledgable and she was inspired by his thoughts and ideas.

Overtime it come to light that the professor did not look at her as a daughter or as a young student thirsty for knowledge but more as a potential women to have a relationship with. She confronted him with this and straighten things out. She made it clear that she was not interested in a relationship with him. It never the less left her wondering about men in general.

Soon afterwards her real father who had been divorced from her mother for a while started to date with a lady who was much younger than him. She felt uncomfortable with this but didn’t know why. It occurred to her that her concept of ” father archetype” was threatened. She said “if the professors and fathers are trying to have relationships with younger women who is protecting these young women?” Is this not  the role of fathers and professors in trusted position?

I had no other answer other than agree with her. I only asked her that she should be little kinder to herself and to her father by relaxing the “father archetype” definition. The father archetypes concept is only a guide to what father figure ought to be like. Not all men abuse their position of trust. Her father ( she agreed ) genuinely loves the younger women he is with and there was no abuse of trust in their relationship. I also asked her to talk to her dad about how she feels about his behaviour; he may shed some light on his behaviour that may allow her to be kinder to herself and  to her father; I told her that she should also talk to a counsellor . Hopefully, this would result in her having a healthy relationship with her father and men in her life.

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