Humans vs Archetypes: A Jungian Analysis of Game of Thrones
Jung believed in archetypes: the idea that there exists powerful and unconscious models of behaviour and personality
How do his ideas relate to GoT and Kit Harington's subsequent emotional problems?
If you are interested in Jungian therapy, find out more here
Last Watch, the documentary about filming the last episodes of GoT, sees a very emotional reaction from Kit Harrington – when I saw it, I thought to myself "You are in a mess, man".
The following day I read in the news that Kit has been in treatment in a private clinic in the USA. This made me think about the many people who have become famous, especially at a very young age, who have been broken by fame, the misuse of substances and the adoration of the audience, who can be very capricious and might turn their love into hate very quickly... Indeed, there is an enormous power in communities, especially when it creates emotional bonds, which can lead to a mutual addictive-like state. But, are we always conscious of it? Is there a way when therapy can help? What if we look at the process of addiction from a symbolic and non-pathologising point of view?
As a Jungian psychotherapist, I see the world from an archetypal perspective. This means that I pay attention not only to the myths we are living in but also to their almost irresistible power. In modern psychoanalytic language we call it "inflation", what in ancient times or in traditional religious societies we used to call "possession", which means "an invasion by spirits".
Jung believed that behind any illness, human suffering, or altered state lay the symbolic expression of a need for transformation, to restore a balance, to find one’s own identity through the Other, and to overcome suppressed memories and feelings. We know that "the analytic ritual" including the strict mantra "money, time, place" already provides support, safety and is healing on its own. Also, we know that identifying emotions and naming them helps reduce their power. But Jung also believed in the "objective psyche" and the religious function not as a defensive fantasy but as a need for a healthy life.
Jung used his method of amplification and active imagination as a way to listen to the unconscious as a language of a soul. The usual suggestion for someone overwhelmed by dreams, visions, emotions, and obsessive thoughts would include not only recognition, differentiating, and naming, but also systemic dis-identification through a personal dream diary, for example.
While dis-identification from one’s own feelings might sound defensive, but it means not only recognition but also helps you to differentiate yourself from the psychic content, from the unconscious. Modern science shows us that we can suffer from genetically inherited traumas that shape our day-to-day personality. With this in mind, why should a client identify himself or herself with events that never happened to them personally?
In 1929, Jung said: "We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases. Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world".
This idea can also be illustrated by another recent series - American Gods, based on a novel by the British author, Neil Gaiman. It is a refreshing story about the war between ancient gods like Odin and modern ones like New Media and Technology. The old gods are barely surviving and are losing their power because people are not interested in their outdated rituals anymore. Now, we are proud worshipers of the Churches of Facebook, Smartphones etc., and are barely conscious of our irrational, ritualistic and almost religious behaviour. In other words, any attraction is mutual; we need gods (substances, GoT fans, etc.) as much as they need us.
Jung’s approach also was about helping patients to recognise, differentiate and dis-identify with such archetypes as the anima / animus, the persona, and the shadow, in order to become "self-possessed", to create a strong but fluid ego and at the same time to respect instinctual or spiritual forces that are stronger than any human being. The biblical king James says that the fear of god is the beginning of wisdom. According to Jung, in order to avoid inflation or possession we need a companion who has a certain "amount of understanding and tries to keep the individual down to the human size". This role can be taken up not only by an analyst or therapist, but even a life partner, friend or a colleague, because life itself is the best teacher – though usually the capacity for self-reflective thinking is limited in ordinary interpersonal relationship.
Also, Jung pointed out the importance of the "protective wall" offered by supportive communities, which helps us to resist destructive archetypal forces. His suggestion to one of his patients who suffered from alcoholism led to the creation of such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance. In other words, it might be helpful to find and belong to a community of similarly wounded people but who are aware of their wounds.
At the end of the last episode of Game of Thrones, Tyreon says: "There's nothing more powerful in the world than a good story." GoT has become such a story itself, which is why it carries a greater risk of possession especially for those individuals who dared to act it for us but fell in a trap of self-identification with the powerful characters they played.