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Renaissance as a Strategy

This post describes a technique which I developed a few years ago as part of my PhD thesis:

The work of the Archetypal Psychologists was grounded heavily in the culture and ethos of the renaissance, particularly the Italian Renaissance. For example, James Hillman and Thomas Moore both make frequent references to the work of Marcilio Ficino, an Italian writer, philosopher and adviser to the Medicis. Hillman talks about Archetypal Psychology as a Mediterranean psychology – full of olive oil, wine and the heat of the sun. He develops an imaginal view of the Renaissance. As ever, he is not interested in literalism, but rather in living in the image and what it represents. Thus, he takes the meaning and value-laden nature of the Renaissance and works with this. Let us follow his lead then, and develop further applications of archetype.

The material which follows grew out of an afternoon’s work aimed at developing an approach to a specific career development problem that I had identified.

There were a number of blocking issues in the workplace which needed resolve. In response to these problems, I developed a new model as an approach towards resolution. It became known as “Renaissance as a Strategy”. The issue identified was one of sustenance in a job. The career path for NHS managers typically involves a succession of jobs changing every couple of years. This is seen as essential to ensure that the individual has a wide range of experience in different sectors of the NHS.

The challenge comes when the individual needs to consolidate skills at Director or Senior Manager level. At this level it is expected that the pace of job changes within the career will slow down. I had often been critical of this turnover approach anyway, as it leaves clinical staff feeling cynical about the impact of managers who come and go, and never seem to stay around to follow through the impact of their actions.

For this reason, I had decided in consultation with a mentor that it was important to consolidate different skills and settle into a job for longer than two years. This would present a different set of problems to those associated with frequent job change.

Thus, the model which was developed was aimed at dealing with problems of fatigue, boredom at repetition, and above all, the need to refresh the personas which evolve in the individual over time. In other words, the need to reinvent the self.

The issue then, was identified as:

 ‘renewing the self so that tiredness of old views can be overcome.’

The tiredness of views encompassed two perspectives – the views I was holding about the work, and the views others were holding about me. The model would use two key approaches:

  • Specific highly visible actions
  • Persona shifts in archetypal mode

The first step, identifying specific highly visible actions, is a fairly standard approach to profile raising. It amounts to finding the things that count and doing them! This involved working through the key objectives for the year, mapping them to the critical “must do’s” and then setting out a manageable number of key tasks that would create visibility.

The second approach complements this, and aims at tackling the problems of “close-down” generated by the archetypal interplay within the work place. Over time, the members of a team build up archetypal maps of each other. They expect each other to behave in particular ways, and adopt specific aspects of their own archetypal cast in response to this. Thus we get interactions within constrained scripts. This can be useful for creating stability and predictable work environments. It is counter-productive though when the group needs to respond to changing situations.

The approach I am developing here is aimed at achieving a shift in the archetypal script.

In order to carry out persona shifts, the individual carrying out the exercise needs to interrogate their own interactions and look for archetypal traits. Thus, within my own workplace I was aware that I adopted a ‘puer’ archetype on a frequent basis, particularly in interactions with my manager, who would adopt a mother archetype. This was useful in some aspects of our interactions, but it was creating some limits that were proving unhelpful. Being the only male within a team, I was also working very heavily from an anima perspective in order to blend in with the prevailing culture. This was beneficial a lot of the time, but it had its limitations in some situations within the team, and was problematic in interactions with individuals from other teams. I was becoming type-cast!

The ‘persona shift’ identified first then, was the need to shift from the puer perspective to a different aspect in interactions with my manager. What would have a dramatic (and positive!) effect for all players involved? It would be important to avoid head-on conflict.

There were a number of possible options to adopt. For example, an interaction using the anima (feminine aspect of the male), or the senex (wise old man), or aspects of the shadow. There was also scope for using my own mother complex to interact with the mother complex in my manager.

Clearly, the options around the anima and mother complex might be productive in interactions with the manager, but would not shift things forwards with other members of the team. However, before jumping to conclusions, it is important to proceed to the next step.

This involved use of active imagination, taking a specific incident and testing out different archetypes with it to speculate on the outcome. This was attempted. Clearly, to be most effective and least contrived, a number of archetypes needed to be adopted.

In testing out the model, I adopted the senex and anima voices to support interactions. Over a number of months the nature of the dialogues between the manager and myself shifted. This changing of patterns takes a little time, but it can work well in situations where there is a need to shift the context, particularly where there are problems with conflict. The effect on the self of this type of exercise can be a form of forced or induced individuation. Old habits die hard, but they do die over time.