“We connect by telling each other stories. We can better understand ourselves by recognizing and exploring our life narratives. Your life story is the tale that you repeatedly tell yourself about who you are, what you want, and what you can and cannot do.” – From the book What Story Are You Living?
It can be difficult to discover personal meaning and purpose when we don't zoom out to get a big picture of the patterns we are living. One way we can discover these patterns is through exploring the narrative threads woven through our preferences and behaviors. These narratives, or personal stories, arise from archetypes—or universal templates, themes and symbols—that resonate cross-culturally.
According to author Carol Pearson, Ph.D., there are twelve main archetypal patterns along the three stages of the “hero’s journey”, which map out the progression to individuation. Rather than a linear journey, Dr. Pearson explains that the path is actually a spiral one, where we re-visit previous stages and themes with increasing awareness and wisdom.
In this journey, we “play out” twelve main archetypal patterns identified by Dr. Pearson: Innocent, Orphan, Warrior, Caregiver, Seeker, Lover, Destroyer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Sage and Jester. To identify the main stories we are living, Dr. Pearson, along with Dr. Hugh Marr, has created the PMAI—the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator.
What Story Are You Living? by Pearson and Marr provides two self-scoring PMAI instruments that have been scientifically validated. In addition, this fascinating book—written at an eighth-grade reading level—explains mythic stories, how we live out particular narratives, archetypal stages of the journey and more. In addition, the authors explain the gifts and shadow sides of archetypes, showing readers how to work with archetypes, face the challenges of modern life and analyze the heroic journey unique to every person.
Archetypes with the lowest scores in the PMAI can also shed light on life patterns, including disowned parts of the self, dormant archetypes, “allergy” (overexposure to an archetype) and more.
About half of the book is dedicated to the exploration of the twelve archetypes. For each archetype, the authors provide a corresponding mythological story, a commentary on the story, and an examination of the archetypal character through film and literature. For example, Harry Potter, Voldemort, Merlin and Darth Vader all embody a form of the Magician archetype. Scholars, wise oracles, guides and detectives tend to exemplify the Sage archetype.
What Story Are You Living? also discusses the imagery of each pattern (for example, an opening flower, the beginning of spring, all forms of art and the sun all represent the Creator archetype), including how each manifests in nature, spirituality and leadership.
The authors also explain what others appreciate about each archetype, the gifts, highest potential, tendencies to guard against, likely courses of action when problems arise, and beneficial actions or qualities.
The results from PMAI scores and the wealth of practical information found in the book can serve to foster understanding and compassion for oneself, others and groups. By recognizing the archetypal stories lived by others—as well as ourselves—we can come to realize that others aren’t necessarily “wrong” or even “bad”, but simply see the world through a narrative lens different from our own.
Dr. Pearson and Dr. Marr stress that the PMAI instrument and the book aren’t to be used to “trump” others in an attitude of one-upmanship, nor is it to be used to fix others. Indeed, they explain that the best authority on your life—including preferred archetypal patterns—is YOU.
What Story Are You Living? also serves as a comprehensive workbook, inviting readers to examine their childhood memories, favorite myths and fairytales, troubling times and satisfying/fulfilling times. By fleshing out memories and perspective spanning our entire life, we can then ascertain the overall plot of our current life stories—including pitfalls and strengths.
The Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator and this book can help you:
• Discover the archetypal patterns and themes that are unconsciously influencing your life
• Replace unproductive life patterns by awakening unrealized potential
• Discover hidden strengths, motivational triggers and new career directions
• Improve personal and workplace relationships
For years now, I’ve been a student of archetypal theories. However, some authors, like Caroline Myss, seem to over-complicate the topic by hair-splitting and over-specification. I’ve seen individuals debate Detective versus Scholar versus Librarian versus Truth Seeker—when, to me, they seemed to be expressions of the same unifying archetype. And, in What Story Are You Living?, the authors explain that all of these patterns fall under the Sage archetype.
I appreciated the engaging style of this book, as well as the immensely pragmatic approach of the authors. The intricacies offered for each archetypal pattern was utterly uncanny, making it quite easy to spot the main patterns of my family and myself! My main archetypal patterns at present are Sage (28), Creator (28), Magician (26) and Warrior (25), and these patterns do indeed comprise the “myths” that I live by.
I laughed aloud (rather ruefully!) when I read that one of the Creator’s tendencies is to “reduce life to raw material for art”. I’ve been known to “pause” a scene from my life—a situation I’m actually experiencing in “real time”—to take notes for an idea or creative project! (Not very subtle, I know…but you should read the funny example of this very inclination from the book!)
The Creator archetype also explained to me why I have a “highly developed critical sense”, which can work in positive ways (reviewing and editing), but also manifest in rather destructive tendencies (strong inner critic that can undermine the confidence of self and others). This archetypal pattern also helped me realize why I strenuously avoid the “ordinary, shallow and the mundane”—which can border on elitist attitudes (*wince*).
My childhood fascination with Nancy Drew and the detectives of Agatha Christie was also explained, as was my fondness for books, libraries, mysteries, research and “the truth” (Sage). In fact, a combination of two of my highest scores—Sage and Magician—explained my penchant for crystal balls and oracles (after all, I AM a Tarot reader!)
If you’re looking for a practical workbook and test to discover the archetypes that drive your life, What Story Are You Living? serves as a fantastic resource for individuals, groups, therapists and coaches. You CAN become the “hero” of your own journey, but the first step is uncovering the powerful archetypal stories that influence your thinking, perspective and behavior.
Content copyright © by Janet Boyer. All rights reserved. This review was written by Janet Boyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission.