The 7 stages of Heroism
By Sarah Kopinsky – A little while ago I stumbled upon Steven Pressfield’s book: “No one wants to read your s^&t here, is what you can do about it!” I was actually looking to find something about good writing (as the title suggests) which would make you want to read, well this!
But where I stumbled, I found another kind of gold. An unique opportunity to address the wisdom of some great psychologists about our universal journey and development, and I wanted to share some of what I learned with you. So here it goes:
We all have fears which stop us from overcoming our own less attractive traits and don’t allow us to make the changes we want most.
There is a way to overcome this, but it does require conquering and learning as much as you can about yourself first. When done well, it is even possible that you will help to inspire others.
Now, when I say learning about oneself, I am talking about learning about your most real, intimate, vulnerable- not trying to fit in too much- most powerful – best version self, the version of you that you love most and that makes you smile just by thinking about it.
CG Jung, Joseph Campbell, Steven Pressfield, Erikson and Caroline Myss all spoke and wrote about it, most called it: “The Hero’s Journey”.
The Hero’s Journey
If you are curious about what it is that you might be in for…This is what it looks like:
Phase 1: We start in an ordinary world. Then we receive a call to go on an adventure.
We reject the call.
Phase 2: We meet our mentor (wise/more senior/ more experienced man or woman who has a major impact on us). Mentor believes in us and pushes us to accept the call.
Phase 3: Hero (that’s you) enters a special world, encounters enemies and allies, undergoes challenges and pain, but then becomes part of a selected group.
Now it gets really interesting…
Phase 4: Hero confront villain(s) + acquires something of great value.
Phase 5: Hero wants to escape, wants nothing more than to so badly return to the known and just leave and go back home.
Phase 6: Villains suck hero back in + hero needs to fly or fight again.
Phase 7: Hero comes home with a price (Elixer), is still part of the normal world, but now as a (very) developed and evolved human. Because the hero has endured experiences and difficulties.
Change on the inside
The Moral of this story is that the ‘change‘ is on the ‘inside‘ (Cheesy and the worst of all cliches, but also true) …and it takes time and great patience to develop.
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long possessed that he is set free – he has set himself free – for higher dreams, for greater privileges”.– James Baldwin (1961)
Especially in these times where we are at our most vulnerable and can miss having control over that which we felt we did, where great injustice occurs, where equality is not yet established for all, it matters most to use the opportunity to finally tackle those long-held dreams about our ideal selves and actualize them. Not just for ourselves, also for those we wish to stand up for. It matters most when our goal is to be of help and when our true vocations are to guide and support others. It matters to remind ourselves that taking the hero’s journey also means that we might make real lasting changes. It could mean that by doing so we will acquire the ability to come up with solutions that we never dreamed ourselves being capable of, let alone bring them with us to the table, before we found ourselves answering to the call of this experience.
Becoming Conscious of The Stories we Inherited or Sold to Ourselves for a Terrible Price
We all have infinite variations of stories we tell ourselves about certain topics. Things we want to change more than anything. The authors I mentioned all agreed that there is a “Hero Myth or Archetype” at play. This universal myth, exists in every culture, in every century and age and has always been centred around our (conscious and unconscious) minds. We don’t notice it at first, but when we think or learn about it through talking with others, we could find that we start to recognize that our stories also appear in our dreams, in our behaviour and in the way we act and think about ourselves and others.
The Hero Archetype explained
Jung (1967) perceived archetypes as the reflections of aspects of our psyches and minds – in which personalities play out a certain role in our lives. Now in freestyle translation:
We all have minds or souls, which reflect what we believe through our behaviour.-Jung (1967)
Jung found it highly likely that many stories originated from a much deeper source; the “collective unconscious” of human beings. All human beings often relate to these stories so well because we feel as if they hold great truths that we cannot deny.
The stories we tell, may appear to hold so many variations and editions, but when we look at them from a bigger distance, these stories can lead us into deeper understandings of our own psyches (souls) and minds. And can show us how connected humanity really is.
The stories we share mostly reflect on our shared universal concerns. The hero story often implies that we start asking and bringing up many questions we want answers to such as: Who am I? What is good and what is bad? What can I do about it? Why is this happening to me all the time? Why do I love the same type of person? Why is it so hard to set boundaries?
Learn to answer the most prominent questions
After we learn to answer the most prominent questions we have for ourselves, we might also find ourselves being incredibly more effective in all other aspects of our lives. As partners in all the roles we have. I have heard many describe the journey as a sense of rebirth. It can at first come with depression, anxiety, fears but at some point, we might find some sort of power within us that we were unaware of and had no idea we had.
The results of the questions we learned to answer (for ourselves) along our journey’s will likely greatly differ, but It could look like this:
We settle or forgive old pains.
We discover new ways to perceive ourselves and the world around us.
We get inspired to take real action and commit ourselves and our work to helping others.
We make plans in detail and know we can and will pull them off, and maybe even surpass what we set out for.
It can also mean we overcome our shyness and deep insecurities about ourselves. For some of us it could mean that we start reaching out to others because we finally feel complete and loveable, just as we now are.
As explained in my previous post about relationships (Assertive is the new nice), we are all shapers.
And it is super healthy and amazing that we are!!
We mostly use our ability to be shapers in romance and parenting. But the magical thing about this journey -which is believed to happen- is that we appear to change in form, in the felt energy of our presence by others. We might hear that we have matured in wisdom or gained better and very deep understandings of the human experience. We might find that we became more real, love much more profoundly and care for others in ways they find most meaningful. We might find that the love we have for ourselves now, made us more emphatic and easier to connect with.
You can see how development occurs as a wonderful example by Dr. Vaillant here:
As the hero tale implies: the journey doesn’t mean we won’t be called back by our old ways, and regress or fall again, or be tripped by old dragons. We could find that we at some point learned to see it as opportunities to manage better every time. From here, even even when we fail or fall, we can learn to see ourselves as transformed, imperfect and very worthy beings who now have self-esteem. Something we learn to keep sacred and protect.
Perhaps, what the Elixer represents is that what we really get to take back home from our heroic adventures is the power we bring back with us when we succeed to go through it.
We might not be fully aware of it at all times, but there is much psychological research evidence that tells us that we can shift the way we shape ourselves at any time we choose because we are very high in plasticity. We have the ability to turn into more, to develop, to change the way we use our coping styles, even change our personalities, during all of our lives. Personality is not fixed, and neither are some of our most hardwired believes and this is why we can learn to say yes to these absolutely terrifying and beautiful heroic journey’s.
Why the lessons don’t leave before we use them
Erikson (1958, 1963, 1979) taught us that our development has such high prehistoric value.
When lessons appear again and again it often is because these are areas that want to bloom and be developed within and without us. Psychological insight, is a way to do that. It makes us more conscious of ourselves and the world around us. Less overwhelmed, feel less helpless and angry or grieving our lack of connection to ourselves and others. Having or acquiring valuable insights makes all of us better equipped to face the ancient complexity of problems we have as members of the human race.
There is great comfort in knowing that perhaps one must get in trouble in the first place to gain something new and achieve anything of true greatness. Sometimes our Elixer is finding the man or woman of our lives, sometimes it is a degree we dreamed of earning. Sometimes it is building that loving home and environment, it can be any special dream we want to bring into our lives. Somehow, it is about the meaning and great power the reward of the journey has for us.
Being human means being faced with great and very complex decisions, incredible pains, difficulties and ordeals, but there is hope in this uncertainty because there is great evidence that we can become transformed by our experiences and that we can even use our experiences as the base and foundation of who we are and we can use it in a great amount of things.
Myss (2006) has done some great research on Archetypes.
She explained that we have life assignments which are encoded into our psyche or souls, that we have a sense of self that resides within us for all our lifetimes.
It is that part about us which informs us about our powers and affect us deeply, so that we build intimate and high quality realtionships with the people of our lives. Our calling might be the key to why we instinctively can see, feel and observe the type of people we meet throughout our lives. It can hold information about who we are and what we know about it. It can influence what is communicated to others about us -in our essence- and (mostly) in non-verbal ways.
When we choose to embark on this adventure, to become more and more ourselves and bloom and fully grow all aspects of who we truly are, to enhance how caring we truly are and how wise. This could not just change that others come to us when troubled for advice. It could also mean that we learn that we can be that person for ourselves when we need to take care of ourselves. It is likely that you will find yourself changed, when it comes to your relationships, careers, finances, your level of courage, creativity and the way you function. You might come up with very profound answers to questions about yourself you never thought you would learn to answer.
But you might also just simply find that the hero’s journey will help you to attribute to the lives of others, because you (the hero) now know to take your call very seriously. And that there is always, always a way back to answering it after you let it go to voicemail.
Answering our calls
Our calls can help guide us into our truest passions, and feelings, they can help us understand the stories we have written (and had no idea we had), Our hero’s journey can entail making developmental leaps we never thought we would ever make. This journey can help us feel part of something bigger, be part of much bigger lives filled with many loves, and make us inclusive human beings. Answering our call fort his adventure, might help us to increasingly appreciate our boundaries and value our self-esteem.
So to those of us who are afraid… when you are called by your great adventure and when you are called to be a hero in some form. You are allowed to first let it go to voicemail. You can wait until you find your mentor to inspire you to take incredible action.
The reality is, that it doesn’t matter at all how you decide to do it, it just matters that when you at some point, you remember to take your call.
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Baldwin, James. 1961. Nobody knows my name: more notes of a native son.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Third edition. Novato, California: New World Library.
Erickson, E. H. (1958). Young man Luther: A study in psychoanalysis and history. New York: Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1963). Youth: Change and challenge. New York: Basic books.
Erikson, E. H. (1979). Dimensions of a new identity. WW Norton & Company.
Jung, C.G. (1967). Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Myss, C. (2002). Sacred Contracts. New York, New York: Bantam Books.
Pressfield, S. (2016). Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It. New York, New York: Black Irish Entertainment LLC.
TEDx Talks. (2014, 28 november). From emotionally crippled to loving personality | George Vaillant | TEDxAmsterdam 2014 (SIGN LANG.). Geraadpleegd op 10 juni 2020, van https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKDsU96EVuk