Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

The Dark Side of the Psyche: 8 Archetypes From Film & TV

Mar 7, 2019

Looking back through years of email newsletter statistics, the single thing I find most surprising is that "12 Annoying Office Personalities” remains, by far, our most clicked blog post of all time. 

Although I can’t say for sure why, I suspect the title appeals to a frustration common to every office worker who has had to endure the torture of certain team member “types” — typically those who lack emotional intelligence (also a very popular title). The intern who habitually changes the air conditioner setting to “arctic freeze” can be seen as a type, as can the manager who will hold a meeting, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, at the drop of a hat. But those are relatively specific business examples.

In the realm of psychology, there are said to exist much deeper, universal archetypes of the human psyche, linked to what Carl Jung famously termed the "shadow side" of the self. And since, let’s face it, a “business lessons from darkness” post is way more fun to explore than “business lessons from saints," below are 8 shadow characteristics you may recognise, in small or large part, within yourself or within others at your workplace. Some day I will rise above the marketers' obsession with clicks and headlines, and create more “positive" content to spread the light of love into this sad and wretched world. But not today.


1. Power’s Ally

Saruman represents the kind of morally grey individual you might meet who, despite seeming outwardly wise and trustworthy, only cares about your friendship or your organisation's mission to the extent that it places him in a greater position. Tainted by the allure of the One Ring, his end goal is ultimate power itself. (Game of Thrones’ Petyr Baelish would be another example of this opportunistic, sly, politically cunning operative.)

  • Saruman: [to Gandalf] A new power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Numenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power.


2. The Snap Thinker

This classic love story has as much to teach us about the infinite shades of beauty as it does the intricate subtleties of bias. Just as Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett woefully misjudge each other at first, in our modern age where “opinion is king,” increasingly it seems as though we are being given permission to “swipe left," to shame, to share news without source checking, and to confidently sum up based on snap impressions, soundbites, and click-driven media (wait a sec, am I part of this problem?) — all excellent firewood to inflame and perpetuate prejudice.

  • Mr. Darcy: So this is your opinion of me. Thank you for explaining so fully. Perhaps these offences might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honesty...
  • Elizabeth Bennet: *My* pride?
  • Mr. Darcy: …in admitting scruples about our relationship. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your circumstances?
  • Elizabeth Bennet: And those are the words of a gentleman. From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realise that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.[they look at each other for a long time as though about to kiss]


3. The Mob

The “mob” is often the most important and most overlooked antagonist in storytelling, which can be seen as any culture that drives cruel or unthinking behaviour. If we’re not careful, the mob can erode our sense of self, our individuality, spirit, or soul.

  • Maximus: You sent for me, Caesar?
  • Marcus Aurelius: Tell me again, Maximus, why are we here?
  • Maximus: For the glory of the empire, sire
  • Maximus: [to the crowd] ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!
  • Gracchus: [about Commodus] I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it's the sand of the Colosseum. He'll bring them death… and they will love him for it.


4. The Sociopath

Easily one of the best villains in cinematic history, Hannibal "The Cannibal" is a great (although extreme) example of the dark side of intellectual empathy (which is to say, cognitive empathy or understanding without feeling). He is able to get inside the minds of others and use his “high-powered perception” to intimidate and manipulate.

  • Hannibal Lecter: What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
  • Clarice Starling: He kills women...
  • Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
  • Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
  • Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature.


5. The Minister of Silence

"What makes a monster and what makes a man?" That’s the question at the core of the film and it’s not necessarily an easy one to answer. For example, where Scar (The Lion King) and Jafar (Aladdin) are your quintessentially evil Disney villains, Frollo, the Archdeacon and Paris' Minister of Justice, presents a far more complex antagonist. While the physically deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo grows more noble as the story progresses, Frollo, who is similarly besotted by the beautiful green-eyed Gypsy girl, Esmeralda, instead descends into the depths of madness as his cowardly underbelly is fully revealed. You might see this “bad guy” in the executive who is ideologically opposed to risk and changing the status quo.

  • Frollo: How dare you defy me?
  • Esmeralda: You mistreat this poor boy the same way you mistreat my people. You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help!
  • Frollo: Silence!
  • Esmeralda: Justice!


6. The Debbie Downer

The quotes speak for themselves.

  • Rust Cohle: I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist.
  • Marty Hart: Okay, what's that mean?
  • Rust Cohle: It means I'm bad at parties.
  • Marty Hart: Let me tell you, you ain't great outside of parties either.
  • Rust Cohle: I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution... I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing. Walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
  • Marty Hart: So what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning?
  • Rust Cohle: I tell myself I bear witness, but the real answer is that it's obviously my programming, and I lack the constitution for suicide.


7. The Incorrigible Innovator

Hammond plays the role of the jovial and eccentric “showman,” someone you might know who, despite intending no harm, doesn’t seem to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions in the pursuit of innovation, laughs, or entertainment. As we learn (or don’t, in Hammond’s case), just because you can create something, doesn’t mean you should.

  • John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!
  • Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.
  • John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before...
  • Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.
  • Dr. Ellie Sattler: But you can't think your way through this, John. You have to feel it.
  • John Hammond: You're right. You're absolutely right. Hiring Nedry was a mistake, that's obvious. We're over-dependent on automation. I can see that now. Now, the next time, everything is correctible...
  • Dr. Ellie Sattler: John...
  • John Hammond: Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it'll be flawless.


8. The Shareholders’ Slave

While not quite as gung-ho as the Colonel to let loose an onslaught of lethal military force to remove the native inhabitants from their home in order to extract the lucrative little grey rock known as "unobtanium," Selfridge clearly allows the profit motive and his sense of responsibility to the company and its shareholders to distort his personal sense of morality.

  • Selfridge: Killing the indigenous looks bad, but there’s one thing shareholders hate more than bad press — and that’s a bad quarterly statement.
  • Selfridge: Find me a carrot that'll get them to move, otherwise it's gonna have to be all stick.
  • Selfridge: What the hell have you people been smoking out there? They're just god-damn trees!

Topics: Emotional Intelligence- Psychology

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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