What is an "Orphan Child" Archetype?
Archetypes are patterns or symbols that show up in different ways throughout our lives. Archetypes are cross-cultural and, according to psychologist Carl Jung, are part of the collective unconscious, which is an ancestral memory common to all humankind. For example, we all know the meanings of “dark” and “light” even if no one has taught us the meanings directly. “Going to the dark side,” indicates doing something mischievous or wrong, while "lighten up" means to not take things so seriously. Where did we get this idea? It’s all in our collective unconscious and our archetypes.
We all actually know what archetypes are even if we’ve never heard that word before. Think of some common phrases we say about people:
She’s the Mother of our group. She takes care of all of us.
What a Martyr! Always sacrificing himself for a cause.
I tend to be a Rescuer to everyone I am in a relationship with.
She's such a Queen! She’s always demanding things from people.
Many of us have the Orphan Child archetype in our lives. Orphan children do not have to be actual orphans, but sometimes they are. The Orphan Child simply does not fit in with their family of origin for whatever set of reasons; this could be ideological differences, religious differences, temperamental differences, or the result of intergenerational trauma. Whatever the case, having this archetype results in feeling disconnected from oneself and the world. People with this archetype feel lonely and unappreciated for their gifts, and because they have not internalized strong parental figures, they can feel aimless and untethered.
Many of our favorite characters from books, movies, and television are Orphan Children, such as Harry Potter, Batman, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. All of these characters undergo intense transformations as a result of feeling alone in the world. Although they receive help along the way from other characters, they travel most of their voyage alone.
The Orphan Child needs to learn that, although they don’t feel like they have a home anywhere, they must create a home in themselves. Not feeling close to your family feels a lot like a ship without an anchor: it feels as though there is nothing tethering you to the safety of knowing you’ll be ok. However, not having a strong family connection does not have to be detrimental to your development. In fact, when people don’t have this connection, they often unconsciously create familial bonds with friends and other figures to make up for it.
If you’re identifying that this archetype is part of your life, take the lesson that was given to Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz: the Good Witch, Glinda, visits Dorothy at the end of her voyage and reveals to Dorothy that she had the power to go back to Kansas the whole time by tapping her Ruby Red Slippers together.
“Well, why didn’t you tell her before?” asks Scarecrow.
“Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself,” says Glinda.
The Orphan Child must earn their gifts through extraordinary trials. Ultimately, these gifts lead them to who they are and where they belong in a deep, profound way.