March 21, 2017 Pearson Blog: Finding Yourself in the New Tribalism

By Carol S. Pearson


Neotribalism is a sociological term that describes the way many countries are splintering apart in response to a global society in which it is difficult to find our individual identities with so much coming at us to choose from in terms of lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Ancient ethnic and racial identities are re-emerging internationally, accompanied by actual violence or, closer to home, rhetorical violence. In such traditional systems, loyalty to family and the group typically is valued over discovering one’s personal identity. In addition, new kinds of tribes are forming around areas of shared self-interest and belief that would not inherently require such loyalty or animosity toward competing groups. Yet, intergroup anger is being hyped up to serve the interests of various media organizations and political movements, which can make people act more like members of tribes attached to one another by blood and history.

In a countertrend, people in developed countries are being encouraged to develop their individual identities by attaining a sense of calling and purpose, and to find and live an authentic life. So how can this be done in the context of this new tribalism? Depth and archetypal psychologies are particularly helpful here, as they assist with identity formation that goes deeper than tribal loyalties or the ego’s dependence on finding a basis for feeling more correct and valuable than others.

Archetypes That Help You to Find Yourself

In one’s teens and twenties, an important growth challenge is to find yourself—to develop a sense of identity and to learn to make choices that are right for you in areas like work, love, lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Some years later, many of us discover that we need to rediscover ourselves and make new choices. Two primary archetypes play a critical role in this process at any time of life: the Seeker and the Lover.

  • When the Seeker archetype is active, we find ourselves by differentiating from others, exploring new possibilities, and seeing what fits for us and what does not. We constantly protect our freedom and individuality. When joining a group, we are likely to notice how we are different. Whether or not our family of origin was supportive, we perceive the ways we differ from them, and search to “find our tribe,” meaning those who are more like us. In our teens, it is the group we hang around with, especially if we see this group as representing something important about us. Usually by our twenties these choices become more conscious, but if our Seeker tends to predominate over our Lover, we may move from one group to another, always in search of the best fit, or even identify ourselves as loners, avoiding truly feeling part of any group. If we want a long-term partner, it is important that they support our independence and not tie us down overly much. In work, we gravitate to roles that reflect our unique talents and in which we can do our jobs in our own way, while allowing us to continue to always explore new things.
  • When the Lover archetype is active, we find ourselves by discovering who and what we love. In adolescence, this may determine our choice of the crowd we hang out with, or thereafter, any group that provides us a sense of belonging and close friendship. The process of finding ourselves can begin with identifying friends we really love to be with, who may even become pals throughout life. In romance, it will be expressed in the desire to find a “keeper” and commit over time, valuing a strong, intimate relationship. It also can be recognized in a desire to do work we love and a preference to find a workplace where we can be part of a community in which people know and care about one another. Our commitment is such that, whether to a spouse/partner, family, close friends, field of work, or various chosen communities, losing any of these feels like losing part of ourselves.

Most of us lead more with one or the other of these archetypes. However, if that lead is too absolute, we can end up friendless and lonely or so enmeshed in a relationship or a group that we lose ourselves.

The more any of us knows about this balance, the better the choices we can make for ourselves and the more honest and authentic we can be with other people in our personal lives and careers. This is important so that we do not inadvertently string them along, trusting that they will get something from us that is unlikely to happen. Moreover, it can be helpful to notice when either of these two archetypes is so active that it suppresses the other. In such situations, the Seeker can ruin your relationships, and the Lover, your capacity to experience the wider world.

Seeker and Lover in the World Today

Are you perplexed about what is going on in the United States, Europe, and rest of the world? Understanding the dynamics of these complementary archetypes can help. People with high Seeker archetypes have an easier time with globalism than those with more Lover. The Seeker enjoys having new experiences, knowing people unlike themselves, changing jobs and beliefs, even growing to meet new situations. However, globalism may be more of a threat to those who lead with Lover, if encountering many different cultures with various values undercuts their faith in the primacy, or even the values, of their tribal identity groups. Those with very high Lover—even when finding identity in their personal and work relationships—may also need to feel as if they are part of a tribe: their religious group, their racial identity, increasingly in the U.S. their political party or a subgroup within that party, and potentially even through their identification with a sports team they support or the school they graduated from. (However, if such associations are shallower and related just to a desire to belong rather than to identity formation, group loyalty will become a poor substitute for actually finding oneself and one’s authenticity.)

A Country’s Seeker/Lover Founding Dream

The founding dream of the United States incorporated both archetypes, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which held that all people had unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Patriotism, in the context of this informing dream, is about fostering everyone’s access to these rights, a goal that requires both the Seeker and the Lover. Maintaining that this dream applied to all Americans furthered a sense of mutuality, since my having my rights depends on you having yours. And, since the majority of our ancestors were Christian, a commitment to “love one another as oneself” (a commandment that is central to most modern religions) offered a complementary goal of actually caring about one another.

At the same time, the focus on liberty and the pursuit of happiness is straight out of the Seeker playbook—taking a journey for fulfillment and success, where joy in the experience of adventure is also valued for its own sake. In this way, the Seeker archetype is of particular assistance in meeting the contemporary demands of living in a global context because confronting the unknown is viewed as exciting rather than scary.

At present, the tribalism that characterizes our civic and political lives is undermining the sense of American national identity, creating enmity between and among us, similar to how national identity is splintering in countries throughout the world. Yet, our current global context challenges us to also care that this dream be available to those around the world who want it, for some through immigration to this country but even more so through promoting human rights and democracy internationally. The sad fact is that tribal-based splintering of larger coalitions will continue unless and until we, as individuals, find a source of identity and authenticity that can ground us in who we are. Without this grounding, we are fated to regress to accepting the faux identities offered by ancient and new tribal groups and the limited options they provide.

Only the balance of the Seeker’s adventurousness and the Lover’s ability to make authentic commitments can engage us to take advantage of the many choices a global world and free society afford us about what we can think, do, and be.

Finding your most authentic balance of Seeker and Lover is good not only for you; it is also good for the world. Each of us needs to start with finding ourselves and our own authenticity. Only then can we move to promote that opportunity for others and become cosmopolitan in our outlook. We do this in spirals expanding outward from within our tribal groups to our nation, and potentially to the world.

Thought Questions:

What makes you, you?

Where are you finding your identity through following desire leading to commitment?

Where are you finding who you are through differentiating from others?

Is there any situation in your life in which one of these archetypes is crowding out the other in a way that causes you problems?

What tribal groups—ancient or new—do you feel an identity with?

To what degree do you feel loyal and connected to your country, wherever that is?

Where are you on the continuum from placing yourself first to also protecting the good of others? The person closest to you? Your close friends and family? Various groups you are a part of? Your country? People around the world?