The Atlas personality, drawing on the story of the giant Atlas from Greek mythology supporting the world, is someone obliged to take on adult responsibilities prematurely. They are thus liable to develop a pattern of compulsive caregiving in later life.
Origins and nature
The Atlas personality is typically found in a person who felt obliged during childhood to take on responsibilities (extending beyond normal household chores or looking after siblings) such as providing psychological support to parents, often in a chaotic family situation.
The result in adult life can be a personality devoid of fun, and feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Depression and anxiety, as well as oversensitivity to others and an inability to assert their own needs, are further identifiable characteristics. In addition, there may also be an underlying rage against the parents for not having provided love, and for exploiting the child for their own needs.
While Atlas personalities may appear to function adequately as adults, they may be pervaded with a sense of emptiness and be lacking in vitality.
- Northrop Frye saw Julius Caesar as unable to evade the burden of leadership.
- The fictional characters Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Steven Universe are portrayed in their respective television shows as young people carrying age-inappropriate responsibilities.
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Persons suffering from Atlas personality may benefit from psychotherapy. In such cases, a therapist talks with the patient about the patient's childhood and helps identify behavioral patterns that may have arisen from being given too many responsibilities too early in life.
- R. Baron, Psychology (1995) p. 516
- N. Barry, Mother's Ruin (2013)
- L. Z. Vogel: Atlas personality
- John Bowlby, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (London 1979) p. 139
- Alice Miller, 'The Drama of Being a Child (London 1990) p. 38
- R. Rentoul, Ferenczi's Language of Tenderness (Plymouth 2011) p. 44
- E. Levine, Undead TV (London 2007) p. 36
- L. J. Cozolino, The Making of a Therapist (New York 2004)