Understanding the Rebel Archetype

Written by on January 15, 2013 in On Archetypes

Swimming against the tideUnderstanding The Rebel Archetype

An American Icon

The Rebel archetype is a very American archetype and is in some ways a definitive behavior of the American individual and is inexorably linked to freedom. Its the wild, wild west with all it’s renegades and law-breakers. America was founded on rebellions from the Pilgrims and Puritans rebelling against the British monarchy to the so called heretics rebelling against Puritanism and religiosity such as Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson. Early mountain men were outsiders or mavericks and the wildness and freedom of America appealed to this type. The colonists later rebelled against taxation and other deprivations of freedom leading to the great rebellion known as the American Revolution. The rebel archetype continued to play out on the American theater in both the light and the shadow with the vengeful destruction of the Native American tribes to the rise of the abolitionist and the overthrow of slavery.The Confederate States of America which was formed prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War is an example of a collective type of outlaw and rebellion. For many, the formation of the Confederate States of America had less to do with slavery and more about states’ rights. Interestingly, the Confederate army soldier was also known as Johnny Reb, a clear reflection of the Rebel archetype. Later, it was rebels like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford that thrust America into the age of invention and technology. This idea of rebellion leading to innovation, reform and ultimately renewal is at the heart of this powerful archetype.

Variants of the Rebel Archetype

There are many varieties of the rebel archetype that might be helpful to think of as sub-archetypes. These include the revolutionary, the troublemaker, the provocateur, the free spirit, the maverick, the outsider, the outlaw and the reformer. Look for patterns of behavior that have been apart of who you are, throughout your whole life. Situations can bring out the rebel archetype in all of us, so in order to identify this archetype as a personal one, the behavior must be prevalent throughout childhood as well as adulthood. Below are several variations of the Rebel archetype to help you determine if this is indeed a personal archetype and what variant you feel most connected to.

The Revolutionary

The Revolutionary feels a strong pull toward righting wrongs. This type views the world and societies as unfair and unjust. The Revolutionary is not afraid of upheaval but actually finds it stimulating and encouraging. The potential for reform and transformation drives this archetype. The Revolutionary is also talented at seeing things in unique and thought provoking ways and are often natural leaders. This type can be also motivated by revenge, authority, power and control. The Revolutionary is not just political although that is the most common. They are also writers, artists, inventors and others who have done ground-breaking work that radically changes things.

  • Example: The scientist, Marie Curie and the Mexican artist Frida Khalo.

The Troublemaker

The Troublemaker is often labeled the “bad boy or girl” and trouble seems to follow this type. This variant of the rebel archetype is often viewed only negatively and, while its reputation is well deserved, the Troublemaker has some excellent qualities. While this type enjoys “rocking the boat” disrupting the status quo and provoking others, this can also be used to keep a relationship from becoming stagnant, for example. The Troublemaker is not afraid of the change that results from chaos and agitation. Change is a welcome relief for the Troublemaker archetype. By keeping things unsettled and stirred up, his type is useful for maintaining integrity of others and bringing to light corruption and decay. The shadow can be an anarchist, creating chaos for the sense of power it provides. Similar to an arsonist who starts fires and then enjoys watching the chaos that ensues, the shadow Troublemaker makes trouble and then steps back to enjoy the show.

  • Example: Benjamin Franklin, especially noted in his Silence Dogood letters.

The Provocateur

The Provocateur tends to be the intellectual, challenging others with words and causing others to think about their own ideas more deeply. These types are thinkers and can make excellent motivational speakers. They see situations and problems from a different perspective than most, challenging others to think outside the box. This makes them good problem solvers and effective debaters. They feel compelled to rouse others from complacency or conformity. The shadow side enjoys making others uncomfortable for their own amusement and likes the shock value of being different or edgy. They enjoy having the upper hand, using their wit and natural intelligence to keep others confused. They love the role of Devil’s Advocate.

  • Example: The writers, George Orwell and Gore Vidal.

The Free Spirit

The Free Spirit lives by their own rules and loves to be different and free from the constraints of the status quo and acceptability. This type often dresses outlandishly or uses tattoos and hair dye to set them apart from others. They thrive on standing out of crowd. Driven by their own compass they neither rely upon nor look to others for how to live their life. They are spontaneous and independent making this type difficult to parent because they have an aversion to routines, rules and regulations. The shadow side is obnoxious, needs constant attention and is fickle and unreliable. They can be indifferent to the needs of others and how their behaviors impact others. They may find holding down a job, or remaining in relationships a real trial.

  • Example: The character of Phoebe from the TV comedy, Friends.

The Maverick

The Maverick is perfectly fine doing things on their own and without the support of others. This type tends to be quiet about their ideas and unlike the free spirit they don’t need to show the whole world how different they are. The Maverick has a confidence and security with who they are. They can go against the grain, say what needs to be said without worry what others will think and are more than prepared to stand alone in their convictions. They live by their own moral code. In the shadow this moral code can be one of revenge or law-breaking. They can also be rigid, inflexible and loners. It may be difficult for this type to be a team player or to be an effective leader. Working with others and learning to negotiate is not this type’s strength. Leave them alone and don’t cross them. Like all Rebel types they tend to hold lifelong grudges against those who have wronged them.

  • Example: Henry Ford

The Outsider/Misfit

Similar to the free spirit, the outsider enjoys the perspective of being the dissenting voice, and having an outsiders view. They feel like they are too different to belong anywhere and that the status quo is the worst kind of prison. They are always doing the unexpected. This type can be eccentric, odd and offbeat. They secretly longs to fit in but once accepted finds the experience to be stifling. The Outsider/Misfit archetype shares some similarities with the Orphan Child archetype.

The Outsider or Misfit type will sometimes appear to be tough or unfeeling because always being on the outside or unable to fit in anywhere can be a challenge. This type struggles with loneliness and will often neglect the development of their potential or always highlighting their different-ness to set themselves above others. The light side includes, being unconventional and offering perspectives that can solve problems, inventive or being highly creative.

  • Example: Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.

The Outlaw

The Outlaw is another type of the Rebel archetype. With a “rules are made to be broken attitude” this type, like the others, lives on the edge and is willing to defy authority figures that make laws that are unjust. They are unafraid of confrontations and can even enjoy the notoriety. The outlaw has an internal sense of right and wrong that supersedes societal expectations. The legend of Robin Hood is an example of breaking the laws that are deemed unfair and dispensing justice on one’s one. The shadow side can feel justified in resorting to violence or simply enjoys the thrill of breaking laws and going against authority without any purpose or breaking the law for personal gains.

  • Example: Al Capone and John Brown.

The Reformer

The reformer feels a strong need to make changes in a world that is sorely in need of improvement. Unafraid of change and upheaval the reformer sees the value of disturbing the peace. This type is driven to improve the world beginning with their own lives. The tend to work on themselves constantly improving what can be improved. They also seek to improve the lives of others. This can be expressed in small ways such as becoming a physical therapist and helping to reform a broken body or in large ways such as leading campaigns against laws that are unjust. The reformer is willing to defy authority, leave their home and family to fulfill their goals of reform and social improvement. Any social movement such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Temperance Movement of the 1800’s all had reformers in their ranks. The shadow side can include being an extremist, narrow or single-mindedness to the point of becoming indifferent to the consequences and stubbornness.

  • Example: Jane Addams and Thomas Jefferson.

Shadow Rebel


For the Shadow Rebel resistance is as natural as breathing. They find themselves resisting or being contrary for no reason whatsoever. This resistance is an attempt to feel control. The Shadow Rebel frequently feels completely out of control. Being contrary or putting up a fight provides relief from this feeling. They need to push against something to provide them with a framework for an identity. While it would seem the Shadow Rebel knows who they are and what they believe in, the opposite is more true. The Shadow Rebel actually doesn’t know what they want, what they believe in or who they are except in relationship to resistance. They are seeking approval of others by using resistance to appear convicted and certain of themselves.

A good example of the Rebel is the two year old testing out his or her power by saying NO! to everything, even things that they really do want. The toddler that says NO! is developing into an individual who has an opinion and personal tastes and desires and resisting authority helps the toddler figure this out.  The Shadow Rebel experiences a similar internal power struggle but instead of having greater self awareness the constant resisting can cause the Shadow Rebel to become easily confused.

The Power of the Opposite

The Shadow Rebel lacks a developed personal compass. While they would like others to believe they are self assured and confident, the opposite is truer. This type of dichotomy is seen throughout the Rebel archetype and can create a great deal of confusion for a Rebel, lost in the shadow. They feel like walking contradictions. They need approval but reject it when it is given, they want to fit in but refuse to join when they are asked, insisting on doing things on their own and then complaining of loneliness. They have convinced themselves that they have a strong set of beliefs but in reality it is a weak construct of opposites on the verge of collapse.

This contradiction is caused by a lack of self-awareness. The need to have something to push against is the only way they feel certain of anything. Being contrary becomes a way of feeling grounded but it is temporary and always requires the Shadow Rebel to be in an arguing mode. Rather than being something which carries a lot of responsibility, they would rather oppose, which is an ambiguous and vague identity always ready to be collapsed in exchange for the next opposite. Developing the self-awareness necessary for the evolution of the Rebel archetype from shadow to light requires much humility, something that the Shadow Rebel sees as a weakness.

The Boundary Problem

The Shadow Rebel likes to push boundaries. They will push individual boundaries as well as social boundaries. The Shadow Rebel can be loud and disruptive during ceremonies where quiet is expected. They like to wear clothing that shocks others, either by what is written on the clothes or by their strange colors and styles. They will say what others are only thinking. They mock, deride and generally ridicule others and situations. They don’t understand the difference between rules, (those are made to be broken) and boundaries which involve respect and values. They can’t resist proving others wrong. They don’t need to be right, they only need to prove that others wrong. The Shadow Rebel is indifferent to the impact that they have on those around them as they trample on others boundaries and violate privacy.

Destruction is part of the Shadow Rebel as they tear down, not only that which needs to be torn down, but anything that displeases them. This lack of discretion and lack of reverence is embedded into the archetypal pattern of the Rebel. But a lack of appropriate boundaries is a real problem for the Shadow Rebel. While they would like others to perceive them as “devil may care” they actually suffer from their own loss of boundaries and self protection. The Shadow Rebel can only disregard others’ boundaries if there is a severe disregard for their own. Underneath the facade is a person in deep pain and much inner conflict. A rule of thumb for understanding the Shadow Rebel is the more they destroy, make fun of, shock others etc. the more they are crying out for help.


The Shadow Rebel is a classic reactionary. They tend to overreact to situations and have a reputation for being hot-tempered and easily angered. The desire for revenge can consume the Shadow Rebel if they feel sufficiently wronged. They react by making impulsive decisions that can have long lasting consequences. Restraint is not the Shadow Rebel’s strength. Making careless choices by reacting to situations can cause much trouble for the Shadow Rebel. There is a difference between a rebellious choice and a rebellious reaction and is one of the life lessons for the Rebel archetype. The Shadow Rebel is a reactor and is drawn to chaos.

The Shadow Rebel creates chaos and havoc to give them a sense of being alive. Like a daredevil, they are always pushing to see how far they can go without self-destructing. Being the bad boy/girl is a way for the Shadow Rebel to be their own person but in reality they are relying on the good boy/girl concept in order to know how to be bad. This conundrum is part of the confusion for the Shadow Rebel.  They detest conformity and yet they conform with predictable regularity, to non-conformity.  In their attempts to go against the grain they practice only what they are against and never discover what they are for. This requires the Shadow Rebel to always be comparing and judging which frequently leads to confrontations and conflicts. Judging and comparing allows the Shadow Rebel (via the power of opposites) to define what they are not and then try to fill those shoes.

This is the primary reason that the Shadow Rebel fears belonging and fitting in. They are afraid of losing the artifice of an identity that they have created through resistance. They fear losing this identity to the group or organization and then they will be truly lost to themselves. But secretly they long to be wanted, to feel like they belong and are a part of a larger family of human beings. This inner conflict of wanting two opposing values is part of the Shadow Rebel.


The Enlightened Rebel

The Inner Compass

The Enlightened Rebel has developed a strong inner self. This self is a guide for a life of integrity and personal truth that cannot be turned away from. Their personal power lies in their ability to blaze their own trail, by taking risks and by feeling free to express themselves in whatever way feels true to them. This inner compass makes great demands of the Enlightened Rebel and they have just the right amount of hutzpah and grit to live up to the demands.

The Enlightened Rebel may feel a strong call to act in a way that causes many people to feel uncomfortable and even angry but that will not stop them from acting. The men that signed their names on the document of the Declaration of Independence knew that doing so was a proclamation of treason and would be a death sentence if the cause they supported failed. This determination and personal integrity defines the Enlightened Rebel.


The Enlightened Rebel has at its core a desire for positive change through justice. They have learned that the Rebel is a big archetypal energy and requires responsibility and conscious choice making. Making choices for the Enlightened Rebel means also choosing the unseen consequences.

The Enlightened Rebel is an agent for change. They are good at bringing people out of their comfort zones and inspiring others to see how they can act to make a difference. The Enlightened Rebel is drawn to issues or situations that need reform and correction. They do not lose their tempers over injustices but they feel an urging to do something. This inner push helps them confront wrongs, speak the truth and allows them to take risks that others would shrink from.

The Enlightened Rebel does not serve a personal agenda of vengeance and does not seek power over others. This desire for justice and the fire inside of them that drives them toward healthy change, keeps them going against all odds. The Enlightened Rebel rebels out of necessity and by thoughtful and conscious choice. They accept fully the consequences of the pursuit of justice and provoking others from apathy and complacency.

Outside the Box

The Enlightened Rebel chooses to live outside the box. They are not afraid of new experiences and they are drawn to the unorthodox and unique. Living outside the box does not mean that the Enlightened Rebel does not enjoy close relationships and does not fit in with groups or get along as team player. It simply means that because they have discovered the power of choice and can decide when it is appropriate to speak up, to fight, to challenge and when it is not.

They have developed the restraint necessary to make empowered choices and to let their fire be channeled appropriately. They still enjoy challenging that status quo and conventions but do not become attached to a counter-convention. The Enlightened Rebel has the wisdom to concede when it is needed and has learned the immense power hidden in surrender.

Self Rebellion

One of the most powerful aspects of the Enlightened Rebel is the ability to challenge themselves. There is often a inner dictator that needs to be overthrown, a cruel and unjust overlord that requires a good old fashioned rebel to fight. Sometimes the Enlightened Rebel will recognize the need for a full reform of themselves.

Or the power of the Enlightened Rebel can be used to confront addictions and other compulsive behaviors. The Enlightened Rebel is always looking inward at the ways they may be stuck in complacency or apathy. They bring this quality of resistance and turn it into a force for awakening.

The Enlightened Rebel is a master at challenging their own beliefs and thoughts that are hindering them in some way. With their unique ability for unconventional behavior their solutions and creativity can be inspiring. When something is not working, the Enlightened Rebel is not one to put their head in the sand. The confront issues head on and with fiery vigor providing a clear direction for healing and transformation. Through self-rebellion the Enlightened Rebel finds their greatest power, the power to completely and radically change their own behaviors and their own lives for the better.

Predictability and the Need for Structure

Because the archetype of the Rebel is tied up in upheaval and change there is a strong need for structure and predictability, especially if you are raising a child with this archetype. This will bring a sense of security and balance to the Rebel archetype. If you feel you have this archetype and find your life in chaos that is okay, chaos is the beginning of order. Give yourself permission to plan and have a routine, even if that routine may not be followed. (You will feel compelled to break the routine periodically). Knowing what you value and what your inner compass demands from you will help you develop the discipline to practice restraint when necessary. Structure will give you the framework for exploring this archetype without feeling as though your life is being pulled into too many directions.

The Rebel energy is comparable to fire. Contained and used with caution and respect it is a powerful life changing force for good and creative endeavors. If wisely used, it can also be a tool of conscious destruction; but if you are reckless you might end up burning down the house.  Creating a routine becomes sacred space for making conscious choices and for deepening your understanding of this wild archetype.

Summary of the Rebel Archetype:

  • Values: Challenging the ordinary and conventional, willing to look at hard truths. Seeks justice and reforms.
  • Motto: “Rules are made to be broken.”
  • Weaknesses: Lacks convictions, eager for revenge, disregards consequences and is reactionary.
  • Strengths: Honest, open-minded, willing to change and stands for something.
  • Needs: Structure, humility, good boundaries, acceptance for who they are.



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  1. Avinash says:

    I enjoyed reading this post very much. I appreciate your wisdom, Susanna! As I am in a new beginning stage of my life at age 56, the rebel archetype speaks to me, especially The Provacateur and The Enlightened Rebel (inner compass, self rebellion, and predictability and the need for structure). Thank you, Susanna!

  2. Susanna says:

    Thank you Avinash for your comments.

  3. Layne says:

    Wow! the Rebel is strong with this one. Can you suggest ways to work with it? I have a couple of people in my life that I can’t NOT rebel against and it doesn’t feel good. It feels very automatic and unconscious, and very, very difficult to stop. One person in particular is very manipulative and inauthentic and so I almost feel this duty to be a mirror of opposites for them, so they can see how inauthentic they are being. Consciously, I know this is not my “job” but I HATE that they are manipulating people and situations to suit their needs.

    Anymore resources to understand and enlighten the Rebel within would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!!

  4. Susanna says:

    Hi Layne, thanks for your comments. First things first. That fact that you notice yourself rebelling is really amazing! Awareness is the only way to challenge the shadow and draw the pattern into the light. In my experience I have found that whatever I am pushing against is also in me. This gives me the chance to see myself in the mirror I am presenting to others. If I see “manipulative and inauthentic” in someone else I can guarantee it is also in me. The challenge is discovering how this is true, how I might be trying to show MYSELF something rather than the other. The ego finds this idea repelling and terrifying but when I keep inquiring in spite of my ego I am rewarded with insight and awareness of myself. Try using the power of the Rebel to rebel against the impulse to prove something to another person. You could try asking yourself “who am I and how do I want to behave?” By defining your soul’s truth you develop an inner compass that can direct you toward empowering behavior that does not play into resistance and control. You are courageous to explore this challenging archetype and I salute you!

  5. AlexPastor says:

    Brilliant. Thank you!

  6. Vendula says:

    Hi Susanna, thank you very much for this article. I think that I ‘m one of the shadow rebels which causes a lot of troubles in my personal nad work life as well. I’m 26 and still looking for what I want in my life and who am I so I change jobs and friends very often. I think, it’s not easy to switch from shadow to light. What is your recommendation to start with? Thank you!

  7. Susanna says:

    It can be challenging at first, to confront our shadows but truly it is the simplicity of awareness that begins to cause the change to occur. We don’t exactly make the change from shadow to light but rather we see clearly in the light and the distortions that appear in the shadow are made known to us. Awareness of our thoughts, our motivations and mostly our shadow behavior will cause the transformation to take place all on its own. The journey is the destination. Good luck with it all!