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Awakening the Mythical Typhon: Understanding and Addressing the Sleeper Effect with Logoteleology

Updated: Apr 23

When our inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate.
 ~ Carl Jung ~

Zeus and Typhon in Battle

Sometimes, I am asked a version of the question, “Does Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP) assist individuals in fixing (healing), preventing, or managing (e.g., coping) life challenges?” The answer is a resounding yes to all. MP can heal, prevent, and manage life’s daily demands. We certify psychologists whose mission is to harness this power and help people navigate what life might bring and thrive. However, the true strength of MP lies in its emphasis on prevention, offering encouragement and hope for a brighter future. (I will use MP and logoteleology interchangeably since they mean the same.)

We agree with the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, there is more to it. Followers of MP understand the urgency of addressing life challenges. They don't just understand, they act. They recognize that the science emerged from a paradox, “Mankind, … does not suffer from a lack of answers. Rather, it suffers despite the answers being available.”  (Marrero, 2013)[i] This paradox underscores the need for swift action to prevent and manage life challenges, especially self-inflicted pain and suffering.

Here is an example of this paradox in modern times. Dr. Paul Wong (Wong, 2011)[ii] wrote in one of his papers the following:

“Takamori, Akehashi, and Ito (2006) observe that: ‘Modern society is plagued with ills such as violence in its many forms, including tyranny, terrorism, murder, and suicide. Real answers to these problems continue to elude us. Our advances may have made us richer, but they have not done anything to ensure our happiness or provide us with a sense of abiding meaningfulness. In fact, modern life often seems only to bring more acute feelings of isolation, loneliness, and emptiness’ (p. ix).[iii] How can we be freed from all these human miseries in spite of material prosperity?


They point out that this question was addressed more than 25 hundred years ago by Siddhartha Guatama (Sakyamuni), the founder of Buddhism. Born a prince, raised in privilege and luxury, and blessed with everything that people ever dreamed of for happiness, yet his heart was not happy. He was troubled by existential givens of old age, sickness, and death; and he was burdened by the suffering of fellow human beings. As a result, he devoted nine decades of his life to search and spread the wisdom of how to achieve inner peace and happiness by being freed from ignorance and greed—the root of all suffering—so that people can experience the joy of being alive.”


Unfortunately, for the record, problems persist even after 25 hundred years since Gautama Buddha walked on this Earth. For this reason, MP practitioners study and help people understand why problems persist and what to do about them.


REMEMBER: There are answers to self-inflicted suffering! The challenge is understanding why self-inflicted suffering persists and learning how to allow solutions into our lives.


Meaningful Purpose: A Way of Life

Meaningful Purpose A Style of Life

Another important point to understand is that MP is more than a theory. It is a way of life focused on prevention and thriving simultaneously. For instance, MP embraces Positive Psychology and Positive Psychology 2.0 tenets. As an example, we all share the importance of shared values and virtuous behavior.


Backed by science, MP students learn the importance of

  • living a prosocial life (love)

  • promoting psychological and physical safety (peace)

  • investing in what generates well-being, gratitude, and contentment (happiness)

  • engaging in productive and responsible service for noble ends

  • building individuals, groups, and societies that prosper wholesomely


We call these “The Five Meaningful Strivings” or the meaningful path. These are MP standards for a virtuous life.

Following the Five Meaningful Strivings helps us prevent problems and do things that enable thriving. Our approach includes granting importance to the aforementioned virtuosity. Students learn and understand virtuous values and how to put them into practice. In addition, MP students are taught techniques to assess the strength and quality of their moral compass, as well as their willingness and ability to follow the meaningful path in letter and spirit. In addition, students also learn how to do inner work to reveal, remove, and replace hidden barriers to thriving. These out-of-awareness dynamics include, among others, the sleeper effect and defense mechanisms.

The Sleeper Effect

The Sleeper Effect

MP students learn about the “sleeper effect,” also known in criminology as the “latent criminal.”  This pertains to individuals who may appear to conform to societal norms and exhibit prosocial behavior under normal circumstances. However, they may harbor tendencies towards antisocial behavior, including crimes and deviant acts. These tendencies remain dormant or latent – out of awareness -- until certain triggering circumstances or factors arise and release them.

This concept underscores the importance of understanding the underlying mechanisms contributing to antisocial and reckless behavior. It also points to the need for preventive measures to address risk factors and mitigate the potential for senseless acts.

Ervin Staub (Staub, 1989)[iv], in his work on genocide, believed that under the right conditions, everyday people would destroy human life. He stated, “Evil that arises out of ordinary thinking and is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception.”

On the other hand, Christopher R. Browning (Browning, 1992)[v], referring to Zygmunt Bauman’s “Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, 1989),[vi] wrote, “Bauman argues that most people ‘slip’ into the roles society provides them, and he is very critical of any implication that ‘faulty personalities’ are the cause of human cruelty. For him, the exeption – the real sleeper – is the rare individual who has the capacity to resist authority and assert moral autonomy but who is seldom aware of this hidden strength until put to the test.”

Staub and Bauman's assertions are backed by credible evidence and empirical studies. Free-willed ordinary humans can and do harm despite the fact that they, too, have the capacity to resist. Just read or listen to the daily news about the latest tragedy in someone’s life.

A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
~ Viktor Frankl ~

I am not proposing that all unconscious unresolved issues within faulty meanings drive people to commit felonies and misdemeanors. However, evidence reveals that hidden and latent low-quality meanings can, do, and will cause people to do inappropriate things when triggered by the right conditions. This requires that people are afforded the opportunity to examine the content of meanings to test how intelligent and healthy they are.

Sleeper Effect: The Evidence

Though controversial, experiments such as Phillip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment (Craig et al., 1983) signal the symptoms of the sleeper effect. Zimbardo wrote,  “Most dramatic and distressing to us was the observation of the ease with which sadistic behavior could be elicited in individuals who were not ‘sadistic types.’” This scenario was “a sufficient condition to produce aberrant, anti-social behavior.”

Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience to authority (Milgram, 1974)[vii] also reveal the sleeper effect on personality. In his research, participants were induced to inflict severe pain through ever-increasing electric shocks.  Comparing his experiments with the actions of the Nazis in WW2, Milgram concluded, “Men are led to kill with little difficulty.”

“[T]here are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”
~ Viktor Frankl ~

In war conditions, the sleeper effect can manifest in various ways, often influenced by the extreme stress, trauma, and moral ambiguity of combat environments. However, is there a remedy?

Sleeper Effect: The Remedy


Fortunately, people also have the power to resist harming others. Nevertheless, it requires a deliberate and competent approach:

  • First, MP practitioners help the individual become aware of the intrinsic potential of choice, including perceiving, sorting, evaluating, following, or resisting an alternative.

  • Second, the individual must acknowledge their existing capacity and power to choose as a self-determined person. This entails understanding and embracing the definition and expectations of being responsible and accountable for choices.

  • Third, verify and vet the content and quality of one’s meanings (intelligence, meaningfulness, harmony, awareness).

  • Fourth, the content and quality of meanings should be enhanced so that they meet the meaningful standard (the meaningful path). Without a clear and unquestionable moral standard, self-regulation is impossible.

  • Fifth, strengthen moral fortitude, grit or perseverance, delayed gratification, and self-control. And when facing setbacks, resilience.

  • Six, ensure a link between life's meaning and the meaningful path.

  • Seven, with internal fortitude, build an external support system to reinforce their mindset and style of life.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~ Viktor Frankl ~

But what about defense mechanisms?


Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms

While not directly involved in the sleeper effect, psychological concepts such as deflection, projection, and transference could indirectly relate to it in some contexts.

Deflection typically involves redirecting one's attention or blame away from oneself onto others or external factors. Projection involves attributing one's own thoughts, feelings, or motives to others. Transference involves unconsciously transferring feelings or attitudes from past relationships onto present ones, often to authority figures or other significant individuals.

While these concepts are not specifically related to the sleeper effect, they may intersect in situations where individuals engage in deceptive behavior or self-deception to conceal latent tendencies or motivations. For example, an individual exhibiting deflection may deflect attention away from their potential for harmful behavior, while someone projecting their own aggressive tendencies onto others may struggle to recognize their own capacity for harm.

The MP approaches also include remedies for these defense mechanisms. Nevertheless, my intent here is not to cover all the potential obstacles in a single blog. As stated, the lesson is that humans have hidden, low-quality meanings that prevent them from thriving to their full potential. These include the sleeper effect, defense mechanisms, and blind spots (scotomas), among others.

Relevance and Call to Action

As I delve into the literature and connect with colleagues in Positive Psychology (PP), PP2, and the realm of meaning and purpose, I am heartened by the focus on embracing positivity, finding meaning in suffering, and shaping our life paths with purpose. These approaches highlight the importance of virtuous behavior and nurturing what is good in life.

However, while these perspectives offer valuable insights, they do not fully address our psyche's darker, hidden aspects. Buried deep within us are dormant meanings that, if left unchecked, can lead to turmoil and distress. Ignoring these hidden layers is like ignoring a dormant volcano or Typhon—there is potential for eruption and havoc.

In Greek mythology, Typhon was a deadly monster who, along with his mate, Echidna, produced many famous monsters. According to myth, Typhon was initially defeated and imprisoned by the Olympian gods, led by Zeus, in the depths of Tartarus. However, he later broke free from prison and rose against the gods in an explosive battle known as the Titanomachy.

Typhon's awakening and subsequent rampage symbolize Greek mythology's unleashed forces of chaos and destruction. His dormant state represents the latent threat beneath the world's surface, while his awakening unleashes chaos and upheaval upon the cosmos. Hence, the sleeper effect.

Meaningful Purpose Psychology plays a crucial role in addressing these latent meanings. By shining a light on them and addressing them proactively, we can prevent them from spiraling out of control. This proactive approach removes obstacles and paves the way for a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

I invite others to join us in exploring this crucial aspect of human psychology. By acknowledging and managing our dark sides, we can lay the groundwork for a solid foundation upon which to build a life rich in purpose and fulfillment.

Finally, I started this article with the following quote from Carl Jung:

When our inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate.

What will your fate be if your inner situation is not made conscious?

What will be the fate of your clients if your inner situation is not made conscious?

What will be the fate of your clients if their inner situation is not made conscious?

What will the fate of your clients' stakeholders be if their inner situation is not made conscious?


Learn More

If you wish to learn more about how to deal with the sleeper effect and other solutions, join the 2024-2025 certification program: Meaningful Purpose Psychology for Practitioners. The cohort will start a fascinating, meaningful learning and practice learning on May 1st, 2024.

© 2024 Luis A. Marrero, Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose

[i] Marrero, Luis A. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington, IUniverse, 2013

[ii] Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.

[iii] Takamori, K., Akehashi, D., & Ito, K. (2006). You were born for a reason: The real purpose of life. Torrance, CA: Ichimannendo Publishing Inc.

[iv] Ervin Staub, the Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence (Cambridge, 1989), 18, 128-141

[v] Browning, Christopher R., Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York, Harpers Collins, 2017

[vi] Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

[vii] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experiental View (New York, 1974)


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