Is it love or is it projection?

October 20, 2009


Back in June, I wrote an article about dreams in which I briefly touched on Jung’s theory of the animus/anima. I mentioned that I would return to this topic in more depth in the future as I feel that an awareness of how the animus/anima affects our relationship choices is empowering.

After making a few disastrous choices myself on the relationship front some years ago,  I elected to spend some time being single to give myself the opportunity to get to know and value myself. During that time, I sketched out a  rough draft for a novel which explored the theme of the animus and how it impacts women’s relationships. The story initially appears to be a simple love story – the female protagonist meets  a man early on in the book and through their relationship she learns many truths about herself which she had previously denied, consciously and unconsciously. Eventually however, the woman reaches a point in her self-awareness and personal development where she recognises that she no longer needs to be with a man as she already has everything she needs psychologically within herself. It is at this point  – when the woman’s desire for the man is no longer steeped in immature need – that the couple finally make love; and it is at this point that the reader realises that he was actually an element of her psyche made real, for as he enters her body he literally vanishes. The woman has taken her projection of the animus back and incorporated it into herself. (I also toyed with the idea of the woman then giving birth to herself at the very end of the book but thought that might be a symbolic metaphor too far…)

Learning about the animus/anima – and incorporating that with dreamwork and counselling – helped me learn a lot about myself and paved the way for the more positive relationship I am in today. The article below explains some more about this concept – if , after reading this, you feel you would benefit from some personal guidance on this matter via an e-mail session with me, then please feel free to contact me (currently unavailable)


The Anima/Animus Phenomenon

by Rebeca E. Eigen


There is something very magical about the experience of “falling in love.” Psychologically it is their feeling function (the water element) that gets activated when two lovers first meet. Emotions burst forth and sparks fly that ignite a passion and an unmistakable bliss. When you are with that person, you are “in heaven,” so to speak. And when you are away from them, you are longing for the next encounter and there is a poignant angst that replaces ordinary consciousness. As the song says, “Suddenly life has new meaning to me,” and they are transported into the realms of the Gods (the archetypes). In our Western culture, our movies provide us plenty of examples of this experience — so much so that we all yearn for it.

We mistakenly call this love, and many find themselves searching for their other half, their “soul mate.” We believe that this is what will complete us and that this magic is what we feel we must have in order for us to truly value another person. As you will see when you understand the nature of the “Anima” and “Animus,” this is only the beginning of an encounter with our unconscious.

It’s interesting that the word “soul” also means psyche. In the psychology of Dr. Carl G. Jung, he explains this phenomenon of projecting our Anima and Animus (the contrasexual soul images in our unconscious) onto each other. The psyche seeks wholeness, and a union of our inner opposites is what Jung called the process of individuation. When projection occurs, this process has begun as these contrasexual images within us are now out in the open. We will learn a lot about ourselves by the people we either extremely love or hate.

Many times we will fall in love and get involved in some very unsuitable, destructive and soul-destroying relationships, but these, too, are showing us aspects of our shadow. In order to grow and be a whole person, we need to become aware of what is really happening to us. When someone is “into us” (as a current book on the market calls it), we need to ask ourselves, is it love or is it just projection? Two people won’t really know until a period of time has given them a chance to see who each other actually is — and this requires self-honesty and self-disclosure.

Jung teaches that there is no other way to see these parts of us, so it’s inevitable that they will be projected. The intoxication and the intensity of the experience are clues that we are into a projection. Ordinary human beings do not evoke the instant passion that “love at first sight” evokes.

The Anima and Animus

A woman carries an image of her male counterpart made up largely of her history with her father, the first male in her life, brothers and any early experiences with men. This inner masculine, the “Animus,” helps her to achieve her goals, gives her greater intellectual clarity, helps her have clearer boundaries and becomes a mediator between her ego and her unconscious. This unconscious inner male is her God (soul) image that gets projected onto a man in the outer world. As inner and outer create a mirroring effect, she will know a lot about what shape her inner partner is in by the person upon whom the projection lands. This can be a real eye-opener if the person is willing or ready to see his or her own shadow.

As I said, the clue to knowing a projection has occurred is the peculiar feeling of intense fascination or obsession with a man whom she will feel is her ideal mate. He, of course, unless he has a huge ego and enjoys the power that he now has over her, will feel as if something sticky and uncomfortable is smothering him. He will make comments to her like “You don’t even know me.” His perception is a correct and valid one. She doesn’t know him at all. She is seeing only a reflection of her shadow or her Animus — as the two can become contaminated with each other.

According to Jung, a man faces a similar dilemma. When a man projects his perfect God (soul) image onto a woman, she becomes the carrier of his “Anima.” His Anima, his inner feminine, can help him get in touch with his feeling nature, his receptivity, his personal relating and nurturing skills and his ability to create. His Anima acts as a muse to bridge the gap between his inner and outer worlds. She animates him from within.

When this happens to both people at the same time, we call this “falling in love.” They definitely fall. They fall into their own unconscious image as each projects part of himself or herself onto the other person (same sex or opposite sex), evoking a feeling of fantasy and Eros. The erotic and sexual nature of the encounter is psychologically quite symbolic. It is each one wanting to merge with or penetrate into themselves. In reality, this is an unconscious, narcissistic impulse and a distortion of reality. If either of them remains stuck in this kind of projection for too long, it can even be a deterrent to any real or authentic, long-term, loving relationship. Its primary importance for both people is that it heralds the beginning of the individuation process.

A very good movie that came out last year that describes projection perfectly is the romantic comedy Alex and Emma with Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson. Another example more recently was in the film called Shall We Dance? In this movie Richard Gere meets Jennifer Lopez, a beautiful dance instructor who has caught his “Anima.” In time — and time is of essence to see what is going on — he is able to see that the reason his inner feminine has been projected is that he is bored and unhappy with himself. Instead of blaming his wife, Susan Sarandon, for this unhappiness, he takes dancing lessons, which help him feel alive again.

Now as time goes on, it is inevitable that these projections are going to fall off. They actually have to so that we can see who the other person actually is and relate to a real person instead of a God or Goddess (a symbiotic extension of oneself). When a relationship reaches that stage of familiarity, many people addicted to this kind of high start looking around outside their primary marriage or partnership if their maturity level is still in the puella or puer aeternus stage of consciousness. This is the archetype of the Peter Pan, an adolescent eternal child, where we want to be mirrored instead of related to the people in our lives. Many relationships end at this stage and the alchemical process begins all over again with someone else. Some go on to marry the person with whom they feel they are in love, and become disillusioned when they realize that they have married a person who is not who they thought they were.

On the other hand, if the two people are committed to their relationship, growing and becoming conscious, when the projections wear off, there is an opportunity that arrives for both people. They can now discover and embrace their missing halves. This is not an easy task as it takes work and often involves a painful encounter with the self. In his book, Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung says that an experience with the self is always a defeat for the ego but that the death of the ego (the self as you knew it) allows one to be reborn into one’s own wholeness as projections are taken back.

The value of taking back our projections is that we can now see and accept our partners for who they are — not what we wanted them to be; not what we wish they would change into; not for what they can give us; but who they are. The love that can now grow between two partners is profound because it is REAL. Real love, unlike projection, is a willingness to see and support another person to be their own unique, separate self. This will untangle us from seeking in them the perfect parent-mirror image of ourselves, for as long as we are still seeking to be completed by another person, we will not allow them their own autonomy.

As the Rune “Partnership” describes it, two separate and whole beings — equals in the true sense of the word — can help each person feel their own union with the Divine within instead of through projective identification with their partner. As the love between them grows and expands to the entire cosmos, this kind of love gives each partner their freedom — the greatest gift of all. As the duet by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion professes, LOVE will be the gift you give yourself.


One comment

  1. Thank You for both Your words and for the article. I really like the story You wrote, and my therapist years ago used to refert to Jung and anima/animus all the time, so I found the article very interesting.

    Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

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