(I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog.)
“When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction. The outcome need not always be negative, since the two are equally likely to fall in love (a special instance of love at first sight).”
– C.G. Jung
Carl Jung used the term anima to describe “the inner figure of a woman held by a man,” and animus to describe “the figure of a man at work in a woman’s psyche.”1 The anima or animus functions as a psychopomp, or “guide of soul” which mediates between the conscious and unconscious, often becoming a “necessary link with creative possibilities and instruments of individuation.”1
These archetypes can profoundly influence our relationships. Individuals often choose partners based upon a resemblance to the anima or animus, or who outwardly express characteristics and feelings that lay dormant in their own psyche. This type of projection can lead to disillusionment and heartbreak once we get to know “the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face,” particularly if that face turns out to be very different from the idealized archetypal image we hold.
Searching for wholeness in the Magical Other
Perhaps it is the anima or animus that leads us to seek out a “Magical Other,” a term coined by Jungian analyst James Hollis to describe “the idea that there is one person out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soul–mate who will repair the ravages of our personal history, one who will be there for us, will read our minds, know what we want and meet those deepest needs; a good parent who will protect us from suffering and spare us the challenging journey of individuation.”2 Such romantic fantasies may drive us to search endlessly for our “perfect” match, or fixate in fascinated longing for an Other who seems to be our “ideal.”
According to Hollis, such patterns of behavior are unsustainable. “Given the gap between our expectations of the “Magical Other” and their finite capacities, we often hopelessly burden the relationship and, predictably, end in disappointment, cynicism, blaming, and then roll it all over again onto the next solitary soul.” To break the cycle, Hollis suggests using relationship as a way to examine unconscious contents. “The paradox lies in the fact that the Other can be a means through which one is enabled to glimpse the immensity of one’s own soul and live a portion of one’s individuation.”
So love for an Other can serve as a fire that lights the way on our own journey, helping us to better understand ourselves. Even disappointments in relationship may hold an opportunity for personal development. I remember an afternoon I spent sitting with a loved one and telling her about an experience of heartbreak. After listening to my story, she asked what attracted me to the person I’d been discussing. When I told her, she replied, “He’s a mirror.”
Therefore, we can use those characteristics we admire in the Other as a guide for our own evolution, and work on developing our own inner opposite, rather than searching for someone else to “complete” us. “Consider the courage of those truly willing to look within and own what they find,”2 Hollis says. In doing so, we can make the effects of the anima and animus conscious, possibly helping us discover our own gifts and purpose in the process.
Additionally, one of the tasks of individuation is to integrate the anima or animus in an internal marriage of the masculine and feminine parts of the psyche. Hollis writes, “Hierosgamos, the sacred marriage, properly honors the other as Other and at the same time protects the absolute uniqueness of the individual partners.”2 Through such inner work, we become free to truly love the Other as they are, rather than our projections or fantasies of them. Or as Alan Watts said, “When you’re loving somebody, you are simply delighting in that person as such.”
And if there is no “Magical Other”? Perhaps the true magic happens when we realize we are already complete, just as we are. From this place of integration and self-acceptance, “We may even come to bless those who have most hurt us, for they have most contributed to our transformation,” Hollis says. “We may even love them, allowing them to be who they are, even as we struggle to be ourselves on the journey toward our own destined end.”2
Blog Manager and Newsletter Manager
Jung Society of Utah