Psychological research shows a mere three things are crucial to human happiness, and one
of them is love.*
Gods and goddesses of love, passion, fertility, and even marital fidelity appear in
the earliest historic writings, and many of the stories that have endured best feature male
and female heroes’ passionate love affairs. Famous examples include Chrétien de Troyes’
tale of Queen Guenevere’s love affair with Lancelot (c. 1170); Shakespeare’s Romeo and
Juliet (1597); and Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty (1697).
This basic human need for romantic, sexual, and marital connections is reflected in
Carl Jung’s anima/animus archetype. In essence, Jung believed there is a psychological
construct in males (the anima) that creates a strong draw to the feminine as it’s embodied
in real women, and a matching construct in females (the animus) that draws them to men.
One of the best visual metaphors for the concept is the yin-yang; each of the contrasting
halves, one of which refers (in part) to the female and the other to the male, is embedded
with a disc of the opposite sex’s color.
Losing and Finding One’s “Other Half”
“Chemistry,” as we now call it, has long been thought of as the need for and
recognition of your “other half,” and as Jung saw it, this recognition was prompted by the
anima or animus. Plato’s Symposium, written in 360 BC, provides an explanation for how
the need initially developed.
“The original human nature was not like the present, but different. The primeval
man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet,
one head with two faces, looking opposite. He could walk upright as men now do,
backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace,
turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over
with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast… [The sexes were not two
as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man (made of 2 male parts),
woman (made of 2 female parts), and the union of the two (one male and one female
part). But the primeval humans] made an attack upon the gods [and Zeus said]: “Methinks
I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall
continue to exist, but I will cut them in two. [Apollo] gave a turn to the face and pulled
the skin from the sides all over that which in our language is called the belly, which he
fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel).
“After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came
together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces,
longing to grow into one. Each of us when separated is always looking for his other
half.And when one meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, the pair are lost in
an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other’s
sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives
together. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole,
and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.”
What all of this means is that, just like in real life, your characters should be
attracted to their love interests for a reason. The potential love interest’s traits and
behavior must resonate with your hero because they somehow make him or her more
Many writers create love interests that reflect their own ideas of the “perfect” man
or woman; the danger is that sometimes we’re actually creating love interests for
ourselves rather than for our characters. We may assume that everyone would be attracted
to the same things we are, and that little explanation is needed to justify why our heroes
and heroines would fall for each other. But if your hero or heroine is so universally
appealing, 1) Why hasn’t s/he been snatched up yet and 2) Why has s/he fallen for this
love interest? If the answer to 1 is that s/he’s been waiting for the “right one” to come
along, 2 is even more important. Also remember that in real life, the people we’re most
drawn to aren’t always the ones who are best for us–sometimes we’re so focused on a bad
choice that we don’t even see Mr. or Ms. Soulmate when s/he wanders by. Scarlett
O’Hara’s obsession with Ashley is doomed to failure because he can never be what she
And of course, sometimes the people we’re most drawn to won’t have us, because
while they could meet our needs, we don’t or can’t meet theirs. In the film Gladiator,
Commodus is drawn to his sister Lucilla because she represents the purity and kindness
he lacks, but he is too flawed for her to truly love in return, even as a brother.
The Anima, the Animus, and the Double
Because Jung didn’t address gay and lesbian relationships in the way that the Plato
did, the anima/animus archetype is difficult to apply to gay/lesbian relationships. Some
modern theorists argue that an archetype they call the Double is responsible for
committed same-sex partnerships.
The Double draws us into all relationships with individuals of the same sex, which
can range from platonic friendships to love relationships. In other words, the Double
helps us find our best same-sex friends as well as love our brothers and fathers (if we’re
male) and our sisters and mothers (if we’re female). Meanwhile, the anima (for men) and
the animus (for women) help us find our opposite-sex mates. For those people who were
metaphorically cut apart from a same-sex other half, the Double takes over this
responsibility as well.
Three Influences on the Anima/Animus
Both the anima and animus are influenced by three things: biology, sociocultural
environment, and personal experience.
Reams of paper have been used to argue which sex is superior to the other, but
research demonstrates that men and women are actually equal in terms of their
psychological and cognitive (thinking, intelligence) skills–except for one thing. Men
significantly outperform women on spatial ability ( i.e. they conceptualize distance,
speed, spin, direction, and area better than women, which is believed to have developed
because men needed to be able to hit exactly what they aimed at when they threw spears
From an evolutionary perspective, the differences men and women do have
developed because they faced different adaptive problems. The principle of natural
selection says that any genetically-influenced characteristic or behavior that contributes to
the survival of oneself and one’s offspring will eventually become more common in the
For example, imagine all of the dangers our ancestors faced: predators, disease,
famine, and long cold winters, just to name a few. Now let’s pretend that there are four
types of men in this ancient world: men who are fast, men who are strong, men who are
smart, and men who have none of these characteristics. When faced with a natural
predator like a bear, the fast men may be able to outrun it, the strong men may be able to
fight it off, the smart men may be able to outwit it, and the men with none of these
characteristics probably don’t have a prayer.
Since the men who are fast, smart, or strong live longer, they have more years to
produce offspring; they also are better able to hunt down and kill deer, buffalo, and other
animals that provide food and furs. Men who then took these food and furs to their wives
and children were more likely to have families that survived cold winters, thereby
insuring that the man’s genetic material stayed in the gene pool. Men who had two or
more of the above characteristics (fast, smart, or strong) were more likely to become
renowned warriors who led tribes and were therefore able not only to protect, feed, and
warm their families, but who also received additional resources and protection from the
warriors who served under them.
Now think about the women in this same tribe. The women were often unable to
hunt or fight off predators alone, so they needed men to protect them and bring them
resources to aid survival. (Imagine a woman who’s 8 months pregnant chasing down a
deer or fighting off a cougar and you’ll see what I mean–feminism works much better in a
world that equalizes physical differences.) If these women were attracted to men who had
neither strength nor speed nor intelligence, they were more likely to be left unprotected
and without food and warmth; therefore, they and their children were more likely to die
prematurely. Likewise, women who were uninterested in caring for their offspring were
likely to lose those children, thereby removing their own genetic material from the gene
pool. (With our modern perspective, we tend to want to imagine these women and
children getting assistance from the rest of the tribe, but when food was so scarce survival
was in question, each family would have had to put its own needs first.)
Because men’s hunting and fighting ability was so important, men convert energy to
muscle more easily than women, experience faster healing of wounds and bruises, have
fewer nerve endings in their skin (which makes their bodies less sensitive to touch and
pain), and have excellent spatial skills (ability to think in three dimensions) that helped
them shoot arrows and throw spears. Since they could never be absolutely sure that the
children their partners carried were theirs, jealousy made them protect their wives from
other men’s sexual access. Because only young, healthy women can have babies, men
who were attracted to these kinds of women were more likely to pass on their genetic
material than men who were attracted infertile diseased women!
Women convert energy into stored fat, which is necessary to carry healthy offspring
(women who are very thin often lose the ability to have children; some scientists believe
that industrialized nations have higher infertility rates because women strive to keep their
body fat and weight so low). They also have a stronger resistance to infection, have more
acute senses of vision, hearing, smell, and taste so they can take better care of their
children and find dangers like rotten food.
Women are better at reading body language and emotional expressions, which
helped them figure out which men were truthful about being committed (this is actually
why women analyze their relationships to death and men don’t). They also have stronger
verbal skills, which helped them get along in the community with other women, and
better verbalize the need for help or medicinal remedies. Women also tend to be attracted
to strong, masculine men who are of high status and have plenty of resources. This is why
young, attractive women often end up with rich older men.
These differences have been encoded into our genes at the physical level, but Jung
lived decades before David Buss’ extensive research into this kind of evolutionary
psychology. What that means is that Jung probably would have believed the idealized
“masculine” or “feminine” was imprinted on the “psychic DNA” of the collective
unconscious rather than the literal, physical DNA of our bodies.
Rather than seeing that as negation of the anima/animus archetype, we have to
remember that the archetypes are psychological echoes of different parts of human nature,
many of which are influenced by biology. The persona (putting on a “face” others will
like) is underlain by a social instinct that led our ancestors to develop “packs” to fight off
predators; the shadow is underlain by aggressive and often sexual instincts; and the anima
and animus are psychic manifestations of biological attraction and mating instincts.
2. Sociocultural Environment
Different cultures value different things. Growing up, we’re indoctrinated into our
culture by learning that, for example, N is for Nurse (who’s female), D is for Doctor
(who’s male), and T is for teacher (who’s female). And just try finding an advertisement
that has a little boy using a toy vacuum or a little girl in a room with footballs on her
Some people argue that gender is a social construction–that is, the greatest
differences between men and women exist because we act like they’re there. Myths, fairy
tales, religion, art, and all of the other cultural images to which we’re exposed help us
build our understanding of what is male and what is female.
For example, Cinderella, the Virgin Mary, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe,
Katherine Hepburn, and Angelina Jolie all teach us different things about what it means
to be feminine. Likewise, King Arthur, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, and
Adam Sandler all teach us different things about what it means to be masculine.
3. Individual Experience
Both anima and animus are affected by the relationships we saw between our
primary caregivers (traditionally the mother and father), and the interactions we have with
the same and opposite sex. As we grow, each of us forms a kind of blueprint of how the
world works. We incorporate things like our parents’ relationships and values, and their
beliefs about relationships and sex.
These caregivers serve as doorways to the masculine and feminine in the collective
unconscious. We come to understand what it means to be masculine (information
contained in the animus) through our male caregivers and what it means to be feminine
(information stored in the anima) through the feminine qualities embodied by our female
* The other two are a/ satisfying work and b/ personality, most notably the qualities
of high self-esteem, extraversion, and optimism.
TEASER for ANIMA/ANIMUS PART II: When we write, we often focus on
watching our characters fall in love without thinking about what happens after the
“happily ever after.” Given the 50% divorce rate in the United States, a lot of us like to
leave our characters in a blissful state and pretend they’ll never face the struggles we do in
our real-life partnerships. But research shows that there are a few very specific behaviors
that will make or break a marriage; by focusing on these things alone, researchers can
predict whether a marriage will last with 96% accuracy!
About the Author:
Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist who teaches at
Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she recently
launched Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers
(http://www.archetypewriting.com). Visitors will find not only articles about psychology
tailored to their needs, but they can ask Dr. K their writing/psychology questions. She is
often quoted by the media as an expert resource.