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Carl Jung on Human Relations

by Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in psychology, originally published in issue 60 - January 2001

In the last two issues of Positive Health, we discussed some of the primary ideas of Carl Jung, one of the early pioneers of the psychoanalytic movement, who broke with Freud to emerge a 'wise old man' archetype himself in his later years, making pronouncements on everything from the I Ching to flying saucers, to the future of mankind, although some considered him to be nothing more than a canny elderly fakir. In this column we will look at some of Jung's theories on human relationships.

Sigmund Freud was a masterful writer, who cleverly seduced his audience into accepting the notions of the unconscious, which were presented in the guise of scientific psychological experimentation; the only major award won by Freud in his lifetime was a literary one – the Goethe Prize, awarded for his abilities as an author, not the scientist he wanted to be taken for. Jung, on the other hand, was content to be accepted as a non-scientific author, and in fact, courted the mystical regions of the soul in his many publications. Unlike Freud who had a special talent with words, and presented his discoveries in the glib manner of a fascinating detective story, Jung's writings are frustratingly obscure and quite difficult to summarize, as any student who has attempted to plough through his collected works (Bollingen Press, Princeton, New Jersey) will attest. Jung combines the mystical, the mysterious, the unfathomable, and the occult, alchemy and anthropological investigations, seasoned with a plethora of symbols.

Jung carries the reader far afield into comparative studies of mythology and the occult 'sciences', reaching out into ancient myths, religion, alchemy, as well as astrology. He explores areas that few psychologists have touched on – abstruse regions such as Hindu religion, Yoga, Taoism, Confucianism and the I Ching, psychical research, etc.

Out of all this, he has derived the seminal Jungian of the 'archetype' – the so-called structural component of the collective unconscious.

Briefly, an archetype may be thought of as a kind of universal human thought form or idea which contains a potent component of emotion (or, as his critics would say – a lot of baggage). It carries with it, the Jungian sense, mythological images, imagos, primordial representations resulting in behavioural patterns. These are deeply buried in human experience, i.e., the archetype is a permanent deposit in the mind of an experience which has been repeated constantly over the generations.

The most fascinating of all the numerous Jungian archetypes embedded in the human unconscious (of which some examples: the hero, the wise old man, God, the earth mother, the child, birth, rebirth, death, magic, unity, the shadow, the animal, etc.) are the anima and the animus.

Now, the archetypes can be seen as autonomous dynamic systems that move us deeply, gnawing at our innards with an innate power.

We see their strength in the effect of dreams, visions, myths, rituals, neurotic and psychotic symptoms, and even works of art. A work of art that carries with it unconscious archetypal material can enormously effect our emotions – we feel at once this is great art; while the mediocre artist or craftsman, whatever his skill, lacks this ability to shake our foundations.

The anima and animus, in Jung's theory, underly the well-known human drama of love, or attraction, which is where we will focus now. How to explain this special human phenomenon? Plato gave us his amusing fable, but Jung's explanation of this universal human yearning is certainly a more complex and satisfying one.

One might look on the concept of anima-animus as a kind of yin/yang solution to the duality of human sexuality. For Jung, underlying every male is a female side – which he calls the anima, while the respective archetype for the female, i.e. the maleness principle for the female is the animus. (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). In Jung's theory, these two are products of the long human experience of man with woman and woman with man: as man has opened to his feminine nature, so has woman a corresponding male side. These two archetypes – anima and animus, in addition to opening up characteristics of the opposite sex for each of us, also act as collective images which motivate each sex to respond to and understand members of the other gender. That is, a man apprehends the nature of woman by virtue of his hidden anima, – and reciprocating, the woman is able to grasp the nature of maleness via her animus.

Anima - Animus

The force of love results from identifying the 'ideal' woman with his own underlying anima, while for a woman, love may be generated by seeing a man as the personification of her anima. Thus, we can get a sense of the beginning of what we call love from this model.

Thus, we have an elegant explanation for that strange and inexplicable event – love at first sight. If a man sees a woman across a crowded room and suddenly feels – 'zap', this is the one for me; it is because she somehow fits the unconscious image of 'womanness' given by his anima. He's not aware of this of course, but feels the need to come closer to this women at the party. The dangers here are clear – it is an irrational move, he knows nothing about her at all; she could be an axe-murderer, a femme fatale, a psychologist, etc. yet love is often based, as we all know, on such mysterious impulses.

On rare occasions, if one is lucky, the woman will respond also to the man, that is to say, he will resonate something in her 'animus' – and thus we have that happy event, mutual love.

Some women, Marilyn Monroe, for example, arouse heartbeats in millions of men. This is because she apparently is able to reflect something in the collective 'anima' of these men. And of course there are men who seem to fit the 'animus' of crowds of women.

The anima-animus archetypal structure is one that is difficult to explain, but which perhaps leads us to comprehend events in life which are beyond the regions of science.

My friends at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who are involved in brain research, however, prefer to think of love as something that is caused by some primitive 'smell' receptor deeply embedded in the nose. As a homespun philosopher said – you pay your money and you take your choice!


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About Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.

Dr Sheldon Litt is an American psychologist who trains professionals in modern methods of psychotherapy. He has taught at many universities in northern Europe. He was trained by Fritz Perls at the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.S. Litt, Inedalsgatan 25, S-11233 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +468 651 2489 Email:

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