Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

Anima latina

Anima latina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anima and animus belong to the unconscious they cannot be directly observed, but there are two ways in which these aspects of the unconscious may manifest in therapy.  One is by the demonstration of their developmental level; the client will show errors in their anima/animus or seek to advance the development of these archetypes towards a higher level of development. Two, the anima or animus may manifest through the invasion of consciousness, whereby the darker aspects of the anima or animus take over the client’s conscious mind.

As we discussed in the therapeutic process on the collective unconscious the unconscious archetypes can be both helpful and harmful; the same holds true for the individual unconscious archetypes.  If a client’s anima or animus does not develop, it can cause thinking errors that can be detrimental to a person.  Each subsequent developmental level adds a layer of richness and understanding to the client’s life and a failure to develop can cause issues, such an excessively rigid set of expectations.  An example would be a male whose feminine anima is stuck at Eve; there is permanence to the feminine object of desire at this level of anima development, any object that fails to confirm to the ideal perception of desire is rejected.  As the perfect object of desire frequently doesn’t exist it is difficult for the individual to sustain relationships at this developmental level. The goal in therapy would be to help the client develop a more nuanced sense of their feminine or masculine qualities.  For a mostly well-functioning individual with a well developed anima/animus the goal of therapy would be to help her/him attain the final level of anima/animus development, which would result in a deeper sense of meaning and a more nuanced view of the world around them.

A more threatening way that that clients’ anima/animus may manifest in a therapeutic setting is through the taking over of the conscious aspects of the individual.  Archetypes have both light and dark sides, and sometimes the shadow aspects of the anima/animus can overcome the ego.  As discussed in the blog on the Id, if the individual does not have methods for managing the shadow aspects of the anima/animus they can become manifest in outer world.  This breach leads to the anima/animus becoming the voice of the ego instead of as a moderator between the unconscious and the ego. The goal of therapy is to find the middle ground between the under and over identification with the anima/animus, instead helping the client regulate it into an intermediate position where it can serve a regulatory function in the unconscious.

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Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Writing Process

Writing Process

English: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912...

English: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), Unconscious Rivals, 1893. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery Oil on panel Credit line: Bequest of Jessie and Robert bromhead, 1935 Accession number: K1248 Nederlands: sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912), Unconscious Rivals, 1893, in het Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do we write about the unseen?  We’re probably not going to submit our characters to psychoanalysis during our writing (though it’s been done, and done well, so don’t completely count it out), so we have to be more creative about how we reveal our character’s unconscious mind.  For us as writers, knowing that the unconscious exists serves two purposes, it will help us better understand our characters and also help demonstrate growth in our characters.

In the previous blog post about incorporating mature defense mechanisms into our writing, we discussed how we want to see our characters move from lower level defenses to higher level defenses, and the way to do this is through our characters gaining insight into their unconscious mind so they can resolve underlying issues.  Understanding how the unconscious bleeds into the conscious mind can also serve to help advance plot points.  There are four ways that our characters can reveal their unconscious to both other characters and the readers.

The first is through what is called a Freudian slip.  When a character demonstrates a Freudian slip, they say one thing when they mean another (the classic joke is, when you say one thing and mean your mother).  An example of a Freudian slip in writing would be a character accidently calling another character, by a third character’s name (e.g., calling a current lover, by an old lover’s name).  Freudian slips can also be demonstrated through actions, such as the misplacing of an important object, e.g., the character misplaces a quest critical item as a manifestation of her/his unconscious fear or desire to avoid conflict.

The second manifestation is through an outburst.  This would come at a point of conflict with another character (usually a friendly character, not an antagonist), where because of the passion of the argument the character slips up and tells the person how they actually feel.  This is different from a Freudian slip, which is a processing error; an outburst is more in line with free association.  The character is so impassioned and going that s/he is not able to maintain her/his internal filter and s/he is saying the first thing that comes to her/him.

The third method of revealing the unconscious is through dreams.  When dreams are a plot point in writing it may be a guide instead of a psychoanalyst that reveals the underlying content of the dream.  There are many classic examples in literature of a dream providing the protagonist clarity of purpose and a deeper understanding of self.  The plus side of using dreams as a method for showing a character’s unconscious mind, is that, for us as writers, we can have dreams mean anything we want as a means to further our plot.

The last method of revealing the unconscious in our writing I’ve covered in the posts on incorporating defense mechanisms into our writing here, here, here, and here.  The lower level defense mechanisms especially reveal something about our characters unconscious process, such as their hopes and fears.  By showing our characters using defense mechanism we can give some insight into their unconscious processes.

One thing to keep in mind about incorporating the unconscious mind in our writing is to remember that it is unconscious.  Love and respect it.  We shouldn’t come out and say Bob (our protagonist) suffers from crippling repression of his feelings because of his conflictual relationship with his father as a child.  As we discussed in the introduction, the unconscious should reveal itself by its effects not by overt exposition.  The unconscious is an area of mystery, help preserve it for our reader; it’ll make for a better story and keep them around as they try to understand the why of our characters.

 

Psychology in Writing: The Ego – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

 

In therapy the client often presents with a repressed or unmitigated Id or an over functioning or non-function Super Ego.  In therapy, as the Id and Super Ego are unconscious, we look at Ego functioning/Ego strength to evaluate a client.  A well-functioning individual will have a high level of Ego strength; this means that the individual is a rational player.  The individual is able to weigh both the options from the Super Ego, the

 

Level of consciousness

Level of consciousness (Photo credit: Celestine Chua)

 

needs of the Id, and the reality of her/his situation to make the best decision possible to her/him at the time.  These individuals usually do not make it into therapy because they are doing okay in their lives, or at least think they are.

 

The clients who make their way into therapy tend to be those with low Ego strength.  These individuals can be easily influenced by outside forces because they do not like to make choices on their own, and may actively try to avoid making choices.  They often find themselves stuck  because they do not have the personal insight to determine what they want, e.g., they cannot decipher what the Id is pushing them to do/what the Super Ego thinks they should do, or they are unable to make a choice either way often due to the perceived constraints of the outside world (in therapy we call these clients but-ers; for every solution that they or the therapist comes up with, they follow it with, that could be true, but.. and a reason why a solution won’t work).  The goal in therapy for clients with low Ego strength is to first help them recognize what their needs/desires are, and then help them recognize their power in making a choice, which is often coupled with awareness of the fact that they cannot please everyone in the external world (or their internal parent).  The ultimate goal is for clients is to recognize the forces that are weighing on them, assess the reality of the situation, and make the best possible choice even if it may have some negative consequences, with the objective for the positive consequences to outweigh the negative.