Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Writing Process

Writing Process

The Web Planet

The Web Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve frequently discussed the development of characters and that the change related to this development across our writing process is something to be strived for.  The same holds true when thinking about how to incorporate the anima and animus in writing. These archetypes of the individual character’s unconscious provide both the opportunity to demonstrate character development in our writing and to write to the individual archetypes that our readers possess.

The anima and animus represent a character’s internal growth process as related to accepting and integrating the counter-gender aspects of her/his self.  For our male characters, their relationship with the anima represents their growth of “feminine” traits such as sensitivity and empathy.  The more developed anima helps our male characters better understand others and their multifaceted nature, whereas the underdeveloped anima sets our male characters up for disappointment due to rigid expectations of ideal objects (re: others) through a lack of empathy.  For our female characters, their relationship with the animus represents a development of “masculine” traits such as strength, independence, and understanding.  As our female characters’ animus develops, they gain a better understanding of the world at large and a better understanding of self.  Underdeveloped animus represent a simplified view of strength and independence, e.g., the use of “masculinity” as a tool instead of a way of being.  It is through failing by applying underdeveloped anima/animus aspects or through external guidance or experience that our characters’ unconscious more fully develop.

Another way that anima/animus can manifest is as a breach between the unconscious and the ego.  As we covered in the blog on the Id, if a character is not tending to her/his unconscious needs there is the chance that the unconscious will override the ego in order to get needs met.  The anima/animus can function in the same way, if the individual pays too little attention to these aspects of the unconscious they can manifest independent of the conscious filters our characters have in place.  This can be demonstrated through a character that may overly suppress her masculine side, and because of the suppression of the animus may become overly aggressive and not sensitive to the needs of others.  A male character may suppress his anima, which then may manifest in feelings of hopelessness, becoming so emotionally vulnerable that he cannot take action (versus being aware of an honest with his emotions and allowing them out in a moderated way).

As I caveated in the introduction blog, this theory is a product of the time it was written and relies heavily on gender stereotypes.  In writing this blog, I struggle to strike a balance between the academic presentation of the information and presenting it in a light that inspires writing.  That all is to say, while I presented the material in its time and gender specific context, we as writers do not need to hold the ideas with such rigor.  We should add the information to our toolbox and use it how we see fit, we are not psychologists we are writers, and as is usually the case for writers, our goal is to synthesize information from multiple sources to create something new.  I hope you take this information and use it to inspire yourself and not limit yourself.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions!



Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Introduction



anima (Photo credit: AlicePopkorn)

Carl Jung, who we talked about last week in regards to the collective unconscious, in addition to proposing archetypes of the collective unconscious, suggested some primary archetypes of the individual unconscious mind.  The two that we will focus on this week are the anima and the animus.  The anima is the feminine inner personality of males, whereas animus was the masculine inner personality of females.  Jung postulated that these aspects of self exist in the unconscious because males have to suppress their sensitive side and females have to repress their masculine side.  (To avoid the emails, Jung was a product of his time and its thinking; this was an early psychological theory).

What makes the anima and animus interesting as a psychological concept is that Jung conceptualized them as a an evolving aspect of the unconscious.  Like an individual the anima and animus progress through different stages of development.  Jung believed that the anima and animus each consist of four distinct development levels.

The ascending stages of anima development in males:

  • Eve, which represents the emergence of what a male finds desirable
  • Helen, represents recognition of the feminine self-reliance, intelligence, and insight, but the feminine aspect is lacking in virtue, faith, or imagination
  • Mary, represents the virtuous view of the feminine, and the feminine being without flaw
  • Sophia, an integration of the feminine and masculine; an awareness that the feminine possesses both positive and negative qualities; at this point the male can recognize the multifaceted nature of objects, and that no object permanently represents the images it is perceived to have (e.g., ability to recognize an archetype a person represents, but recognizes that the person can demonstrate other aspects of other archetypes or change archetype); as we talked about in the previous blog, through therapy a client can come to see that mother is not always a nurturing archetype

The ascending stages of animus development in females:

  • Man of mere physical power, represents the masculine as just a personification of physical power
  • Man of action or romance, represents the masculine as being able to initiate and take planned action
  • Man as a professor, clergyman, orator, represents the masculine as the bearer of the word or knowledge
  • Man as helpful guide to understand herself, represents the achievement of understanding meaning; a source of spiritual knowledge

For males, Jung believed that the anima represented a single evolving vision, whereas the animus for females was represented by multiple masculine images.  For both anima and animus, the end development leads to an openness and understanding of the world with its pluralistic qualities.  The final result being a sense of self and sense of the world.


Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation


Mother and Child watching each other

Mother and Child watching each other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


When focusing on the collective unconscious in therapy the focus is primarily on the archetypes and the client’s identification and association with them. There is an entire branch of psychology focused on archetypal therapy.  At its root, this form of therapy focuses on a search for meaning through an identification with and exploration of different mythologies and their associated archetypes that make up the client’s world.  The role of the therapist is to help the client identify the archetypes present in her/his world and what they mean.  By understanding the archetypical structures that the client identifies with and what is possible through understanding other archetypes, the client begins to understand how to change through tapping into this innate themes.


Another way that archetypes can manifest in therapy is through a misidentification of an archetype that can lead to a reoccurring relational error.  An example would a client who has a non-supportive or abusive mother.  The client’s archetype for mother figure becomes an inconsistent caregiver, which may replicate in later relationships.  For example, the client may enter an intimate relationship with someone who is abusive or demeaning to them, but does provide some support, as the client’s archetype for mother/caregiver matches this person, the client may stay in an unhealthy relationship because of the appearance of normality.  The role of the therapist is to help the person reconstruct the archetype of mother/caregiver, which may include an exploration of myths, literature, or other examples of a positive archetype.  Based on the exploration of a positive archetype the client can then begin to change her/his own internal schemas.



Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Introduction


Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156

Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

In last week’s blog we covered the individual unconscious, which are the unseen aspects of self that can affect behavior.  Carl Jung proposed that in addition to their own unconscious mind all individuals share a collective unconscious.  While the individual unconscious is unique to each individual, the collective unconscious is a shared system that all humans use to organize their personal experiences in a similar way.

The common organizing of ideas in the unconscious leads to universal themes and concepts that occur in distant and unrelated cultures.  Jung postulated that the collective unconscious was not developed across the lifespan by an individual but was inherited.  The common themes of the collective unconscious are referred to as archetypes; like the unconscious mind, individuals do not have ready conscious access to the archetypes, but they are revealed through events and experiences in individuals’ lives.  When an archetype is experience individuals unconsciously recognize it as what it represents and it appears as “mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind” (Jung, 1978).

Some of the common archetypes include:

  • The Hero
  • The Mentor
  • The Fool
  • The Seductress
  • The Devil

Expanded writing on archetypal characters, plots, and themes, can be found here, here, and here. (Or you can just do a Google search)

There is some question on whether Jung was speaking biologically or spiritually about the collective unconscious.  Some interpret the collective unconscious as something inherited through a species like a common arm.  This would mean that just as all humans share a similar bone, muscle, skin structure forming an arm, they also share similar unconscious structures in common.  Others interpret the collective unconscious as a tapping into the divine.  That there is a “universal truth” (e.g., the presence of a divine) that all humans are part of and can access through our common truths.  Either way, the collective unconscious has the potential to establish common ground when communicate within and across cultures.

Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt

Dream girl

Dream girl (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

“Our heart glows, and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.” —Carl Jung

For today’s writing prompt, think about what your character is hiding in her/his unconscious that s/he can’t confront directly.  What is the event/thing/person that your character can’t face?  What happened in the past that contributes to your character’s inability to consciously face the event/thing/person?  How does your character manifest her/his unconscious mind?  Is it through dreams, verbal slips, free association, defense mechanisms?  What leads your character to gain insight into her/his unconscious process?  And now that s/he is aware, what does s/he do?  Confront it?  Suppress it again?

A new addition to the blog going forward–Want your writing to be seen by thousands of people?

Write a 500 – 1000 word story incorporating ideas and themes from this week’s blog and send it to me at  If your story is selected it will be spotlighted on Friday’s blog.  In addition to posting your story, you can provide any websites, twitter accounts, links to books, Facebook pages that you would like to be included following your story so that readers of the blog can follow and support you.  I’ll also promote the story on my own twitter and Facebook feeds.  The only thing I ask is that I have permission to publish the story on the blog and include it in a free Wattpad eBook (that will also contain all the aforementioned promotions still attached) so that readers of the blog can go back and easily find previous stories.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions!

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 Unconscious – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

the first of the blots of the Rorschach inkblo...

the first of the blots of the Rorschach inkblot test (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the unconscious is below a person’s conscious awareness how is the therapist aware of it and how can the person begin to address it?  The unconscious manifests itself in its effects.  As we covered in the defense mechanisms’ blogs, they are a product of the unconscious; when a person is unable to deal with the reality of her/his situation the unconscious mind protects the person by employing defense mechanisms.  So if the pathological, immature, or neurotic defense mechanisms are deployed below conscious awareness the therapist must get at what is going on underneath these defenses to help the client resolve underlying issues, which will help guide her/him to the use of higher level defense mechanisms.

One of the most frequently associated ways at getting at the unconscious in popular culture is through dream analysis.  I personally have a different take on dream analysis, but I’m going to review the psychodynamic understanding of dream analysis.  In psychoanalysis, the theory behind dream analysis is that the themes of dreams and the images in dreams provide insight into the unconscious.  By interpreting dreams, the psychotherapist to the client the therapist provides insight into the client’s unconscious mind.  After the dream analysis the unconscious becomes manifest in conscious awareness and the client can begin processing and resolving her/his underlying unconscious conflicts.  Here’s a quick review of some popular dream themes.

Another method a therapist may use to uncover the unconscious is through free association.  The client is presented words in isolation, such as “cat”, “shame”, “mother”, to which the client responds with the first word that comes to her/his mind.  The theory being is that if the client is not actively thinking about her/his response then the unconscious will be manifested in her/his word choice.  So if the therapist says “mother” after a string of neutral words, and the client spontaneously replies “anger”, then the therapist and client would explore the root of that anger, e.g., is the mother an angry person, is the client angry at the mother?

The last method revealing the unconscious that I will cover is projection.  Projection operates on the theory that the client will place her/his unconscious thoughts onto a ambiguous stimulus.  One of the most familiar ways for doing this is the Rorschach test where the client indicates what s/he sees in an inkblot.  The client’s responses are recorded and then interpreted depending on the nature of the description.  Another test the Thematic Apperception Test, where the client is presented a neutral scene and asked to write a story about what occurred before the picture was taken, during the picture, and after.  The theory is that unconscious themes will immerge based on the story the client writes.  There are other projective tests such as Draw-A-Person, Sentence Completion, and Animal Metaphor you can read about here, but all operate on the same principle of having the person project her/his unconscious on ambiguous stimuli.


Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Introduction


Deutsch: Phrenologie

Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past two months we’ve covered the psychodynamic ideas of Id, Super Ego, Ego, and the Pathological, Immature, Neurotic, and Mature defense mechanisms, but we haven’t discussed where many of these processes originate from.  With the exception of Ego and some of the Mature defense mechanisms, a lot an individual’s psychological processes lie within the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is the aspect of self that a person is not consciously aware of it.  It consists of automatic processes that are not available for introspection, but cause an impact on behavior.  The Id and Super Ego both reside in the unconscious mind, and we’ve discussed how these aspects of self affect the manifestation of defense mechanisms.  As the genesis of these occur in the unconscious part of their mind individuals usually do not have insight into the why of their defenses.  These processes are below conscious awareness and just occur as repeating patterns of behavior.

The question then is, if these thoughts, behaviors, emotions, motivations are outside of an individual’s awareness how does the individual change and how does the therapist work with the unseen?  The challenge for therapists and clients is that only aspect of clients’ minds that is readily acceptable is the conscious mind, that which they are aware of.  The conscious mind makes up only a small fraction of their self.  The analogy that is often used for the unconscious mind is that a person’s mind is like an iceberg; only the conscious tip is visible to client and therapist with the majority of the personality laying below the waves in the unconscious.

In tomorrow’s blog I will discuss how therapists help their clients get insight into the unconscious so that clients can begin to work at a conscious level on their unconscious process.

Psychology in Writing: The Super Ego – Introduction


A jovial exchange

A jovial exchange (Photo credit: Spyderella)

The Super Ego is part of the tripartite structural model consisting of three components, the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego.  The Super Ego exists as an internalization of cultural rules, which are often imparted by parents.  This aspect of the unconscious serves as the parental voice of society providing instruction on how to act/behave in order to fit in.  This voice exists as a counterpoint to the Id, which is the drive to get needs met regardless of how an individual is supposed to act.  The Super Ego serves as the basis for:

  • Personal ideals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Conscience

It serves to suppress through criticism and prohibition:

  • Id impulses
  • Fantasies
  • Feelings

The Super Ego can be looked upon as a form of moral guidance, which instills in the individual the basis for right and wrong, and the feeling of guilt that comes when an individual violate her/his sense of right.  The Super Ego provides a corrective mechanism to the Id telling us how to function in socially acceptable ways, and finding socially appropriate ways of getting our needs met.

Psychology in Writing: The Id – Introduction



Freud conceptualized the human mind into a structural model consisting of three components, the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego.  Through these three “voices” individuals arrive at a particular decision or action.  Individuals are not always aware of the inter-psychic conflict as it


Freud's diagrams from 'The Ego and the Id' (1923)

Freud’s diagrams from ‘The Ego and the Id’ (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


frequently occurs in the unconscious leaving people with a lack of insight into how they arrived at a particular outcome.  In well-functioning individuals, these three processes work in harmony allowing for the person to be congruent in their thoughts, wants, and actions.  When they are misaligned or individuals are not aware of these processes, individuals are not able to make the best decisions, which can lead to neuroses or other negative behaviors.


The Id itself is the only one of the three components present at birth, it consists of individuals natural drives.  The Id is the source of:


  • Bodily needs
  • Wants
  • Desires Impulses
  • Sexual and Aggressive drives


These drives are deep seated, which means that the Id exists solely in the unconscious mind.  This means that it pushes us towards things without our conscious awareness .


Freud postulated that it works on a “pleasure principle,” meaning that it seeks immediate gratification to get its needs met in order to have a “pleasurable survival” and avoid “displeasure” without regard to the demands of reality.  The Id is the manifestation of the libido and Thanatos, the drive to live and thrive, which can be demonstrated in sexual impulses (to live and thrive) or through aggression (to destroy to get needs met).