by Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD
Every archetype has a positive and a negative side. As we saw in the Three-Dimensional Villains article, the villain is the negative aspect of the shadow, while creativity is the positive. To further complicate things, everyone has both anima and animus—the anima is just more evident in the male and the animus in the female.
It’s easy to create an ideal man or woman for your stories. If you’re female, your ideal woman is usually a Mary Sue (your idea of the perfect woman—usually smart, sexy, hyper-competent, and of course devastatingly gorgeous), while your idealized love interest takes the shape of your animus. If he’s dark and dangerous, you’re projecting negative animus; if he’s sensitive and committed, you’re projecting positive animus. In most cases, you’ll probably see both. (Please note that many if not most writers avoid using their ideals in pure form, and recognizing them is not the same thing as falling prey to them.)
In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the villainess Maleficent reflects Prince Charming's negative anima. Witches and hags often represent negative animas.
In the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast (Disney's version used here) , the Beast reflects Belle's negative animus. Negative animuses are often animalistic monsters of some sort; his transformation into a prince represents the heroine's integration of her animus.
The positive animus is assertive, thoughtful, rational, powerful, courageous, objective, honorable, and wise, qualities embodied by characters like King Arthur, Prince Charming, Robin Hood, Zorro, and modern superheroes like Superman.
Female characters with strong animuses are usually quite feminine, but rather than drawing strength from seduction or manipulation, they draw it from something inside, like Lois Lane (Superman), Princess Leia (Star Wars) or Ellen Ripley (Alien).
The negative animus also carries shadow qualities in that it’s ruthless, opinionated, destructive, brutal, reckless, and cold in the way Bluebeard, Harry Potter’s Voldemort, and Superman’s Lex Luthor are. Female villains like Cruella deVil, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the Wicked Witch of the West all have strong negative animuses.
According to Jungian scholar Marie-Louise Von Franz:
The male personification of the unconscious in the woman — the animus — exhibits both good and bad aspects, as does the anima in man. But the animus does not so often appear in the form of an erotic fantasy or mood [as the anima often does to men]…even in a woman who is outwardly very feminine the animus can be an equally hard and inexorable power. One may suddenly find oneself up against something in a woman that is obstinate, cold and completely inaccessible.
If you’re male, your ideal man is usually a Marty Stu (your idea of the perfect male—clever, powerful, handsome, and super-capable) and your idealized love interest is your anima. If she’s a femme fatale, you’re projecting negative anima; if she’s lady, you’re projecting positive anima.
The positive anima provides guidance and is patient, compassionate, tender, nurturing, intuitive, life-giving, loving, and considerate, embodied by mythological priestesses and sibyls as well as characters like Snow White, the Virgin Mary, Peter Pan’s Wendy, Beatrice in Dante’s Paradiso, and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. In stories, anima figures teach heroes to recognize these qualities in themselves: think Maria in the Sound of Music, Cosette in Les Miserables, and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. Male characters with positive animas have heart without being weak, like Christian from Moulin Rouge, Cameron from 10 Things I Hate About You, and Wesley from the Princess Bride.
The negative anima carries shadow qualities in that it’s moody, uncertain, vain, catty, dangerously tempting, insecure, overbearing, and hypersensitive, embodied by characters like the Greek Sirens, the German Lorelei or the Slavonic Ruskala, wicked witches and wicked stepmothers, the vain Queen in Snow White, or Maleficent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. In stories, these women are often difficult or dangerous but often alluring, like Mystique in the X-Men films or the Dark Phoenix in the X-Men comics. Male characters with negative animas are moody, unpredictable, and dangerous like Commodus in the film Gladiator.
Lucilla and Commodus
Some characters have both positive and negative aspects of the anima or animus, creating anti-heroes, flawed heroes, and sympathetic villains.
In the film Terminator 2, Sarah Connor’s positive animus is evident in her heroic determination to save her son and the world, but her negative animus is also strong in that her methods are often brutal and heartless.
In Gladiator, as noted above, Commodus displays a strong negative anima in that he’s petulant and emotional, but he’s also drawn strongly to the kind of positive anima he can’t find in himself, embodied by his sister Lucilla.
Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara has a strong positive animus that displays determination, independence, and protectiveness, but she also has a lot of unpleasant anima qualities—she’s given to histrionics and manipulative ploys.