Anima Projection and the Guru’s Neurotic Wife

There is a dynamic that develops between certain pairs of men and women in relationship. She “is needy and desperate”, he “cold and distant.” The farther away he gets, the more desperate she becomes; the more desperate she becomes, the farther away he gets. The cycle is horrible, the pain intolerable, the confusion and tension almost literally palpable.

I’ve just returned from seeing the movie The Last Station, the semi-biographical biopic about Leo Tolstoy, and I cannot help but write. I love Tolstoy’s work, it has influenced my own life and the lives of some of the world’s greats (Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, to name two) but I wonder if what the film depicted regarding Tolstoy’s marriage is true. And what if it is?

The Last Station depicts a scenario in which Tolstoy has created a colony and nation of admirers. They revere him, trust him, love him, and he them. But his wife feels abandoned. She feels unloved, disrespected, tossed aside. She mocks his work on love and generosity because she does not feel he expresses those virtues towards her. And she goes crazy. She is mocked for being crazy, further excluded from his life by those who edge closer and closer to him as his disciples. But what is occurring, truly, if a man loves “everyone” but cannot truly love his wife? Is what he is espousing truly love?

A couple of years ago I read a passage from Carl Jung, a vignette, of which this film reminds me strongly. In his essay entitled “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” (par. 306-309), Jung wrote:

The construction of a collectively suitable persona means a formidable concession to the external world, a genuine self-sacrifice which drives the ego straight into identification with the persona, so that people really do exist who believe they are what they pretend to be. . . . When we examine such cases critically, we find that the excellence of the mask is compensated by the “private life” going on behind it. . . . I once made the acquaintance of a very venerable personage — in fact, one might easily call him a saint. I stalked round him for three whole days, but never a mortal failing did I find in him. My feeling of inferiority grew ominous, and I was beginning to think seriously of how I might better myself. Then, on the fourth day, his wife came to consult me . . . Well, nothing of the sort has ever happened to me since. . . . Any man who becomes one with his persona can cheerfully let all disturbances manifest themselves through his wife without her noticing it, though she pays for her self-sacrifice with a bad neurosis.

This is some of the most important and socially revolutionary commentary that Jung ever made. Acknowledging the subtle projective relationships between partners was a win for women everywhere. Despite the attacks they have both received to the contrary, both Jung and Freud may have been some of the most adamant feminists in their day. Both men saw that where there was female hysteria, there was also a trail of social and marital unrest. What looks to originate in the wife may, in fact, not be her character at all on display — but ours, or his.

[The] identifications with a social role are a very fruitful source of neuroses. . . . To the degree that the world invites the identification with the mask, he is delivered over to influences from within. . . . Outwardly an effective and powerful role is played, while inwardly an effeminate weakness develops in face of every influence coming from the unconscious. . . .The persona, the ideal picture of a man as he should be, is inwardly compensated by feminine weakness, and as the individual outwardly plays the strong man, so he becomes inwardly a woman, i.e., the anima, for it is the anima that reacts to the persona. But because the inner world is dark and invisible to the extraverted consciousness, and because a man is all the less capable of conceiving his weaknessses the more he is identified with the persona, the persona’s counterpart, the anima, remains in the dark and is at once projected, so that our hero comes under the heel of his wife’s slipper. If this results in a considerable increase of her power, she will acquit herself none too well. She becomes inferior, thus providing her husband with the welcome proof that it is not he, the hero, who is inferior in private, but his wife.

Thus it has been with men of lofty ideals and high intelligence throughout history. They are revered, respected, their character cherished. The more society loves them, the more they believe themselves to be the Messiah himself. And the more they identify with their persona of greatness, the more they make those around them perfectly crazy. The narcissistic identification with their own greatness leads them to sabotage not only their own lives, but create ruin among those who knew them and loved them. They become captured completely, convinced — if not for a shadow of guilt within them that they cannot face for fear of seeing their own lack of consciousness — that they are completely sane while their wives (or children) are ungrateful and unworthy of their time or affection.

But watch what happens when the two are finally broken apart. Who gets sane, and who goes crazy . . . or takes another lover on which to project his unconscious and avoid seeing his true self?

This is not esoteric philosophy. It’s a scenario played-out in the streets and in homes daily. As we revere handsome, talented and “feeling” men, their true emotions and ability to connect become disconnected, while they go about thinking that they are the infallible men that everyone believes them to be. The time of reckoning, which always should have come so much sooner, proves in the end how very wrong everyone was. If one is to be high up in the stars of ideals and faith, the only spiritual balance one can find on this earth is to have at least one foot firmly rooted in embodiment and family. A chaotic home life should be an indication to everyone that something is wrong. By seeking distance and connection to perfection, the counterparts in one’s home must balance one’s life by sinking deeper into the depths.

Beware of who you worship. No one is ever a guru of endless compassion if he cannot love the one he’s with.

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