Is it Love or is it Projection?

by Rebecca Eigen
Home / Is it Love or is it Projection?
Let us now talk about the phenomenon of falling in love from a Jungian perspective. There is something very magical about the experience of falling in love. Psychologically it is their feeling function (the Water element) that gets activated when two lovers first meet. Emotions burst forth, and sparks fly that ignite a passion and an unmistakable bliss. When you are with the beloved, you are “in heaven,” so to speak. When you are away from them, you are longing for the next encounter and there is a poignant angst that replaces ordinary consciousness. As the song says, “Suddenly life has new meaning to me,” and they are transported into the realms of the Gods (the archetypes). In Western culture, our movies provide us plenty of examples of this experience —so much so that we all yearn for it. We mistakenly call this love, and many find themselves searching for their other” half”, their “soul mate.” We believe that this is what will complete us and that this magic is what we feel we must have in order for us to truly value another person.

As you will see when you understand the nature of the Anima and Animus, this is only the beginning of an encounter with our unconscious. It’s interesting that the word “soul” also means psyche. Jung explains this phenomenon of projecting our Anima and Animus (the contrasexual soul images in our unconscious) onto each other. The psyche seeks wholeness, and a union of our inner opposites is what Jung called the process of individuation. The Anima desires eros, and the Animus desires reflection. The Alchemists called this the archetype of the coniunctio. The Greeks called it a hierosgamos, the inner marriage taking place within each person, whether we know it or not. When projection occurs, this alchemical process has begun, as these contrasexual images within us are now out in the open. We will learn a lot about ourselves through the people we either extremely love or hate.

At the beginning of any relationship between lovers there is a lot of projection going on. We all see mainly what we want to see. There is a kind of veil of illusion that places itself between us and the person carrying our projection. Many times we fall in love and get involved in some very unsuitable, destructive and soul-destroying relationships, but these, too, are showing us aspects of our Shadow or undeveloped “eros” function. The word eros means the capacity to relate, to connect or create. In order to grow and be a whole person, we need to become aware of what is really happening to us. When someone is “into us”, we need to ask ourselves, is it love or is it just projection? Two people won’t really know until a period of time has given them a chance to see who each other actually is. This requires self-honesty and self-disclosure. There is no other way to see these parts of us. It’s inevitable that they will be projected. The intoxication and the intensity of the experience are clues that we are into a projection. Ordinary human beings do not evoke the instant passion that “love at first sight” evokes.

The Anima and Animus

A woman carries an image of her male counterpart made up largely of her history with her father, the first male in her life, brothers and any early experiences with men. This inner masculine, the “Animus,” helps her to achieve her goals, gives her greater intellectual clarity, helps her have clearer boundaries and becomes a mediator between her ego and her unconscious. This unconscious inner male is her God (soul) image that gets projected onto a man in the outer world. As inner and outer create a mirroring effect, she will know a lot about what shape her inner partner is in by the person upon whom the projection lands. This can be a real eye-opener if the person is willing or ready to see his or her own shadow.

As I said, the clue to knowing a projection has occurred is the peculiar feeling of intense fascination or obsession with a man whom she will feel is her ideal mate. He, of course, unless he has a huge ego and enjoys the power that he now has over her, will feel as if something sticky and uncomfortable is smothering him. He will make comments to her like “You don’t even know me.” His perception is a correct and valid one. She doesn’t know him at all. She is seeing only a reflection of her shadow or her Animus — as the two can become contaminated with each other.
According to Jung, a man faces a similar dilemma. When a man projects his perfect God (soul) image onto a woman, she becomes the carrier of his “Anima.” His Anima, his inner feminine, can help him get in touch with his feeling nature, his receptivity, his personal relating and nurturing skills and his ability to create. His Anima acts as a muse to bridge the gap between his inner and outer worlds. She animates him from within.

When this happens to both people at the same time, we call this “falling in love.” They definitely fall. They fall into their own unconscious image as each projects part of himself or herself onto the other person (same sex or opposite sex), evoking a feeling of fantasy and Eros. This is why the initial attraction is usually accompanied by strong erotic fantasy. The erotic and sexual nature of the encounter is psychologically quite symbolic. It is each one wanting to merge with or penetrate into themselves. In reality this is an unconscious, narcissistic impulse and a distortion of reality. If either of them remains stuck in this kind of projection or participation mystique for too long, it can even be a deterrent to any real or authentic, long-term, loving relationship. Its primary importance for both people is that it generates movement toward the process of individuation. Our partners lead us to our own souls. This is the real challenge for both males and females, recognizing our projections and what they actually want from us when they get activated. They may merely want us to get our life going again if we are stuck in a stagnant place in consciousness.

Sometimes the beloved can become the devil personified when the relationship doesn’t work out. We can then project our worst Shadow traits onto them. They can be demonized and devalued to the same degree that they were once worshiped. The degree that we “fall” for anyone will be the same degree to which we will feel let down once we begin to see them as a real person in need of a real human relationship. It’s a difficult situation in this day and age of romantic illusion. We are brought up with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty stories. The belief “someday my prince or princess will come” is part of the collective psyche. Movies like Romeo and Juliet and Titanic are examples of the modern myth in our culture that says this magical numinosity is what we should be experiencing.

These fantasies in the collective get projected out every time we are fascinated by a potential partner. I say fascinated because “attracted” isn’t the word for it. The fascination is what holds us like glue, where simple physical attraction is more subtle and not quite as intense. Jung says that in order for a fascination to take place, both people are involved. He says: “A fascination of this kind is never exercised by one person upon another; it is always a phenomenon of relationships, which requires two people in so far as the person fascinated necessarily has a corresponding disposition. But the disposition must be unconscious or no fascination will take place. The fascination is a compulsive phenomenon in the sense that it lacks a conscious motive; it is not a process of will, but something that rises up from the unconscious and forcibly obtrudes itself upon the conscious mind.”

The fascination is what holds us like glue, where simple physical attraction is more subtle and not quite as intense. Just as with the Shadow, this fascination can also be experienced as repulsion. We can be simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the very same person if all of a sudden they say or do something we don’t like. They can annoy us, and it’s usually out of proportion to what they actually did, because they are carrying a projected Shadow part of us. Notice also that in both of these movies, Titanic and Romeo and Juliet, there is a death that occurs, This, too, is symbolic, as we have to go through the death or removal of our projections onto the “Other.”

Withdrawing Our projections is vitally necessary. This can take two weeks or two years, but eventually it will happen. They have to so that we can see who the other person actually is and start relating to a real person instead of a God or a Goddess (a symbiotic extension of oneself). Many times when a relationship reaches that stage of familiarity, people who are addicted to this kind of high start looking around outside their primary marriage or partnership if their maturity level is still in the puella or puer aeternus stage of consciousness. This is the archetype of Peter Pan, an adolescent eternal child. Many relationships end at this stage and the alchemical process (the coniunctio) begins all over again with someone else.

Yet, some go on to marry the person with whom they feel they are in love, and become disillusioned when they realize that they have married a person who is not who they thought they were. You will hear couples talk about how the “magic” is now gone from their relationship. They will make statements like “She’s not the girl I married; she became someone else” or “He has changed.” The truth is most people are unconscious of what has happened to them because they don’t understand projection.

Many people refuse to give up romantic delusions and do the work of making a relationship conscious. Even after they’ve married for the second or third time, they still think maybe the next one will be the perfect person for me. Others use their grievances against each other to flee the tension they feel within themselves. They run away believing they are leaving a set of circumstances in hopes of creating a better relationship elsewhere. It is only when we stop blaming our partners and look carefully at the mirror they represent, no matter how bleak, that we can change our patterns.

Yet the romantic in us all dreams of a day when we will meet someone and it will be just like in the movies. They will be our Romeo or our Juliet. Initially, when we have this euphoric feeling of falling in love, there is a very strong erotic and lustful sexual attraction. We begin to have sexual fantasies about being with the person who evokes what we call chemistry. The unconscious pull towards a person can feel so intense that it’s like a magnet. We desperately want to merge. It’s compelling, fascinating, captivating and enchanting to meet someone who evokes our God image.

The passion is unbelievable. These are the scenes of grasping and groping at one another sexually that we see in movies. We are frantically pulling the other person’s clothes off. The real motivation behind this, or should I say underneath all of this, is the urge to unite with ourselves. When we go through it with another human being, we experience this as blissful and heavenly but it is not the basis for a conscious relationship. It’s only a short-term phenomenon. The relationship will have to have a stronger foundation than chemistry for it to have a chance to make it.

We have to like the person we love and enjoy them as a human being. We have to have things in common we can share with each other. We’d stay their friend even if we couldn’t be married to them. This is the kind of relationship that can last. Too many of those blissful, quick, instant marriages end in divorce.

Steps to Strive For As We Get Into Relationships

Acquaintance – friendship – dating – commitment, then sex is the order that I feel is important for a relationship. We can’t skip any of these steps. When we are exploring friendship and dating, we find out a lot about the person. We may or may not want to continue into a committed situation. After being good friends and dating for a long period of time, only then are we ready to deal with commitment and sexual intimacy. Otherwise we are having sex with a stranger. When we prematurely become sexually intimate, this actually prevents us from getting to know people. Too much fear enters the situation. We start to come from a space of how we can feel secure in this situation instead of how we can get to know who this person is or whether we have a good partnership. When we are compulsively or magnetically drawn to anyone, it is inevitable that there is an element of projection. Each must also ask themselves, how much more can I learn about myself through this person? No one knows everything there is to know about themselves. So much of our character is unconscious. It is a life’s work to become all of who we are meant to be. Becoming conscious of ourselves and individuating is our gift to the cosmos.

If we can approach our relationships as catalysts for healing and growth, then we have to take more time to learn about the person we have fallen in love with. Both partners have to be willing to remove their masks/personas slowly as they communicate honestly with each other. Both must be willing to see the light side and the dark side. There is no perfect person out there who will magically fulfill our every fantasy. Only a child expects perfection. Relating as a conscious adult, we have to learn to compromise and to accept some of the unacceptable in others. They will have to accept us, too. In that space of loving acceptance, people change. We grow. Now both have an opportunity to love a real human being, and this takes maturity and consciousness. Looking at relationships this way gives us a lot more choices. We learn tolerance and compassion for our mistakes and those of others. If a person can’t say they are sorry ever, they have major issues. We learn to say we are sorry since no one is perfect or right all the time.

Striving to become conscious of our total selves, we allow our partners also to be themselves. We come to the middle with them, communicating honestly recognizing when we are polarizing with each other. This is real love. The other kind of love is only romantic images and ideals we all have. These can only ultimately disappoint us because no one out there is perfect and neither are we. When we put our Anima or Animus on another person, this is a huge burden to put on any-one unless we can own it ourselves. Robert Johnson in his book, Owning Your Own Shadow, says it is actually inhuman to expect this of anyone.

If we do have a real relationship with a person we have projected ourselves onto, the projections will inevitably fall off, and we will find they are sometimes the ideal we pictured them to be and sometimes they too, will annoy the hell out of us. They will no longer provide the constant magic for us that we thought we would have when we married them. They become real in our eyes. Conversely if we never have a relationship with them, then we can go our whole lives thinking they were Prince Charming or Sleeping Beauty. As myth shows in each of these romantic stories, this is the part of us that needs to awaken inside of ourselves, not outside in someone else. Mythological motifs are much like characters in our dreams. They each represent a different aspect of our many selves. We are becoming more of who we are when we take this information seriously. We change on the inside.

Not all relationships are negotiable when they have no bridge to each other’s inherent way of being. People of very different types are not going to be able to understand where the other is coming from, so constant misunderstandings occur. Two people may have nothing in common, and their relationship may have begun purely on an outer physical level without getting past their projection/fascination. Real love takes time. Our true soul mates are those who can go the distance with us. Some of our closest friends are also soul mates for us. The relationships we have with these people will lead us to our souls. That’s what soul mates are about.

by Rebeca Eigen, from “Shadow Dance & The Astrological 7th house – Marriage, Partnership, and Open Enemies; i.e. The Shadow in us all”



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