This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Laws Of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do we all have feminine and masculine energy? What are these different types of energies and how do they work?
Most people have both feminine and masculine energy. Finding a balance can help you feel better about yourself and have more positive interactions with others.
Read more about feminine and masculine energy and how it works.
People Have Feminine and Masculine Energy
In the previous two laws, we looked at emotions (envy and aggression) that everyone hides. In this law, we’ll look at traits that almost everyone represses.
Everyone has both feminine and masculine energy, regardless of their gender. These traits come from two sources: genetics, and the influence of our parents, particularly the one of the opposite sex who is the first person we meet who’s significantly different from us.
- For example, young boys tend to be emotional, empathetic, and sensitive, which they learn from their mothers. Young girls are strong-willed and adventurous, which they learn from their fathers. Children are also affected by their parents’ Shadow sides.
As we grow out of infancy, we start seeking independence from our parents, and the easiest way to do this is to start fitting ourselves into the existing identity of gender roles, despite whatever natural feminine and masculine energy we have.
- For example, boys tend to develop aggression and independence as a way of differentiating themselves from their nurturing and loving mothers.
Gender roles create psychological distance between the sexes, and sometimes this difference is so vast it makes people of different genders seem incomprehensible to each other. This lack of understanding can lead to hostility between the sexes, especially in men, perhaps because their mothers make them feel dependent and other women remind them of this dependency. As genders get closer to equality, this tension only strengthens.
However, this conflict between the sexes is really just a manifestation of inner conflict. Because we’re so young when we start repressing, sometimes, we don’t even realize we’ve lost parts of ourselves until we meet people who aren’t as repressed, or we hit midlife and realize we’re missing something about our feminine and masculine energy.
In the law, we’ll study some basics of gender, including the anima and animus. Then, we’ll learn how to use this knowledge to control our own nature.
Study the Law: Learn About the Anima and Animus
According to psychologist Carl Jung, we all have an internal entity called the anima (our repressed feminine tendencies) or animus (our repressed masculine tendencies). We tend to fall in love with people who embody our anima or animus because we want to get closer to our opposite both internally and externally.
- For example, Chopin was more feminine and George Sand more masculine, and they complemented each other.
When in love, our repressed traits come to the surface. To outsiders, it might look like we’re behaving out of character, but in fact, we’re being more authentic because we’re displaying all our traits, not just the traits associated with one gender. As a result, most of us change in the following ways:
- We focus on one person rather than the variety of topics we’re usually absorbed by.
- We act childishly and feel childish fear.
- We badly judge other people’s characters and don’t listen to anyone who tries to set us straight.
- We don’t understand why we’re doing any of the above.
- Our self-opinions become more malleable.
(We don’t necessarily need another person to see our anima or animus—we can fall in love with ourselves.)
To see our own anima or animus and work towards letting it free so we’re not possessed but balanced, we can analyze who we fall for. Our choice of lover has a lot to do with our relationship with our parent of the opposite sex. If the relationship was ambivalent, we’ll look for someone who has the same qualities but whom we might be able to fix. If the relationship was negative, we’ll look for people who are the opposite of our parents, particularly in feminine and masculine energy.
As a result, we rarely see people as they are—instead, we project qualities onto them that they don’t actually have. Projecting is automatic and it’s not inherently bad—it’s how we start relationships with people of the opposite sex.
Learning about projections is important for four reasons:
1. You’ll be able to identify what you’re projecting on others, which will help you stop doing it. If you don’t clear your projections, you’ll never get to know the real person.
2. You’ll be able to understand how others project on you. When you become aware that someone’s projecting, don’t try to fit their image. It will be uncomfortable to not be yourself, you won’t get credit for your real qualities, and you’ll become resentful.
- For example, if a man’s mother nurtured him, he’ll look for or project nurturing qualities onto you. He’s not falling in love with you so much as the side of himself he repressed while growing up (it wasn’t manly to be nurturing like his mother).
3. You’ll be able to see what people are repressing. When you meet someone who’s strongly masculine or feminine, you can assume their anima or animus will be just as strong.
- Example #1: Hypermasculine Richard Nixon presented himself as macho but was interested in people’s suits and the color of the drapes in his office.
- Example #2: Hyperfeminine women are repressing a lot of aggression that comes from having to play a role. They’re passive-aggressive and try to dominate others, including in what might appear to be a very feminine way, like acting girlish.
4. You’ll be able to better understand how others react to those of the opposite sex. This will help you influence people.
Here are the six common types of projections:
The following three projections are what women project onto men:
Type #1: The Charmer
This imaginary man is older, successful, a bit of a rake, and romantic. He’ll want to change his ways and become respectable when he meets the right woman.
The real men who inspire this projection are actually self-absorbed, irredeemable, and not as romantic as they first appear. However, if they were as attentive and romantic as the woman imagined, she’d think they were weak and boring.
Women who come up with this projection often had intense relationships with their fathers. They loved the attention they received (their fathers might have preferred them to their mothers because they were more playful) and they’ll be seeking this attention their entire lives. They also absorb their father’s aggressive, masculine edge.
- For example, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s father treated her more like a playmate than his daughter. He was a womanizer, a narcissist, handsome, and macho. Jacqueline was attracted to men who were, like her father, older and spirited.
To stop this projection, women must notice the pattern of men they’re attracted to and stop idealizing their fathers.
Type #2: The Bad Boy
This imaginary man is young, unconventional, dislikes authority, and fathers don’t approve of him. He looks rebellious with tattoos and a shaved head.
The real man underneath this projection isn’t rebellious so much as lazy, and that’s why he doesn’t have a conventional job. He can be controlling.
Women who use this projection often had strict, conventional, critical fathers who repressed their daughter’s rebelliousness. As a result, these women look for rebelliousness outside themselves.
To stop projecting this type, women must develop their own rebelliousness and assertiveness. They can do this by breaking small rules and saying no to people.
Type #3: The Confident Intellectual
This imaginary man is smart, confident, powerful, and dependable. He may be older and not physically attractive, but his allure is his self-assurance.
In reality, these men don’t possess the imagined qualities, or if they do, they only possess them in weaker concentrations.
- For example, in Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooke falls for Edward Causabon, a Confident Intellectual. He’s older, wealthy, academic, and unattractive. She wants to marry him because she can learn from him. In reality, he’s controlling and treats her badly.
Women who use this projection have low self-esteem because they’ve taken to heart criticism from others, especially their fathers. Because they lack their own confidence, they search for it externally.
To avoid this projection, women need to acknowledge that they’ve internalized inaccurate criticism. They can develop self-confidence by learning a new skill or working at a project. They need to learn to see themselves as equal to men.
Men project the following profiles on women:
Type #1: The Perfect Woman
This vague, imaginary woman will give the man everything his previous relationships (including the one with his mother) have lacked. However, he can’t articulate exactly what was lacking.
The real women who inspire this fantasy are usually narcissistic and independent, or free-spirited without a defined identity. They’re never perfect, because no one is, and the man is always disappointed and moves on.
Men who come up with this projection often had mothers who didn’t give them enough attention. Some of them may have been expected to give their mother’s attention because they weren’t getting it from their husbands. These men’s feminine sides are introspective.
To stop this projection, men need to spend more time with real, flawed women. They need to give up control. When they need a muse, they need to look at their own anima and get closer to their feminine side.
Type #2: The Damsel in Distress
This imaginary woman seems to need rescuing and is unlike any other woman the man has ever met. She often comes from a lower class or different culture, and the man finds a way to idealize her.
- For example, in In Search of Lost Time, Charles Swann meets a woman named Odette who’s uneducated, crude, and fascinating. He decides she reminds him of a woman in a Botticelli painting and decides to marry her to rescue her. He badly misread her, though—she’s strong and smart and takes control of him.
Men who come up with this projection often had strong mothers. They have paradoxical feelings about their lovers—they think they want to be with someone like their mother, but they’re more attracted to sexy women, so they come up with a way to make sexy women classier. They think they want to help or rescue their lovers, but in fact, they crave danger.
To stop this projection, men need to develop their own feminine side—they’re attracted to playful, sensuous women because they don’t have any of those qualities themselves. They need to try new experiences, even dangerous ones.
Type #3: The Worshipper
This imaginary woman is kind, is attentive, and admires the man. She provides comfort to his difficult life.
The real women who inspire this projection don’t possess the imagined qualities to the degree that the man wants, even if he manipulates her into playing a mothering role. Eventually, when it becomes obvious the woman isn’t prepared to be his mother, he thinks that she’s changed or misled him. She’s resentful. When they break up, it will be painful for the man because it feels like being abandoned by his mother.
Men who project this usually had an adoring, attentive mother. As they grow up, they try to meet their mothers’ expectations and are looking for women who can provide the same support their mothers did.
To avoid this projection, the man must notice the pattern. He needs to realize that he pushes himself too hard (to please his mother) and develop his own comforting qualities.
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- Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
- How you behave differently when you're in a group
- Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life