The Brunhilde Complex: Extreme Idealization in a Relationship

If you suffer from the Brunhilde complex, you first turn your partner into a 'superhero' then later transform them into a 'villain'. Would you like to know more?
The Brunhilde Complex: Extreme Idealization in a Relationship

Last update: 24 August, 2022

What do we mean when we talk about the Brunhilde complex? Where does its name come from? In fact, before starting to delve deeper into this particular phenomenon, we’ll define what a complex is. In psychology, a complex refers to the set of unconscious feelings, acquired by experiences lived during childhood that condition personality.

The word complex was first applied in psychology by Carl G. Jung and spread by Freudian psychoanalysis.

In addition to the best-known complexes, there are others that are named after historical figures, cartoon characters, mythological figures, or protagonists of literary or biblical works. For example, the Peter Pan complex, Münchhausen, Electra, Agrippina, Oedipus, Bovary, Cain, etc.

Oedipus painting to represent the Oedipus complex

Who was Brunhilde?

In Norse mythology, Brunhilde was considered to be a Valkyrie. Valkyries were virgin demigoddesses armed with breastplates, shields, and helmets. They were endowed with exceptional strength.

Some authors consider them to be a link between Odin (god of war) and the heroes killed in battle. In other words, a link between the world of the living and the dead.

The name Valkyrie means ‘chooser of the fallen’. Despite their terrifying and fierce appearance, their physical beauty and intelligence also stood out. They participated in battles and obeyed Odin’s orders, giving victory to those whom the god wished. Furthermore, they finally led the dead to Valhalla.

Brunhilde disobeyed Odin by killing one of his best warriors without his consent. After this act, Odin banished Brunhilde and put her into an eternal deep sleep, surrounded by a wall of fire. She was ultimately saved by Sigurd, the hero.

“Complexes are psychic contents that are outside the control of the conscious mind. They have split off from consciousness and lead a separate existence in the unconscious, being at all times ready to hinder or to reinforce the conscious intentions.”

-Carl G. Jung-

The story of Sigurd and Brunhilde

As we mentioned earlier, Sigurd, a hero of Germanic mythology, rescued Brunhilde from her curse.

In the Icelandic version of the legend, Brunhilde and Sigurd became engaged, but Sigurd left to continue his travels. Later, after receiving a magic potion to make him forget his love for Brunhilde, Sigurd married Gudrun (Kriemhild). Gudrun’s brother, Gunnar wanted Brunhilde for himself and he persuaded Sigurd to help him. Disguising himself as Gunnar, Sigurd pursued Brunhilde. Later, Brunhilde realized she’d been tricked and arranged to have Sigurd killed.

In the Nibelungenlied version, the story was slightly different. Brunhilde declared (like all the Valkyries) that the man she would eventually marry must be able to out-perform her in feats of strength and courage. Sigurd disguised himself as Gunnar and passed the tests and won Brunhilde for Gunnar. Again, when she discovered the deception, she arranged for Siegfried to be killed.

Dragon guarding a castle

The Brunhilde complex

The Brunhilde complex is an unconscious complex that appears in a relationship when a woman, deeply infatuated, idealizes her partner in such an extreme way that she considers him to be a ‘superman’ or a ‘superhero’, an extraordinary being from another planet. As a consequence, a woman suffering from this complex throws herself completely into the relationship, sometimes in a disproportionate way.

However, after a while, this ‘superhero’ becomes a villain in the eyes of the woman suffering from the Brunhilde complex. In fact, she begins to see the flaws of her partner and realizes that he wasn’t as perfect as she thought at the beginning of the relationship.

It’s quite normal when starting a relationship, for us to suffer rather radical positive attentional biases toward our partners. Nevertheless, the Brunhilde complex goes further. Indeed, the hopes and expectations that these women have are exceptionally and unreasonably high.

In effect, they overvalue their partner in a completely unrealistic way. Then, later on in the relationship, they devalue them completely.

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  • Espinosa, M. F. (2001). Brunilda y Krimilda: dos muestras de un mismo prototipo mítico en el Nibelungenlied. Revista de filología alemana2001(9), 35-52.