What temperament type are you?

“Whenever your relationship is not working, whenever it brings out the ‘madness’ in you and in your partner, be glad. What was unconscious is being brought up to the light. It is an opportunity for salvation. “

–Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now

Valentine's is just around the corner! How well do you know your partner?

In Budokon training I learned about the “Lion” and “Unicorn” construct to define two very distinct temperament types we all fall into. They represent two different ways of how we live in our heads. These patterns are basic to our nature and our early experiences of nurture and are the most unconscious patterns we carry in the ego-mind. Ironically, they are also the most powerful forces at work in our most intimate relationships.

The easiest way to discover whether you are a Lion or Unicorn is to look at your initial reaction of fight or flight. Those who are predisposed toward “fight” survival strategies are Lions and those who are predisposed toward “flight” strategies are Unicorns. It is important to note that this preference for either approach or withdrawal, like all inborn traits, exists on a continuum. In other words, not all of us when aroused, approach or withdraw with the same eagerness or intensity, but we do all have an inborn preference for one or the other. Basically you can be a ferocious lion or a tame lion. But either way, you are still a lion. Now, let’s take a look at these two creatures more carefully.


King of the jungle, hunter, powerful, ferocious, flesh-eater. Lions live in “prides” and are social animals. Even the adult male is affectionate with his own offspring. As affectionate as they are, when they are aroused their roar can be heard more than three miles away. This is a warning to intruders to stay away from their territory. Lions like hunting in the morning when the day is coolest. They are creatures of the sun. They live in grasslands, in sparse forests on the edge of the plains.


Unicorns, on the other hand, are mythical creatures. They are powerful horses, and they have the tail of a lion showing to all that when called on they can fight like a lion. Their fierce-looking yet beautiful horn can be a weapon or an adornment. Unicorns, creatures of the night, live in an enchanted forest hidden by thick stands of trees and overgrown brush. When the moon is full, they may step out into the clearing to commune with other animals that are as gentle as they are. They want someone safe and warm to nuzzle. But they won’t allow themselves to be ridden. They bolt and disappear into the forest rather than face open conflict.


Understanding the Lion/Unicorn model and being able to identify ourselves as one or the other is crucial if we want to have more successful and fulfilling relationships. According to Dr. Waller about 80-90% of all intimate relationships are Lion / Unicorn pairings. This finding holds true in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships as well as arranged marriages (parents intuitively pair up opposites).

It is important to note however, that this does not mean Lion/Lion pairings or Unicorn/Unicorn pairings can- not work, it simply says that as a species we tend to gravitate toward a partner who is our opposite temperament type. Being confronted with our opposite can allow us to experience our greatest growth.


  • Anxious / preoccupied about close relationships
  • Pursue for an emotional connection
  • Feel shamed by perceived rejection
  • Use anger to remove perceived obstacles
  • Take things personally
  • Predatory
  • Want to be seen for accomplishments
  • Approval seekers

*Note that these characteristics are not hard and fast rules, they merely serve as good general guidelines. There are positive qualities to both the Lion and Unicorn but we focus here on the areas that need the most improvement in order to facilitate change and healing.


  • Threatened by Closeness
  • Use avoidance to escape pursuit
  • Do not like exposure and not motivated toward insight work
  • Tend not to see things as personal
  • Use victim/prey strategies
  • Flees from conflict rather than fight
  • Safety seekers

Myths of the Lion & Unicorn

  • Myth #1: Lions are typically male and Unicorns are female.

  • Myth #2: Lions are extroverts and Unicorns are introverts.

  • Myth #3: Unicorns never show aggression.

Once you know if you are a Lion or a Unicorn, now you must understand what you pain point is and what your defence is. 

                             Pain                                           Defense

  1. Lion           Shame/nobody cares                Anger
  2. Unicorn     Fear/Anxiety                           Avoidance

Dr. Mark Waller calls this The Dance of the Lion and the Unicorn. See the video below for his explanation

A video description of the common cycle in most relationships

The “dance” is a self-perpetuating system. Our limbic system keeps us addicted to the struggle and we persistently do what isn’t working in the hopes that things will be different.

There is a book for this - Tha Dance of the Lion and The Unicorn by Dr. Mark Waller

More resources 

To be continued...next post!

Treat yourself well,