“It is saddening that many Jungians still tend to speak of the feminine as if it is the special province of women, or speaking of women’s psychology as “feminine psychology” or men’s psychology as “masculine psychology” ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
To look at any depth psychological theory means contending with the biases and bigotries that the theory is built upon, and to consider whether or not there are useful notions and ideas which are salvageable when the bias has been confronted, or if the theoretical construct is itself is so completely contaminated, serving only to maintain an oppressive status quo, that it needs to be tossed out with the rubbish.
One of the key examples of this is the notion of “penis envy” associated with traditional Freudian theory. “Mother blaming” notions about the psychoanalytic origins of homosexuality, and schizophrenia – are another example of misogynistic theory.
Jung – a student of Freud’s, working in Victorian Europe, seeing women with “hysterical” paralysis – may have rejected Freud’s reductionist sexual theories, but baked plenty of his own and his historical era’s misogyny into his own theories of “women’s psychology.”
Most people have encountered a gender essentialist interpretation of Jung’s Anima and the Animus archetypes through an (infamous and heternormative) self-help book published in the mid-nineties by John Gray: “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus”. Gray took Jung’s ideas about the archetypal “Masculine” and the archetypal “Feminine” and reduced those ideas to traditional gender roles. Men need women to soothe and reassure them, to be patient with them in order for them to move out into the world of work as “warriors.” Women who are insufficiently nurturing, or “too dominant” unwittingly create obstacles to receiving the attention and affection from men that they yearn for. When women help men feel like “men” they are more likely to have their primary, emotional needs met by their partners.
And truly, there have been many generations of Jungian couples therapies that have unfolded along this ridiculously oppressive model. And in fact, reading Jung’s clinical examples of how he himself applied Anima/us theory in practice – is just as infuriating. I hated these notions upon my first exposures to them, and experienced them as utterly unsalvageable. But the more I sat with them, the more that I found ways that these archetypes – these instinctive ways of being – live in each of us, without regard to embodied gender, I began to find small treasures embedded in the rubbish.
So: what do these words “Anima” and “Animus” mean?
For Jung this is an extension of his idea that wholeness is the result and the resolution of the “tension of the opposites” – That everything that is whole contains opposites. The 24 hour day is composed of both daylight and darkness. Inferiority masks unconscious desires for superiority, and superiority is the attempt to compensate for unconsciously held feelings of inferiority. Jung saw the relationship between the unconscious and consciousness as compensatory and bivalent – a dance between opposing energies which, when it is in a state of health, keeps us in balance, and moves us toward wholeness.
Compensation is a fundamental concept in Jungian psychology, which corresponds to the self-regulatory functions of a living organism. To express this idea that one-sidedness is answered by its opposite in the psyche, Jung used the Greek word enantiodromia. ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
And in Jung’s era, and beyond– gender was perceived as binary, and compartmentalized: Man was the opposite of Woman, Masculinity was the opposite of Femininity. Which for Jung, meant that for each of us, our gendered “opposite” lived in our unconscious. The repressed, unconscious “feminine” was called the Anima. The repressed unconscious “masculine” was called the Animus. Men had to make contact with their repressed feminine “soul” to be whole, and women had to become conscious of their repressed masculine “spirit” in order to become whole.
Moreover, Jung believed that those who kept these energies repressed could become “possessed” or inflated by this unconscious content – and men could become neurotically femininely “moody” and “irrational” when they were “anima possessed” and women would become strident, opinionated if their animus had no conscious expression, and took hold of them in unconscious ways. Men who were unconsciously overwhelmed by emotion or passivity and women who were driven by unacknowledged ambition were viewed as neurotic as a result of the force of these unconscious instincts.
For Jung: The anima/us were also archetypes which emerge in dreams as the “contrasexual” characters in our dreams – a man who dreams, for example of following a golden haired maiden into the forest, may be dreaming of making contact with his own “feminine” soul and emotional life. A woman who dreams of being guided by a wise old man is encountering a psychopomp, a guide and teacher who may lead her to deeper theoretical understanding of her own being.
In traditional Jungian theory – these are also the archetypes that we project out onto potential (heterosexual) romantic partners. A woman may encounter her Animus through myth and dreams and analytic explorations, or she may encounter “her perfect type” in the guise of all that she projects onto her partner/husband. And, for Jung, a heterosexual man will encounter his anima as he seeks out his “ideal feminine” mate. And, in this theory – heterosexual couples fall into conflict when they unconsciously pressure each other into manifesting their ideal: when a woman’s animus “attacks” a man’s anima. Or a man’s anima responds to his wife’s animus with moody irrational rejections.
When I first began to wrestle with this content it would start out momentarily interesting and then quickly get very yucky– But the more I labored with it – the more I began to suspect that although the culture/era/patriarchical applications of these theories were grossly oppressive – it felt like Jung’s notion itself was like an attempt to break down oppressive gender and gender role binaries, and to free the “contra-sexual” element in all of us.
Whatever we are not biologically, whatever we are not allowed to be by our families and our cultures, whatever opportunities are withheld from us with regard to our biological gender identity (male, intersexual, female) or our gender role presentation ( how we perform “feminine” or “masculine” cultural standards) no matter who we are or what culture we live in, our opposite, our unlived aspects reside within us. And when we can become more conscious of that we are more whole, and more free.
Gareth Hill, in his book “Masculine and Feminine” – writing also in the mid-nineties – undertook the task of reformation and rescue of some of the salvageable aspects of Anima/animus theory.
And Hill is also restricted by his era: Binary gender “opposites” still hold sway in the thinking of the time – as opposed to gender continuums, homosexual marriage is illegal at the time of his writing, and was only fairly recently depathologized in the revised DSM of that decade. There was no popular discourse on intersexuality, transgender identities, or gender queer presentations or gay or queer parent households. Many gender “associated” qualities are still considered inherent and biologically based in this generation – but Hill does his best to avoid the gender essentialist arguments that Men are From Mars puts forth:
Anima and animus are the archetypal patterns of masculine and feminine which transcend gender. ~ Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill.
So maybe we can think of it this way:
Animus or anima otherness is an expression of what a person cannot in that moment be. Shadow otherness is that which we don’t like to be, or don’t want to admit being. ~Masculine and Feminine, Gareth S. Hill,
Or maybe it is the archetype of all that we are not permitted to be: that requires we become “disobedient” and “radical” in order to claim for our conscious selves. And sometimes Anima/us may be the unlived aspects of our being that we foreclose upon and mourn because the opportunities to manifest them are thwarted by oppressive cultural structures and expectations.
I find this all far easier to consider when we strip gendered language from this entirely- the clearest archetypal image that I return to make sense of this theory is the T’ai Chi: reframing Anima/us as Yin and Yang, remembering that each state also contains its opposite.
(But sometimes I want to get past even those classifications: Sometimes, privately I think instead of my grandmother-in-law’s childhood pets: A massive great dane named “Bitsy” and a tiny dachshund called” Zambor.” Everything great has something tiny inside of it. Everything that is small contains something huge and heroic. We might also think of these archetypes as The Left and the Right. Although we associate gender with some of these qualities, that is because we have filtered them through cultural lens which have assigned gendered expectations to universal states of being.
We can call these energies anything we like, and to me, we are closer to wholeness when we remember that all of them are present inside of each of us.
Hill further breaks these archetypes (despite the gendered language) down in to useful and recognizable patterns of being and behaving (which I have used and amended to include my own thoughts) :
The Static Yin/ Feminine/Left :
Interdependecy, primal dependency
Mothering (by any gender)
In its “negative aspect” – when it is too one-sided out of balance: this will look like smothering, merger, engulfing, devouring, passivity.
The Dynamic (Yang/Masculine/Right) :
When out of balance: Aggressive, abusive, domineering, self-serving, grandiose.
The Static (Yang/Masculine/Right) :
Fathering (by any gender)
When out of balance: rigidity, excessive control or punishment of others, righteousness, disconnection, systemic oppression.
When out of balance: “spacy-ness” disorganization, magical thinking, chaos, rot, substance abuse/intoxication, and delusion/hallucination
So: these metaphysical energetic states are natural states that are accessible to all human beings regardless of their gender. Yet when Jung and his more dogmatic binary followers attempt to apply it to their worldview of binary and “opposite” sexes – these ideas become damaging and toxic.
So how might we use our awareness of these instinctive ways of being in the therapeutic session in practical and liberating way? I find that primary usefulness of these ideas are to help me and the client remain alert to a basic “onesided-ness” or imbalance – that has risen up from within, or has been imposed from the outside:
I very rarely make any direct reference to these archetypes in session. I can count the times I’ve spoken to a client about “masculine or feminine” archetypes or anima/us on one hand. But here are some fictionalized accounts that demonstrate how applying these constructs in the therapeutic session can be helpful:
A gentle, somewhat passive cis-straight married man with an unacknowledged yearning to be a primary caretaker (static-yin) and adventure guide/play mate (dynamic yin) for his child, in a traditional gender-role divided marriage, pressed into expressing his love for his family by taking on assertive bread-winning (dynamic-yang) energies and unhappily trapped in the (static-yang) role of household provider. Noticing the one-sidedness of his role, naming the yearning to care for his child in more nurturing and related ways, and grieving the ways that this is an impossibility for him.
A trans man in transition, being nursed by his supportive and attentive mother, in the weeks following his top-surgery (double masectomy) has a powerful dream that his breasts “are still there.”
Upon waking he is frightened by potential implications/interpretations of the dream, but the dream itself was not distressed, but felt deeply pleasurable, comforting, whole, powerful.
As the dream is explored, it becomes clear that the client is feeling very connected and grateful for his mother’s maternal care, devotion and nursing, (static-yin) and that the client feels strongly identified with his mother and hopes to manifest the same kind of steadfast support for his loved ones. We discuss all the ways that the archetypal Static Yin (without naming it as such) will remain central to the client’s values and being through his bodily transition into his gender identity.
A queer relationship between a self identified professionally powerful “cis-butch” lesbian and her artistic gender-queer partner. The couple would like to start a family, and explore the implications of pregnancy and parenthood on their bodies, their gender identities, and gender roles. The conversation also explores the ways that the archetypal Static Yin, without labling it as such, is desired and feared (in its devouring negative aspect) – experienced as a potential threat to both Dynamic-Yang career ambitions and to Dynamic-Yin creative processes.
A self identified cis-straight woman, in a “traditionally male” working class profession, the only woman on her job site, eliminates any trace of vulnerability or femininity that might impact her role at work. Placed in a supervisory position (static-yang) over a group of large, physical, dynamic-yang–possessed men who are threatened by her authority at the job. Some men recoil and rebel. Other’s on the team, “soften” toward her, and respond to her nurturing, (static-yin) maternal or sisterly care for them. She drinks to excess and is plagued by intrusive nightmares. (dynamic-yin in its negative aspect)
A deeply religious cis-straight woman, attached to traditional gender roles, who married young and whose mastery experiences organized around motherhood and housekeeping – decides to separate and leave her substance-abusing (dynamic-yin) husband, and head out into the world to start a new life- (dynamic yang). She assesses her skills and capacities for order and organization and decides to return to school to become a C.P.A and take on the financial support of her household. (static yang)
Or myself: an old psychotherapist whose relationship to her work life as a therapist (static-yin) and her commitment to working heroically and taking on “hard” cases that others turn away (dynamic-yang) has been dramatically reorganized by chaos, (dynamic-yin) in the year following a life-threatening diagnosis.
We can see in all of these examples, that we are more likely to experience symptoms, or “fateful” external obstacles when we fall into (or are pressured by external circumstances) into imbalanced “one-sidedness”. When we find our selves “stuck” in one state – facing down every obstacle like a warrior going into battle – for example – we are undervaluing and under utilizing other energetic strategies, such as patience, or play, or restructuring. Nature notices these imbalances – and responds to correct/compensate for us: either with psychological or somatic symptoms, or through strain and conflict in our relationships in the world around us.
If we can hold the words “masculine” and “feminine” lightly in our minds when discussing the Anima and Animus archetypes, we can see that in the mythical and folkloric cannon – that these energies are often (but not exclusively) represented by gendered characters, and that these myths and stories can tell us something about the pathological one-sidedness of an entire culture:
The captive princess awaiting rescue is an oppressive image only if it taken literally to imply that everyone in a female body must wait passively to be saved by a powerful man.
But, if we look at the princess as a symbol of the collective Static Yin archetype which is too often devalued, repressed and made powerless by a patriarchal culture – it may require that we all summon our heroic Dynamic-Yang energies to break “her” out of imprisonment and move us toward wholeness as a community.
We are all the princess. We are all the hero. We are all the ruling King. We are all the tricky old Witch.
And our myths and scriptures and our nighttime dreams often use gendered characters to talk to us about what energies are ascendant in us, as individuals and as a community – and what aspects of our identities are experiencing repression or oppression.
But in truth these archetypes exist in all of us.
Each of us have hard, strong dominant aspects which will need to be softened.
Each of us has soft, passive, reactive, nurturing aspects that will need to be strengthened.
Each of us has creative, disorganized, chaotic energies which need to be more structured.
All of us can become rigid and rule-bound and need to learn to allow more inspiration and freedom and play into some area of our lives.
We are all susceptible to one-sidedness. Our culture and are families of origins and our sexual and romantic relationships can cauterize and prune our gendered identities in ways we can’t always notice- that may drive our development to consciously identify with one set of these qualities and repress its complement into underdeveloped unconsciousness.
To be whole and stable , we need all four legs under our table of be of equal size and strength. When we over-develop one area of our being, and neglect, or silence its “opposite” it makes us wobbly, unstable in both our personal and our collective lives.