One of the most interesting and provocative archetypes we encounter in Jungian Psychology is that of the Anima and Animus.
The Anima/Animus relates to our inner or soul life. Not soul as understood in metaphysical terms as something which lives on beyond our physical existence but rather soul as in the inner force that animates us.
These soul definitions stem from a time, when Jung was doing this work, where the gender roles were more traditionally and clearly differentiated. So some of what follows in the definition of the Anima/Animus may not apply today. However, much of it still has value.
Androgyny and the Contra Sexuality
The psyche is such that it contains and embraces both the feminine and masculine. It is inherently an androgynous entity regardless of what the gender of the physical person is.
The personality or persona naturally takes on the gender role that you are born to physically. Not always, as we know, but this is the general default orientation.
Women take on a feminine role and persona.
Men take on a masculine role and persona.
The psyche compensates for this by birthing a contra sexuality in the inner life of the person. So:
Women have a contra sexuality which is masculine in nature and this is called the Animus.
Men have a contra sexuality which is feminine in nature and this is called the Anima.
An amplification of these archetypal characters is that the Animus is the woman’s rational function and the Anima is the man’s irrational function.
The above is where today in using Jung’s definitions in this way we may injure certain gender sensitivities. And beyond that let me say I agree that these strict and traditional classifications are not universally applicable.
However for the sake of explaining these concepts, it is easier if we start with these classical definitions. So putting the above together we can say the following:
In a woman her contra sexuality is masculine and governs her rational thinking function and we call this the Animus.
In a man his contra sexuality is feminine and governs his irrational feeling function and we call this the Anima.
The Inner Life or Soul
When we talk about the role of the Anima and Animus we are talking about:
- Relatedness – our ability to relate as whole human beings to the world and other people. In order for the relatedness to have an equal measure of heart and mind the psyche relies on the contra sexuality to compensate for the natural one sidedness of the personality.
- Animation or Spirit, the anima/animus plays a significant role in determining how we think and feel about our lives in the innermost chamber of our hearts. It is not what we say but the spirit we bring to the world that we feel inside ourselves and that others become aware of when they interact with us.
- The archetype of the Anima/Animus forms a bridge between our personal unconscious, our subconscious and what Jung refers to as the Collective Unconscious. The anima/animus is the image making capacity which we use to draw inspirational, creative and intuitive images from the inner world (strictly speaking transpersonal inner world).
These are some of the more well known and fundamental roles of the soul and how the soul operates when it is appropriate placed and functional.
Neuroses in a Jungian sense are frequently a manifestation of a displaced soul life. I will give some examples of this later on.
It is important to understand that an archetype, as in the case of the Anima/Animus, transcends the personal psyche. This was one of Jung’s greatest contributions to depth psychology. The idea of a transpersonal psychic structure which transcends the personal.
An archetype is like a Platonic Ideal. It exists as a Universal or an Idea which is common to all of mankind. The Jungian mathematician Robin Robertson refers to this as a cognitive invariant, meaning it has universality, a commonality which is evident across multiple individual psyches.
So whilst the anima/animus will naturally have a personal colouring in each individual it will also have an archetypal or transpersonal component.
Father and Mother, King and Queen
Following the above it is such that the child has this latent archetype or capacity in the psyche prior to birth. Under normal circumstances the masculine and feminine will be modelled on the first imprint in the child’s life of the masculine and feminine – the father and mother.
However in the case of an absent parent the child will base the initial archetypal colouring on a parental surrogate. An older woman or man who the child can relate to as a parental substitute, filling the void created by the missing parent.
This parental relationship then is the prime imprinter of the anima or animus as the case may be. Whilst it is not the sole imprinter and the image of the contra sexual self is evolved with later more mature relationships with the opposite sex, it has (as can be imagined) the single biggest influence.
One of the differentiating qualities which Jung identified between the animus and anima is that the animus has a multiplicity to it whereas the anima appears more in the singular.
A good example of this is the fairytale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- who are all animus manifestations, psychologically speaking.
Archetypal examples of the animus in various stages of development:
- Tarzan , the unconscious primitive but physically vital masculine.
- James Dean , Rebel without a Cause, undirected masculine energy, unconscious masculine but not unattractive.
- James Bond , suave man of the world.
- Steve Jobs or Richard Branson , integrated masculine, strong, creative, attractive but more androgynous.
- Barak Obama integrated evolved masculine epitomising secular values in their most evolved form.
- Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela , the masculine which now brings the spiritual component into the world, transcending the mundane and secular but without denying it.
- Christ , Mohammed , Buddha , the conscious spiritual incarnation of the masculine, completely transcending the earthiness of the unconscious masculine.
The Integrated Animus
The animus when it is integrated in a healthy female psyche would typically imbue the following qualities:
- Good rational and logical ability.
- Ability for clear non attached thought.
- Ability to construct by sustained effort and application.
- A strong centre.
- Good external strength in the persona.
- Bridge to knowledge and creative thought.
- Problem solving.
The Displaced Animus
When the animus is displaced or overwhelms the female psyche it may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Know it all behaviour.
- Inability to effectively and meaningfully relate.
The Anima, naturally, is originally based on the boy’s image of his mother and this later evolves with his relatedness to more mature romantic relationships. The Anima is generally related to in the singular both in the inner and outer worlds. Meaning, a man will generally project his anima onto only a single woman at any one time, whereas a woman would frequently have more than one animus projection in her life.
Archetypal examples of the Anima in various stages of development:
- Brooke Shields in her original virginal role as a teenage star, pre sexual feminine
- Marilyn Monroe or Pamela Anderson , the fully developed sexual diva
- Jackie Kennedy or Eleanor Roosevelt , the mature feminine supportive wife, mother, nurturer.
- Margret Thatcher , strong, intuitive leadership with some sacrifice of the feminine.
- Evita Peron or Hillary Clinton , the feminine in a strong leadership role but still feminine on bearing and orientation.
- Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale , the highly evolved feminine embodying the spiritual transcendence of the feminine archetype but still connected to the world.
- The Virgin Mary , the true transcendent iconic female, no longer of this world.
The Integrated Anima
Some typical qualities of the integrated Anima are:
- Self soothing, self nurturing and self loving.
- Access to creative inspiration.
- Strong centre and contained inner life.
- Capable of empathy.
- Able to make value judgements beyond the realm of pure rationality.
- Access to feeling life.
- Good relatedness.
The Displaced Anima
Some typical qualities of the displaced Anima are:
- Uncontained, constantly seeking external affirmation.
- Lack of creativity.
- Poor relatedness, behaviour in relationships designed to isolate the person from others.
- Greedy, grasping.
- Self centred.
The Journey to individuation
Jungian therapy traditionally starts with the integration of the shadow which has a stronger personal component than the anima/animus which is more archetypal in nature.
Once the analyst is satisfied the analysand has made good progress with their shadow work then the challenge of working with the anima/animus would begin in earnest.
There are many ways of going about this work and Jungian therapy is adverse to formulistic approaches. The journey varies from individual to individual.
However to give some idea of how challenging this can be, let me refer to a case I am very familiar with, the case of myself.
Now admittedly I was, and am still to a degree, what may be classified as neurotic, so my case would not necessarily apply to you. However it is generally a case of degrees so it will give an indication of the gradient of this work.
In my case I first encountered this teaching, not in analysis, but in a theoretical presentation, some ten years ago.
I immediately realised my own challenges with my anima and began consciously working on its integration into my psyche. At the time I was in a weekly Jungian study group led by a highly erudite Jungian teacher with an emphasis on the practical application of Jung’s teaching. I remained in this study group for several years.
In addition to this I was and remain to this day committed to extensive internal work.
Ten years later I would be dishonest if I said I had integrated my Anima.
Nevertheless the journey has been one filled with riches and extensive inner and outer growth. I hope that the fact I choose to write this post at this time, despite how challenging this work is, indicates my belief in its value.
Creating a Model or Imago to better understand the Anima/Animus
With the above qualification in place, I would like to give some indication here of how one may approach this challenging aspect of the individuation process.
Jungian therapy with an analyst; probably the most direct and contained way to approach this for those fortunate enough to have access to a analyst. In the dialogue between analyst and analysand, using the content of the analysand’s life much progress can be made.
Dream work; the animus/anima visits us in our dreams usually in the form of the opposite sex. By finding a means of meaningfully understanding and working with our dream life we develop in effect a direct dialogue with the archetype.
Building the imago of the archetype through a process of reflection. This would be based on the enduring qualities that you found evident across multiple relationships with the opposite sex. From parent, to mentor, to siblings to romantic interests. Once this imago is constructed one enters into a dialogue with it through the imaginative process or what Jung referred to as active imagination.
A mature and lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex in the world, typically in the form of marriage. In a marriage one is relating in effect to one’s souls image. This comes with a few challenges, which time and space considerations forbid me from enumerating here; nevertheless it is the single most effective tool to integrate the soul image. It is also the one which has been the default technique applied the world over.
A topic such as this one can fill volumes and in the annals of Jungian literature indeed has. I realise that this post may pose more questions than it answers and I have to accept that. I don’t suppose to herein have exhausted the topic.
Nevertheless, if this post stimulates you to investigate this topic further then it will have served its purpose.
Until next time,