I wrote earlier about archetypes and their function, briefly touching upon the anima and animus. In this post, I’ll write about the anima, the archetypal, and thus unconscious, feminine aspect. As a psychic structure, it transcends gender, although by way of introduction I’ll write with reference to Anima influence among men first. Because the anima is an archetype, it also informs and resides with the collective unconscious, exerting a powerful influence on culture.
Psychologically, the anima functions in a man as his soul, so to speak. Jung described the anima as “the archetype of life itself,” and maintained an ongoing dialogue and partnership with his personal anima. When a man is full of life he is “animated.” The man with no connection to his soul feels dull and listless; he also appears to be dull, listless, and boring. Whether we call it depression or boredom, this malaise has been around since the dawn of time. For thousands of years, among so-called primitive peoples, this state of being has been known as loss of soul.
This inner feminine often appears in a man’s dreams about the same time as his shadow self appears. His anima will be a female figure, while his shadow side will be male. A man’s inner image of woman is initially determined by his experience of his personal mother or closest female caregiver. It is later modified through contact with other women–friends, relatives, teachers–but the experience of the personal mother is so powerful and long-lasting that a man is naturally attracted to those women who are much like her–or, as often happens, her direct opposite. That is to say, he may yearn for what he’s known, or seek to escape it at all costs.
The anima personifies all the feminine psychological tendencies within the man, such as prophetic hunches, intuitions, moods, receptivity, capacity for personal love, a feeling for nature, and his relation to the unconscious. Just as in ancient times, females were used as diviners to fathom the divine will, to translate it, and to make a connection between man and the gods, so too the anima connects a man to the great unknown.
Stages of Anima Development
Jung distinguished four broad stages of the anima in the course of a man’s psychological development. He personified these as Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia according to classical stages of eroticism.
In the first stage, Eve, the man’s Anima is completely tied up with the mother–not necessarily his personal mother, but the image of the woman as a faithful provider of nourishment, security, and love. The first Eve represents all that is natural, instinctual, and biological. The man with an anima of this type cannot function well without a vital connection to a woman and easily falls prey to being controlled by her. He may suffer impotence or have no sexual desire at all. Other ways in which this type of anima possession manifests are through fear of accidents or disease, or in a sort of dullness of personality. The Greek Sirens or the German Lorelei personify this dangerous aspect of the anima, which may even lead a man to his death. This illustrates what is true of other psychological content, namely that it has two aspects, benevolent and malefic.
In the second stage, personified in the historical figure of Helen of Troy, the Anima is sexual being with collective appeal. She is Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie. The man under her spell is often a Don Juan who engages in repeated sexual adventures. These will invariably be short-lived for two reasons: he has a fickle heart, and no real woman can live up to the expectations that go with this unconscious, ideal image.
The third stage of the Anima is Mary, who raises love to the heights of spiritual devotion. It manifests in religious feelings and a capacity for genuine friendship with women. The man with an anima of this kind is able to see a woman as she is, independent of his own needs. His sexuality is integrated into his life, not an autonomous function that drives him. He can differentiate between love and lust. He is capable of lasting relationships because he can tell the difference between the object of his desire and his inner image of woman.
In the fourth stage, as Sophia (meaning “wisdom”), a man’s anima functions as a guide to the inner life, mediating to consciousness the contents of the unconscious. Sophia is behind the need to grapple with the grand philosophical issues, the search for meaning. She is Beatrice in Dante’s Inferno, the creative muse in any artist’s life. She is a natural mate for the archetypal Wise Old Man in the male psyche. Jung commented that “in the psychic development of modern man this stage is rarely reached,” a comment first published in 1964 and which still rings true today.1
Theoretically, a man’s anima development proceeds through these stages as he grows older. When the possibilities of one have been exhausted, the psyche stimulates the move to the next stage. This move seldom happens without a struggle or a crisis of some sort that helps to move a man forward in his anima development, but the move forward is always worthwhile, for it leads him ever onward, to his true inner home.
As with any psychological content, anima relations have their pitfalls. For example, a man may be captured by his anima, so to speak, and so identify with her that he finds her in an actual woman, marries or partners with her, and is led away from his responsibility to himself. In fairy tales, this problem is often represented by the false bride character.
When inner realities are not recognized or owned, they appear in the outside world through projection. Thus, if a man’s anima is lonely and desperate for attention, he will tend to fall in love with dependent women who demand his time and energy. The man with a mother-bound anima will choose a woman who wants to take care of him. The man not living up to his potential will be attracted to women who goad him on and make more of him than he would otherwise be. In other words, whatever qualities a man does not recognize or develop within himself will confront him in real life.
Negative manifestations of the ignored or repressed anima can be seen in a man’s waspish and poisonous remarks, whereby he gives the image of a person playing a destructive intellectual game. He may become such a pseudo-intellectual that he loses all joy and spontaneity in life and becomes stalled by always ruminating on it.
Jung pointed out that the problem of admiring or worshiping the anima in a collective sense, as in goddess worship, is that she loses her individual aspects as soon as she is shared. A man’s anima is meant to be his and his alone; once she is projected into the world rather than integrated into his very being, a man becomes either a “victim of his erotic fantasies or compulsively dependent on one actual woman.” 2
- Animus and Anima, by Emma Jung.
- Transforming Sexuality: The Archetypal World of Anima and Animus, by Ann & Barry Ulanov.
- The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, by Carl G. Jung.
- Iron John: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly.
- Absent Fathers, Lost Sons: The Search for Masculine Identity, by Guy Corneau.
- He: Understanding Male Psychology, Robert Johnson.
- King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, by Robert Moore & Douglas Gillette.
1 Jung, Carl (Ed.). Man and His Symbols. (New York: Dell, 1964) 195.
2 Ibid., 198.