Animuse

The last time I posted, I wrote about having a sense of a deep sinking into myself. A few weeks later, I began reading The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise von Franz, and discovered that the experiences I described in my last post are often symbolically represented in fairy tales. Von Franz uses the fairy tale “King Thrushbeard,” to illustrate aspects of the feminine journey that parallel my own experience lately. It was comforting to read about the feminine journey, which von Franz contrasts with the masculine one. Their journeys are different because the masculine archetype hunts and kills, whereas the feminine gives life and nurtures; therefore a man dealing with his anima confronts and becomes entangled in life, whereas a woman dealing with her animus encounters situations involving aim and direction. Put another way, as part of his journey, a man is thrust into life; but a woman is called out of it.

Our contrasexual parts, anima for a man and animus for a woman, are our inner opposites. Though they act in different ways in men and women, their purposes are to act as soul guides, presenting creative possibilities and making individuation possible. So many women are always longing or looking for a “soul mate,” ignorant of the fact that a woman’s soul is expressed through her animus. Her inner masculine is the one who will get her to where she needs to go, but she tends to project her inner needs outwardly, seeking them in some man. This was true of me for well over a decade in my own marriage, when I sincerely believed that my husband could meet my needs, if only he (or I) would try harder. At that time, we attended a church that taught us that something was wrong if our husbands didn’t meet our needs; the idea that we could be one another’s soul mates was part of the doctrine. They taught that unhappiness or dissatisfaction in a marriage resulted from a wife not being good enough to inspire her husband to meet her needs; or else the fault was with the husband. I’m reminded of an old book titled, You Can Be the Wife of a Happy Husband, which expressed similar ideas: Wives who did all the right things would in return receive all the right things from their husbands. It was some years before I realized that my man would never make me happy, and that all my joy and happiness had to come from my relationship with God and my own Self.

Soul Mate

If ever the fantasy of the soul mate who completes her can be put away by a woman, she may be ready by middle-age to deal with her male side, the animus. This inner character can be a very low sort, appearing as an animal or in other instinctive, natural forms in dreams or art. He may come as an evil spirit or he may appear as a helpful animal, but his basic nature is instinctual. Being a hunter, he is goal-oriented, even driven.

Just as the anima confronts a man with numerous psychological and emotional challenges, so too the animus confronts a woman. He causes her a great deal of suffering. How do we handle this suffering? Von Franz writes that

One way of dealing with the animus problem is for the woman simply to suffer it through to the bitter end. Indeed, there is no solution that does not include suffering, and suffering seems to belong to the life of woman (p. 177).

In this approach, a woman hunkers down to wait it out. I had quite a strong sense of this in my life when I plunged into the dark wood of mid-life, a strange contrast to my earlier way of life, which was always to be right in the middle of it. Being right in the middle of life is a feminine characteristic, for to live the feminine life is to be related, connected, and in community. We women serve the archetype of wholeness by trying to bring and keep people together, to foster relatedness if not relationship.

Circle

I grew up camping with my family, and one of the experiences that stands out in my mind is the memory of the ebb and flow of daily life around camp. We were all up at or before day’s first light, the smell of brewing coffee mingling with frying sausage. While my mother and grandmother gathered the cooking implements, the men built the cooking fire, organized their fishing gear, and checked the boats. After breakfast, the men inevitably went somewhere–fishing, hunting, tromping around in hiking boots, discovering. They went on the water, not into it. Though anyone could go anywhere and do anything either group was doing, the feminine camp was the camp that stayed put, stirred the pot, tended the fire, read books under the shade trees, laid in the hammock and dreamed. Women went into the water to bathe, play, or wash; men went on the water to fish, or ski, or explore.

At the end of the day as darkness fell and the last plate was being scraped and washed in my grandmother’s big metal wash tub, the men would gather around the camp fire. Grandad would fish his tobacco pouch out of a jacket pocket and tamp a bowl of tobacco into his pipe. When it was perfect, he’d light it. The smell of pipe tobacco mingled with that of the camp fire as the grownups began to swap stories or tell us tales from their childhood. In the circle of family around that fire, we were both male and female; both aspects mingled to make a whole that gave us the deepest sense of connection and identity possible. This is just how it works as we individuate: We call the fragmented parts of our psyche to the camp fire. We swap stories. We listen. And we are carried away on a stream of consciousness that both grounds us and sets us free.

The Magic Flight

As a woman begins to realize that she’s not going to get what she needs from a man–not her father, not her husband or her lover, not her sons–she’s confronted with the problem of her own lack of wholeness on the masculine side. She’s spent her entire life longing for something and someone who can only be discovered and related to if she turns inward. Because she wasn’t developmentally ready for it, or because she was wounded there, or because our culture demands we be either this or that, or for any variety of reasons, she’s estranged from her inner male. She has possibly pushed his energy down for years and years, so when it bursts forth, it is neither refined nor cooperative. It feels strong, out of control, even frightening.

The animus energy can be so great that a woman is confronted with the problem of being possessed or overwhelmed by it. She can try to strengthen herself and stand up to the animus and try to conquer him, or she may flee–a motif von Franz calls “the magic flight.” Such a flight is characterized by throwing things away, ridding oneself of possessions, and getting rid of all that encumbers one. “Stripping oneself gives mobility,” von Franz points out, and therefore, “there are situations in which one absolutely has to give up wanting anything, and in this way one slips out from under; one is not there any longer, so nothing more can go wrong. When one is confronted by a hopelessly wrong situation, one must just make a drastic leap to the bottom of open-minded simplicity, and from there one can live through it” (p. 179).

I’ve noticed that many middle-aged women choose that time of life to down-size. They sell their large homes and purchase a smaller. They come to visit children with trunks full of memorabilia that they leave behind. Many end long-term friendships or business relationships that haven’t been working. They strip themselves of all that cannot help them during the second half of life, of whatever hinders, and of what will never serve individuation.

Other women struggle and fuss, argue and fume with spouses or adult children, neighbors or best friends, until they finally come to the end of themselves and their opinions and ideas about what must be. They learn that they can’t control or change anyone, and rarely can even influence another human being. All they can do is influence themselves, and that too seems impossible with a naked, muscular, hairy male running through their unconscious, brandishing a machete. They come to this impossible place, and their only salvation is to throw themselves into this “open-minded simplicity” von Franz writes about.

“Unless you become as little children,” Jesus said, “you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

Exile

Another characteristic of a woman’s animus struggle is that she goes into exile. In many fairy tales, we see a female character who flees or is driven or exiled in the woods, in a wasteland, in some tower or wilderness fortress. In “The Girl without Hands,” the central character bit by bit drifts out of life and eventually must go to the woods and live an isolated life. Von Franz writes that

This is a very frequent motif, and being excluded from life for many years seems to me typically to illustrate a problem of feminine psychology. From the outside it looks like a complete stagnation, but in reality it is a time of initiation and incubation when a deep inner split is cured and inner problems solved. This motif forms a contrast to the more active quest of the male hero, who has to go into the Beyond and try to slay the monster, or find the treasure, or the bride. Usually he has to make more of a journey and accomplish some deed instead of just staying out of life. There seems to be a typical difference between the masculine and feminine principles. The unconscious is experienced as isolation by the heroine, and afterward comes the return into life (p. 106).

12 responses

  1. Ah Eve,

    What a wonderful collaboration for a book as long as I’m writer #2 for you are our leader. Nevertheless, I’m sticking pins in my inflated head with your esteem. Thank you, Eve.

    This statement about marriages within the marriage I initially heard posed at a Jungian conference in Ireland. It was made by a senior analyst from New England whose name I didn’t know then nor now which probably says something about my marital state of mind. Nevertheless, I remembered the concept and carried it forever more.

    And yet, and yet, I hum the words tonight of Bob Dylan’s song “Just Like a Woman” of how this woman, “breaks just like a little girl.”

    I wonder if I’m different that way?

  2. Thank you for such an interesting post, Eve, and such thoughtful follow-up comments. I found it very visually appealing and content rich. Serious and whimsical.

    Ah, the soul mate. My husband and I are married forty years now and there have been many marriages within that period. At last count we were up to seven. Some were wonderful, some were painful. We have never been afraid of going down onto the mat and dragging every projection with us hoping for deeper connection, understanding and consciousness.

    At midpoint in our married life my husband did me an enormous favor by kindly telling me that he could not be my father. Now, that sounds ridiculous at some level because of course he cannot. But I wanted him to be. I was fortunate that he pushed back onto me that projection I had placed on him. I remember crying and I needed to cry for there was much to cry about.

    At this juncture we share 3 grandchildren ages 10, 7 and 5. Want to hear something funny, Eve? This same husband who, by the way, accepts my very strong, independent and rather annoying animus asked me recently and rhetorically how old our youngest granddaughter was. I responded, “She’s five.” He smiled and said, “Wow, she’s older than you already.”

    Maybe that’s why we are together still; he can always make me laugh.

    • MJ, I’m so glad to see that you wrote about your several marriages within your marriage. We’ve had that same experience in almost 30 years of marriage, and I wish someone had told me that the wish to be married to someone else would be granted if only we could stay together long enough! Ha ha!

      I’m so tempted to start in with a long commiseration about projection inside a marriage… but maybe I’ll save that for the day when you and I collaborate on a book. ;o)

      I loved your husband’s witty comment about your five-year-old granddaughter and you. That made me laugh, too.

  3. I loved this post (and by the way, have missed the fact that you have been writing less frequently). I consider that I have a soul mate however perhaps as a same sex marriage my definition of soul mate is different? I am not looking for the missing component of myself, but for that person who I can and do trust implicitly with the fragileness of self.

    Your observation that we women work on relatedness and relationship truly resonated with me after spending a weekend of travel to see my son’s bio sister and then a trip up north to see my mother. I have always felt family connections (and by this I mean a fairly wide net of family and friends) to be very important and work hard to keep those relationships strong for my children.

    I wonder where I will go on the self growth journey you outline. By rights I should be doing my middle aged stuff but as a parent who still has young children at home I find myself still not ready or interested in that part of the journey yet!

    • Interesting question about gender differences, Lee. I’m not sure that it makes much difference psychologically when two same-sex partners are together. Each still expects the Other to fulfill him or her, no? At least, this is the grand romance that people enter their 20s with. My observation is that straight or gay makes no difference; it’s the maturity that makes the difference.

      Once your dreams have been shattered, heart broken, projections unsatisfied, etc., then a person may have and accept the chance to be more conscious in a relationship. In the next relationship he may be more cautions and conscious, expecting less of the partner in some ways, more of himself (or herself).

      As for your last comment, I understand! I’m over 50 but have a child still in elementary school. I find it challenging to navigate my own developmental waters while helping my youngest navigate hers. You can probably identify with that, eh?

  4. This is a fascinating post, which I am sure I will revisit for multiple readings, as I do with many of your posts.

    What’s primarily on my mind, after my first read, is the idea of a soul mate. I always wanted one, myself, and I think that by a curious stroke of an otherwise seemingly non-benevolent Fate, I now have one. But my definition was quite different from most people’s … more literal, perhaps. I wanted a woman whom I could trust with, and who would get along with, the inner feminine which I have become pretty close to over the years out of self-preservation, having had a blighted relationship with the literal women in my life (until I finally figured out why that was happening, and broke the pattern). So I really wanted to be with a woman who was OK with my inside-woman. And interestingly, although I don’t think she’d express it that way, I think she had a similar inkling about wanting to be with a guy who was OK with her inner guy.

    As a result, I have noticed that we have a relationship of curious complements, where we support (and chafe) each other in ways that are not what I observe in most of the couples whom I know. The problem we have, and it’s almost comical, is that each of us is completely on board with the idea that we are responsible for our own happiness and fulfillment … to such an extent that we have some trouble allowing the other person to participate in the journey, even when that participation could be very helpful.

    • David, here’s to being a grownup when one chooses a partner! I think maturity and recalling one’s projections as much as possible before partnering with someone else makes the relationship so much more healthy and enjoyable. I was delighted with your description of how you and the Amazon have more troubles with the participatory bits than with the “make me happy” bits.

      Too many people marry their projections or their missing halves, only to wear themselves (and their partner) out later. We expect the other person to carry far too much for us, both our shadow and our gold. I’m glad that you’ve had the sense to not do that and instead spent as much energy and time as you have on growing yourself. I’m sure it makes you a much better friend and partner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: