What makes a woman, or a man? Either sex is inhabited by the opposite sex; biologically speaking, it is simply the addition of one x or y chromosome that tips the scales. Is sex merely a genetic difference, or is there something else?
The “woman” within man and the “man” within woman were designated by the Swiss psychologist Karl Jung as the anima and animus. According to Jung, human nature is characterized by conscious and unconscious aspects. There are two layers to the unconsious: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The superficial layer of the personal unconscious “rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition, but is inborn.” This deeper layer he called the collective unconscious.
The contents of the collective unconscious are known as archetypes, which designate “only those psychic contents which have not yet been submitted to conscious elaboration . . . The archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its color from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear.” (Four Archetypes, p. 5).
“Archetypes were, and still are living psychic forces that demand to be taken seriously, and they have a strange way of making sure of their effect.” (“The Child Archetype” in Essays on a Science of Mythology, p. 75).
Unfortunately, Jung explains, whenever one of these archetypes takes possession of our consciousness, it seems as if we ourselves are having such thoughts and feelings. The ego identifies with them to the point where it is unable to see them for what they are. One is really “possessed” by the figure from the unconscious.
“If we cannot deny the archetypes or otherwise neutralize them, we are confronted, at every new stage in the differentiation of consciousness to which civilization attains, with the task of finding a new interpretation appropriate to this stage, in order to connect the life of the past that still exists in us with the life of
the present, which threatens to slip away from it. If this link-up does not take place, a kind of rootless consciousness comes into being no longer oriented to the past, a consciousness which succumbs helplessly to all manner of suggestions and, in practice, is susceptible to psychic epidemics.” (“The Psychology of the Child Archetype” in Essays on a Science of Mythology, p. 76).
The goal of life, Jung came to believe, was individuation, the emergence of a unique and integrated self through confrontation and mastery of both the outer world of man and society and the inner world of mythology and fantasy.
One of the stages in this process of self-realization is confrontation with the anima, for a man, or the animus, for a woman.
The anima is the female personification of the unconscious; the “woman within” who conveys the vital messages of the Self. It represents all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche, such as vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, feeling for nature. The anima can be a guide to the inner world, if a man takes seriously the feelings, moods, expectations, and fantasies sent by his anima and fixes them in writing, painting, sculpture, musical composition, dancing, or another form.
In Jung’s view man has archetypal conceptions of the female which he projects outward; these determine his relations to women. Among the most frequently projected archetypal anima figures are mother, whore, high priestess, and inspiring woman. As the man becomes aware of his archetypal projections they gradually lose their power and he comes to see women more realistically as individuals.
In Man and His Symbols, Marie-Louise von Franz suggests that “the most frequent manifestations of the anima takes the form of erotic fantasy. Men may be driven to nurse their fantasies by looking at films and strip-tease shows, or by day-dreaming over pornographic material. This is a crude, primitive aspect of the anima, which becomes compulsive only when a man does not sufficiently cultivate his feeling relationships — when his attitude toward life has remained infantile.”
Just as the character of a man’s anima is shaped by his mother, so the animus is basically influenced by a woman’s father. The animus does not so often appear in the form of an erotic fantasy or mood; it is more apt to take the form of a hidden “sacred” conviction.
In women, parallel masculine archetypes can be found; again, these figures are projected onto other persons. Women, at different points in their lives, will be attracted to paternal men, to men of action, to religious or priestly men.
To the extent that a woman becomes aware of the masculine archetypes which govern her relation with men, she is freed from her enslavement by projections.
In its highest form the animus can be the mediator of the religious experience. He gives the woman spiritual firmness, an invisible inner support that compensates for her outer softness. The animus in his most developed form sometimes connects the woman’s mind with the spiritual evolution of her age, and can thereby make her even more receptive than a man to new creative ideas. It is for this reason that in earlier times women were used by many nations as diviners and seers.
If a woman realizes who her anima is and what he does to her, and if she faces these realities instead of allowing herself to be possessed, her animus can turn into an invaluable inner companion who endows her with the masculine qualities of initiative, courage, objectivity, and spiritual wisdom.
“The autonomy of the collective unconscious expresses itself in the figures of anima and animus. They personify those of its contents which, when withdrawn from projection, can be integrated into consciousness. To this extent, both figures represent functions which filter the contents of the collective unconscious through to the conscious mind. They appear or behave as such, however, only so long as the tendencies of the conscious and unconscious do not diverge too greatly. Should any tension arise, these functions, harmless till then, confront the conscious mind in personified form and behave rather like systems split off from the personality, or like part souls. The reason for their behaving in this way is that though the contents of the anima and animus can be integrated, they themselves cannot, since they are archetypes. As such they are the foundation stones of the psychic structure, which in its totality exceeds the limits of consciousness and therefore can never become the object of direct cognition.” (Aion, pp. 18-19).
“Our task is not, therefore, to deny the archetype, but to dissolve the projections, in order to restore their contents to the individual who have involuntarily lost them by projecting them outside himself . . . ” (“Psychological Aspect of the Mother Archetype” in Four Archetypes, p. 18).