Monday, October 1, 2007

Men and the Anima - A Jungian Treatise

The Anima, or Men and Their Feelings
At first glance Jung’s psychology might appear quite esoteric, speaking as it does of archetypes, the self, individuation, and so  forth. What could all that mean, and more to the point, what could it do for us in our  daily lives? For any psychology has to be ultimately judged by how well it contributes to  our understanding of ourselves.
So let’s put Jung’s psychology to the test and see what he had to say about  the anima, or men and their feelings. As a general rule men’s feelings are less developed than those of women. (From the point of view of psychological types they fall  mostly in the third or fourth place. See Tracking the  Elusive Human, Vol. 1.) They are less conscious, or put in another way, more  immersed in the unconscious, and this gives men’s feelings many of their outstanding  characteristics. There will be men, for example, who will deny they have any feelings at  all, or minimize the value of the feelings they do have, and the role they play in their  lives. They pride themselves on being rational, of making use of logic, of advancing by  well-reasoned judgments. And it is often true that this part of their personality is more  developed and accessible to them. But paradoxically, the more men pride themselves on  their logical and rational natures, the more powerfully, albeit unconsciously, they can be effected by their feelings. It is as if there is a fundamental psychological rule: acknowledge your feelings and give them a place in their life, or else they will enchant  you or bedevil you, and somehow have their say.
It is this realm of men’s feelings, especially in as much as they are closely  bound to the unconscious, that Jung called the anima. More formally we could say that the anima is the feminine side of a man, or more graphically, inside every man is a woman whom  he must come to terms with. And it is one of the great works of a man’s life to try  to relate to this woman. Indeed, we could say that a man could not have a relationship  with any woman, without this interior woman becoming activated and wanting to have her  say.
Is all this some bizarre fantasy which is the product of Jung’s unbalanced mind?  Not at all. It is, in fact, extremely practical. Clearly there is no woman inside in the  sense of an actual person. Rather, a man’s feelings to the degree that they are unconscious and immersed in the unconscious take on a certain life of their own and act as  if they have a kind of autonomous nature, a partial personality, if you will. They form an  energetic center, or archetype, that Jung calls the anima.
This anima cannot simply be ignored because it is connected to the ego and forms one  energetic system with it. Deny the anima, that is, your tender feeling side, and that is  not the end of the matter. She will become offended and strike back, and can make your  life miserable. This is not hyperbole, but rather a simple fact. Not to give the anima her  due is to reject a vital dimension of our very psychological being. If we push away the  anima we cause her to become negative and hostile towards us. In the worst of cases a war  insues in which the ego tries to eliminate or kill the anima and the anima strikes back by  way of feelings of both rejection and desire, and this interior war can easily emerge from  their depth and deeply influence our relationships with real flesh and blood women. It is  hardly surprising from this perspective that it is men who commit the vast majority of  violent crimes against persons, crimes in which they act as if they had no feelings, or  put more precisely, as if they are in the grip of terrible feelings that have overridden  their ability to relate to other people as persons like themselves.
Even if things never disintegrate to this degree, the failure of men to relate to the anima brings in its wake all sorts of mischief. Men imagine, for example, that the woman  they fall in love with is actually the way they imagine her to be. They fail to realize  that the woman within is constantly projecting herself outside and mingling with the woman  without in such a pervasive and subtle way that it is extremely difficult to separate the  two. Men have to make a great effort to relate to two women at once, or in the case of a  married man, to be married to two women at once, and it doesn’t matter whether a man  is married or not, or even if he is committed to lifelong celibacy, he still needs to  relate to his own anima.
In short, there is a dimension of a man’s psyche that acts like a woman, a woman that is not seen clearly, one who appears for a moment and then disappears. She is, in  turn, beautiful and alluring, obsessing us with desire, and then perhaps scornful and  rejecting, driving us to contemplate dark deeds. But her conduct is not simply capricious.  It is often strongly influenced by the conscious attitude we take towards her. If we are  rejecting and cold, she will respond accordingly. If we are welcoming and loving, her face  can become beautiful and deeply harmonious feelings can flood our hearts.
The hardest thing about the anima is believing that she actually exists. Men will deny  it vehemently all the while their rigorously logical plans are awash from feelings from  below. They deny the existence of the anima, not only because she is unconscious, and  therefore hidden from view, but also she can be young and immature, and not in harmony  with the manly image they have of themselves, or she can even be ugly and repugnant  because she has been ignored and abused for so long.
There are many facets to a man’s anima. He can be happily married and yet besieged  by fantasies in which he is trying to relate to other women. These fantasies are the other  faces of the anima, and if he fails to understand that they are interior aspects of his  own personality that must be integrated, and begins to act out these fantasies, he can  destroy his own happiness and that of his wife and family. Men can be obsessed by the hunt  for the perfect woman. Real life women are never quite good enough. But what they are  hunting for is once again to make contact with their own deep feelings, and a perpetual  chase after women will never accomplish this goal. The anima can also be split. Men can  put some women up on a pedestal and worship them as if they are goddesses, but they can  also abase other women or even the same woman, and treat her in a crude and abusive way.  In essence, men live out their anima feelings and fantasies in their relationships with  real women. The anima can also be caught up in a tug of war in which the ego tries to drag  her to consciousness while the instinctive depths of the unconscious resists. This  interior drama of great importance for psychological maturation gets projected outward and confuses men’s outer relationships with women. In more extreme cases men who cannot  make contact with their own deep inner feelings, with their own anima, run the risk of  hurting themselves and others. They may become obsessed, for example, with younger and  younger girls with whom they want to have inappropriate sexual contact, and who they  sometimes injure and kill. We are rightly horrified by this behavior, but it is important  for us to understand the inner psychological situation that generates it.
All in all, it is one of life’s great challenges for a man to learn how to relate  to his own anima.
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