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.