Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guilt and Gender Roles

by Lawrence H. Staples

Women have an unconscious masculine side and men have an unconscious feminine side. Jungians use the term animus to personify the masculine side of a woman. They use the term anima for the feminine side of the man. Guilt is a formidable obstacle to the development of the contra-sexual sides of our selves. Women who were taught by parents to behave in ways that the parents defined as feminine felt guilty whenever they deviated from such behavior. When they dared to express masculine(1) behaviors, they were made to feel that they were “bad.” Men face a similar problem in developing their feminine(2) side. Fathers can be as appalled by a son’s interest in ballet or art as he can by his tears or his inability to focus and think clearly. To develop our “other” side, we must jump the fence, violate the parental definitions of what is good, enter the shadow, sin, and incur guilt in varying degrees. It is hard and sometimes distasteful work. It’s much easier to manifest contra-sexual qualities today than it was a hundred years ago. But there is still a powerful residual resistance to the development of our contra-sexual selves.

A woman needs access to her inner masculine qualities if she is to protect and defend herself against those masculine qualities that have been turned against her. For a woman the cure for being a victim of those masculine qualities is homeopathic, with respect to the man; that is, she gives him a dose of his own medicine.
Actually, if a woman does not actively seek to develop her inner masculine, it turns negative and becomes an inner critic and sabotages much that she does. Sometimes, he behaves on the inside like a terrorist, who appears in her nightmares as a dangerous intruder.

Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean WayAn example of how masculine development can take place in a woman is shown in the case of Ruth, a woman I worked with in analysis. Ruth was a caring, giving, and generous woman. Her New England Yankee father had been cheap, cold, remote, and uncaring. She had rejected her father and his stingy, cold, and remote qualities. Paradoxically, however, she was attracted to men who were like her father. She had never married, but had lived with several men of that type before I met her. These men took advantage of and exploited her caring, giving nature. Until she could accept and redeem the rejected qualities of her father she could not save herself. To defend herself, she had, on occasion, to let go of the “good” qualities that lay on the inside of her ego’s fence, and embrace the “bad” qualities of her father. Until she could embrace the “bad” qualities she was vulnerable to being used by exploitative men. One important rejected quality that eventually enabled her to access and use these “bad” qualities was anger. It empowered her. The anger was a quality she had rejected earlier in life, when she had been the victim of her father’s anger. Her rejection of those “bad” qualities, however, made her vulnerable to villainous exploiters.

Ruth’s behavior was compulsive. She had to be generous because she was afraid she would be taken over by “bad” qualities, that she would “sin” if she dared open her psychic door to them. Paradoxically, experience shows just the opposite. If we do not let these qualities in at all, if we do not give them a vote in our life, then they eventually will storm the gates. If we voluntarily give them a vote rather than reject them, the qualities can be used for us rather than against us. These qualities become our friends, because they are accepted, seen, and acknowledged. They get a vote to participate in our behavior.

When Ruth gave those opposite, father qualities a vote, she became freer, happier, and more powerful. I encouraged Ruth to read fairy tales like The Frog Prince, especially the version where she throws the frog against the wall. I also encouraged her to pay close attention to her dreams and to record them. She had many dreams, but one seemed especially important to her:
I am in a boat with Susan B. Anthony. We are fishing. Susan knows just where to go to catch the fish.
I asked Ruth what it meant to her to be in the same boat with Susan B. Anthony. We talked about Susan’s anger at the unjust exploitation of women by men. We talked about some of the qualities Susan had found in herself that helped women get what they needed. Susan had come to see that the fish represented masculine qualities, which if used in women’s behalf could become food that would nurture them. Ruth grasped that these qualities were out of sight, under the surface of the water, which represented the unconscious. Ruth also sensed that there was a Susan B. Anthony in her own psyche that knew where to go to catch the particular fish she needed.

She eventually became able to practice warm generosity and cold ruthlessness with less resistance. To find the cure for her problems with certain kinds of men, she had to embrace the opposites of her conscious being. The cure was in the ugly, “bad,” father qualities that lay in her unconscious. Living those qualities certainly brought her guilt, but the discovery of the value of these “bad” opposites eventually also brought her joy.

Integrating these “bad” father qualities that lay outside the ego’s fence also led her to discover a process that underlies growth and development. Because Ruth perceived her father’s qualities as “bad,” she was forced to “sin” to embrace them. She had to stray outside the fence, where those bad qualities had been. To use those qualities to save herself from those men who took advantage of her good nature, she had to bear guilt. She experienced guilt when she expressed her anger or behaved uncaringly, but surprisingly to her, she also experienced a rush when she expressed her anger forcefully. She found the rest of her life characterized by a cycle of sin, guilt, and expiation. After using these qualities to protect herself, she would feel terribly guilty. She would then retreat back inside until a situation in her life demanded that she stray once again. She experienced what Jung said we would experience. Each step outside the fence incurs guilt and must be followed by further expiation.

Ruth was a changed person. Those new, previously forbidden qualities made her personality bigger. The previously forbidden “bad” qualities did not take over the territory, but they became accessible to her so that she is now free to move between the “good” and “bad” qualities.


Just as there can be a one-sided development of the feminine in women, there can be a one-sided development of the masculine in men. Such men also get cut off from qualities they need to nourish them. Joe, a 50-year-old businessman, worked 60 to 80 hours per week, and was very successful. However, as a result, his relationship with his wife and children was poor. This was his second marriage. Work took priority in all aspects of his life. Sex was infrequent and unsatisfactory. Actually, the things that made him successful at work made him less successful at family relationships. Relationships were important to him only if they helped his business. His son was interested in music and theater. He played the guitar beautifully and wrote songs. When pushed by his father to work on math or science or languages so that he could get into a good school and have a more practical profession, the son took refuge by simply saying he did not like those things. This enraged Joe, who would ask his son what “liking” has to do with anything, and then would point out that his son would never be able even to make a living, let alone support a family, with music or theater. Once he said to his son, “it’s hard for me to believe you are my son.”

Although successful, Joe had for years experienced periodic bouts of depression. It did not disable him, but it did slow him down, and he suffered many a blue day. A longer-than-usual period of depression, combined with undisguised suicidal threats by his son led Joe to therapy. He was afraid the depression would make him fail in his work, and that his son might take his own life. His personal goal for the therapy was to get rid of the depression so that he could return to his old ways and work harder. Living better was not an idea yet on his radar.

Soon after we began our work Joe had the following dream. “My cats get sick and begin to die one by one. I feel very anxious and upset.” Asked if he had ever had cats, he replied, “No.” I asked him what he thought about cats. He replied, “I don’t like them.” His sister had had cats, and he explained, “They are like women. They just do what they feel like.” He added that the phrase “like herding cats” has something to do with feeling types. Cats are an ancient symbol of the feline feminine, and they often appear in dreams of men or women whose masculine is one-sidedly developed. For men, it personifies the anima. The anima symbolizes the unconscious feeling, relating side of a man. Without conscious connection to the anima, there is little value placed upon feelings, spontaneity, or relationships.

When Joe was depressed, he was severely cut off from his feelings. The feelings that Joe needed to heal lay outside the fence, where he had pushed them. In a sense when feelings are rejected, the feelings get revenge in the form of a depression. When the anima’s animation is present there cannot be depression. Rejected feelings eventually revolt.
Because of Joe’s extremely negative attitude, it was difficult to help him access his feelings. Dreams were an important part of the work because they would often reflect his unconscious feelings as in the cat dream above. During his first visit, I had asked him to keep a dream journal beside his bed. He did so despite his feeling that dreams are a bit “new agey” and fantastic. Soon after the first cat dream he had another one in which a cat kept turning into a bat and menacing him. He associated bats with “bats in the belfry”, being crazy. That’s not too far from what Joe thought about feelings. When they run your life, you’re an airhead: unreliable, crazy and dangerous.

Nevertheless, because he was so desperate for relief, he eventually began to keep a “feelings journal” where he would record daily his main feelings. I also encouraged him to meditate and try some yoga. He learned the transcendental meditation technique and took a weekly yoga class. He meditated twice a day for twenty minutes. He felt very guilty using his time so “unproductively”. He was guilty asking his secretary not to interrupt him for anything during his twenty-minute meditation. Joe also felt guilty about spending the time and money on analysis. It made him feel he was weak, that he should not rely on someone else to solve his problems. Nevertheless, he persevered and began to feel better. His feelings of depression and anxiety diminished. He had stopped working on weekends and found the company didn’t go under and he didn’t lose his job. He even had sex one morning before going to work and was late for a meeting. He felt guilty about that but discovered there was little consequence. For her birthday, he booked a suite in a great hotel and treated his wife to a delicious time. The guilt he felt about this new way of life never entirely disappeared. There were certainly compensatory rewards. He was less critical of his son and began to attend concerts and plays.

At one point, he had a powerful dream: “ I am in Africa in tall grass lying on the ground. A gorgeous leopard sneaks up and lies down beside me. We begin to hug and kiss. I have never in my life felt such ecstasy.” This is a very different cat from the dead ones in his earlier dream. This one was alive and powerful. The anima had come and he felt fabulous. The anima appearing as a leopard, however, suggests just how far psychologically this energy had to travel to reach the conscious mind of this civilized man. When he woke up the following poem was in his mind and he wrote it in his journal:

     The Porsche

     Hands on the wheel
     Feet on the floor.
     Kristin often has the feel
     That life could be much more.

     Daily rounds of duty,
     Work at home all day,
     If she had some booty
     Fun might come her way

     Something new is needed
     In that life of hers.
     Let it all be superseded,
     Jewels and pearls and furs.

     These were most exciting,
     But everything gets old.
     The new is so inviting
     To the naughty and the bold.

     Something special caught her eye,
     Flashing red on wheels,
     Sleeker than a handsome guy,
     Wonder how it feels.

    Slipped into the driver’s seat,
    Took it for a spin.
    Nothing ever felt so good.
    Surely it’s a sin.

    She’s now in love with something new.
    A Porsche will really go.
    It’s a day he came to rue,
    Lose his girl or lose his dough.

    Life confronts us with this choice
    Each time we set a goal.
    Compelling is the female voice
    That wells up from our soul.

    Who’s to say it leads astray,
    Or where we ought to be.
    It’s a struggle every day,
    The fisher and the sea.

    Like a nymph she calls to u
    From depths we’ve never known.
    It’s her nature not to fuss,
    But just to lure us on.

    Lure she does beyond all measure,
    Guides us through the darkest ocean
    To the deepest, richest treasure,
    Highest object of devotion.

    Often it is hard to see
    How fun and play unite
    The half we really wish to be
    With that we wish to fight.

We can see in Joe’s experience how powerful the anima is. She reached him despite his sturdy resistance to feelings and despite the ambivalence and fear these feelings trigger when they approach from their lair in the unconscious. The poem actually felt redemptive, bringing him both insight and relief. He shared this poem with his son who was inspired to write a song with similar lyrics.


This article is an excerpt from Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way by Lawrence H. Staples. Dr. Staples has a Ph.D. in psychology; his special areas of interest are the problems of midlife, guilt, and creativity. He is a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, and also holds AB and MBA degrees from Harvard. In addition to Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way, Lawrence is author of the popular book The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness.

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    (1) Qualities that Jungians define as primarily masculine include analytical thinking, order, aggressiveness, ruthlessness, goal orientation, punctuality, capacity to focus intensely, practicality, dutifulness, and selfishness, the tendency to think of one’s self first rather than of others. The quality of selfishness is often the one that comes to a woman’s mind first when she thinks of men. No woman, of course, is entirely devoid of these qualities that we define as masculine; it is merely that some are more developed in some women than in others. A woman may be a first-rate thinker, perhaps better than most men, but be unable to aggressively use those qualities to get what she wants or needs. The mix of qualities and their level of development depend on each individual woman’s particular biography. 

    (2) Qualities Jungians define as feminine include: consciousness of and high valuation of feelings; choosing people and things in their life on the basis of what they like, rather than on the basis of what may be dutiful or practical; high valuation of relationships, such as the capacity for connectedness and attachment to others as well as things; and the tendency to be process-oriented rather than goal-oriented, where the journey is as important and enjoyable as arriving at the destination. The feminine encompasses the sensual and instinctual facets of human experience. Feminine people may be less focused and more able to change direction or to veer from a goal, when something more interesting or more important comes along. This often means that the person is not punctual, and is often late.


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