Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Animus, O Animus!

by Deldon Anne McNeely

Animus, O Animus, wherefore art thou, Animus? Please step forward out of the shadows, out from behind the dark foliage which camouflages you, into the moonlight, and show yourself to be a true, substantial bridegroom.

Or must I play this scene alone, foolish in my belief that this soliloquy finds an audience? Alas, who speaks? Is it I or you? Aren’t you the Word? The one who insists on clarity? So why am l out here alone on this balcony and you invisible? True, I’m the one who wants togetherness; perhaps by withholding yourself you flush me out so you can see me clearly. How do I get what I need from you? How do I even know what I need from you? You’re supposed to be the assertive one. Am I at your mercy, waiting to be overtaken? And if you come, who in me stands up to you? Can you bear to look me in the eye, or must I feign indifference? Do you respond to honesty, or only to coyness, or, worse yet, must I treat you sadistically to reassure you that you’re dispensable, in order to keep your attention?

Are you loyal? Will you lead me to the true center, or mislead me into folly? Will you fructify me or leave me alone and barren? How can I know your voice? Will I find you in the world, or only through renouncing the world? What, of me, are you? Where, in me, are you? Do you exist outside of the imaginative schemas of nineteenthcentury men?

My confusion about you stems partly from the fact that your functions, as supposed by analytical psychology, sound mightily like “ego,” as we have generally come to define it in heroic terms. Come to think of it, you sound quite a bit like “God,” when It is Whom the patriarchal worlds describe as He. If you are Logos, whose voice speaks you? The voice of reason? The voice of conscience? The voice of the Holy Spirit? The voice of We, the People? The voice of one crying in the desert, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”? All of the above? Does the heroine exist who is not under your spell? How can you connect me to my Deity, the One who is both male and female, creator and destroyer, now and forever, indivisible?

In trying to understand where the animus lives in the psyche of a woman, it may be helpful first of all to place it in relationship to ego. In Jung’s schema, the ego consists of all we are conscious of being. That which we exclude is defined as shadow. Anima and animus are subsumed under the shadow in early life, and are gradually brought into conscious focus through experience and introspection. At first we cannot differentiate these structures of the psyche, nor can we tell which is functioning through our outward behavior.
A generation ago this sexist little rhyme didn’t raise an eyebrow:
What are little girls made of? What are little girls made of? 
Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls aremade of. 
What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of? 
Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.
Many children today would consider it strange. As one thoughtful child said to me, “It sounds very stereotypical.” It is an extreme form of stereotyping, but subtle variations of this sort of thing continue to subliminally teach that “boys will be boys” and girls will not. By such conditioning girls and boys gradually form egos that accept certain characteristics as their own and eliminate others. At first what is deemed unacceptable is not only different, but bad. Only with experience do the qualities of the opposite sex which we find within become tolerable as something potentially valuable.

Animus is the archetypal masculine principle as it exists in a woman. When Jung conceived the term, the stereotyping of females and males into consistent gender roles and characteristics made the masculine principle as it exists in a woman easier to define than it is today. Jung assumed that the consciousness of a woman is identified by her biological sexual being; having the external genitalia of a female automatically meant having the ego of a female. Anima was who you were, and animus was who you eliminated from your self-definition. In that case, the experience of the unconscious would be perceived by the female in terms of otherness, and this otherness would be masculine.

The animus, an archetype unknowable in itself, manifests in three ways: through cultural expression, through biological influence, and through recurrent events in the history of the individual. While the biological influences on maleness and femaleness have not changed to any obvious degree since Jung’s time, enormous cultural changes are occurring in the perception of the sexes.

Think about how our culture has presented the concept of what is “masculine” over the past hundred years. Many of our notions of masculine values remain unchanged. We admire strength of character and physical prowess in men. Yet many men today are not afraid of appearing vulnerable, of cultivating emotional intimacy in relationships with both men and women, of being present to birth and nurture children, of questioning traditional macho social forms, of grooming and dressing themselves in ways once reserved for women. Occupations formerly considered masculine-senior management, the judiciary, clergy and military, to name but a few-are no longer the prerogative of men.

Think about the great differences in the personal history of many women today, compared to women of a hundred years ago: exposure to many more men, and to different types of men; greater intimacy and communications with men; greater access to education and jobs; many more opportunities fostering independence; more support for self-assertion and creative expression.

Cultural changes in the past century have led to further differentiation of the issues surrounding sexual identity. It is now popularly held that biological sexual identity consists of factors beyond those that produce the external genitalia, that hormonal influences of both sexes exist in all humans, and that the external genitalia do not in every instance mirror the dominance of the sexual hormones. It is possible to be male or female genitally while having a range of contrasexual physiological characteristics (breast size, facial hair, voice timbre, muscular apportionment, etc.).

Complicating this is the fact that cultural conditioning has a strong influence on how biological males and females experience their masculinity and femininity. A hundred years ago the cultural factors were so strong that biological preferences were overridden by gender expectations. Choices that we have come to take for granted in the expression of gender roles were not possible. Jane Wheelwright, taught and analyzed by Jung, commented on this cultural change:
Women of the educated younger generations on the whole are independent, energetic, up-front, experimental. They handle their legitimate anger, assert their honest opinions and make necessary objections. In my day, a woman behaving in this way would have been condemned as an animus hound and indeed would have been acting and speaking out of society’s collective animus. When caught by that collective pressure, ie., when she expressed female potential that society had arbitrarily dumped into the animus category, woman would be forced to function from out of the animus complex, doing its bidding, instead of doing the bidding of her own biological ego. Her good qualities, when commandeered and distorted by the animus complex would have made her unrelated instead of independent; compulsive instead of energetic. She would have been devious, not upfront, fearful instead of experimental, hostile but not legitimately angry, opinionated rather than presenting her viewpoint. To put it bluntly she would have been objectionable instead of objecting. The primary business of the animus is to be a creative tool. Its secondary role is to give the necessary stamina to all endeavors. When the animus is overloaded with what does not belong to it, it takes on a negative stance, spilling over and destroying relationships. For this reason I feel knowledge of the animus is important today for women of all ages. (For Women Growing Older, pp. 52-53.)
Previously men strived to live up to society’s expectation that they become husbands, fathers, aggressors, even though they might have no inclination or ability to do so. Women with no desire for motherhood were forced to live out their lives feeling like failures or withdrawing, usually in some noncreative way. There were courageous or accidental exceptions, but few people of either sex could find realistic models for nonconventional identities. There are always people with a seemingly innate talent for individuation who are able to go their own staunch way without obvious models or support, although on close examination there usually exists in their history a very strong, supportive parent who imbues a healthy spirit of conviction and high self-esteem. Such individuals live by their dreams and instincts without collective encouragement, and they forge new routes for all of us.

There were, therefore, women who not only survived but excelled in masculine fields of interest during Jung’s day, even though they probably met with disapproval or animosity; and there were men who lived productive lives out of the anima. But on the whole, most men and women at least put forth the appearance of living up to the expectations set upon them by society, or they withdrew. This meant that Jung was accurate in observing that the unconscious personality of a woman was represented by the masculine principle, which combined all those qualities we associate with yang and Logos.

Today, many of those qualities—assertiveness, clarity of ideation, logical intellect, articulateness of mental processes, drive, etc.—are modeled for women by individuals of either sex. These psychological capacities include mental and emotional factors that were once ascribed to males exclusively, and when these ego-strengths became obvious in women, women often denied or hid them. Men, meanwhile, denied or hid their capacities for fantasy, receptivity, contemplation and other qualities which in some circles were considered sissified, but which today we see as particular strengths of the yin ego, whether in man or woman.

These cultural changes complicate the task of understanding what the female biological ego really is, and what the animus, as “other,” is. Theoretically, the animus is a psychological function mediating between a woman’s ego and the unconscious. In Jung’s model of the psyche, the persona mediates between the ego and the outer world, while the contrasexual archetypes, anima and animus, are essentially guides to the inner world. On the journey of individuation, one must come to terms with the shadow before being able to relate in a conscious way to the anima and animus.

As archetypal feminine and masculine principles, anima and animus have a timeless place in every human psyche. The dominant archetype does not always match a person’s biological sex. Anima values usually dominate the conscious psyche of a woman, but not in every woman, and not in every life situation. To illustrate the complexity of this, here is a description of three women, all in their twenties, who do not fit the usual picture.

Becky, a young woman from a large family, has had problems relating to her alcoholic mother all her life. Her father is a likable but ineffectual man. When Becky entered therapy she was depressed and anxious. She worked as a teacher and had just been through her first relationship with a man, which had ended in her being rejected.

Becky repeatedly dreamed of herself as a male, usually in the role of rescuing a female. The recurrence of the masculine dream ego suggested that Becky identified with men, and indeed, she had been a tomboy, had not dated at all until recently and had never had a satisfying sexual relationship. The recurrent theme of rescue suggested a repressed feminine side that called out for recognition.

She had not been in therapy for long when she met and fell in love with a young man. They were immediately compatible sexually and in every other way, and after a year of courtship they married and moved away. I do not have information about her dreams since then. I do know that after several years she was still happily married. Her identification on some level with men did not prevent Becky from making a conventional adjustment as a woman. She had not been in therapy long enough to assume that this was due to therapy. One can only surmise that when the conditions were favorable and she felt supported and safe, her feminine ego was accessible for a mature relationship.

Dana, in contrast, always a tomboy also, remembered having excited feelings about girls from the time she began school. She adamantly refused to wear dresses from an early age, and after a few years of high school dating which she found distasteful, declared herself a lesbian.

Dana’s dreams in the early stage of therapy often presented her as a person harassed and persecuted by unsavory women. It seemed as if her conscious ego was male, so that even though her dream ego pictured her in a female body, she saw the “other” as women aggressors. The opposite sex, still fused with a persecutory shadow, was female. Dana’s relationship with her mother appeared to be positive; however, her early life was fraught with chaotic changes through divorces, marriages, moves, and animosity between her several sets of parents.

Marie, like Becky, was one of many children of a domineering mother. She earned attention from her powerful and often absent father by excelling in sports. Although she was very attracted to men and boys as a young girl, she fell in love with a female celebrity and entered into a long-term relationship with her. Defining herself as lesbian, she was later surprised to find herself attracted to strong men and frequently propositioned by authority figures. She entered therapy, confused and anxious, after several relationships with men had come close to being consummated. She repeatedly dreamed about figures entering her bedroom, which frightened her and woke her before they could be identified. She found herself attracted to both men and women; she was afraid of being intimate with men, though in fantasy this excited her.

These examples, typical of issues raised by patients today, reflect changing roles and values, and changing images of the structure of the psyche. Psychology does not dictate normality, it studies the data presented by life. Today’s women are vibrant though confused, open and questioning, unwilling to have answers foisted upon them.

It has been the special talent of women historically to follow and discriminate between the nuances and important details of relatedness. Forced into positions of waiting, of observing cyclical patterns of nature in their own physiological and emotional movements, and of remaining centered in the face of demands of children and men, women have had opportunities to observe these nuances for ages. Now they have more opportunities to express those observations.

Rachel Eliza Mann, for instance, a bright and creative graduate student in her twenties, struggles for integrity and awareness in her relationships with family, friends and romantic partners. The following poem explores aspects of dream figures and herself, including her masculine side. The kind of differentiation in fantasy represented here pays off in encounters in the outer world by preparing the ego for the tasks of sorting, unraveling, spinning and weaving that take place in the psyche during the course of a relationship.
The lynx paces within its cage,
The lunatic waits outside the door.
Who is kept outside, who kept in?
The second man makes love to one woman.
Hands and lips wander like a meandering ant,
an answering, a needing, a waiting. 
The first man’s right hand opens up the door.
So invited, the lunatic comes in.
The lynx leaps, quivering and ready.
She is opened up, the second man enters in.
She dives alone into the Blue Hole,
only her left hand keeping hold. 
The lynx dissolves into leaves.
The lunatic crosses the river into the hall.
The first man serves him porcupine stew.
The second man plunges to her roots.
The ant finds its queen.
She takes hold and enters him. 
“Two Loves, an Ant, a Lynx, and a Lunatic” (unpublished).
Confusion about what is animus and what is ego occurs because ego-functions as defined by psychologists are subject to the bias of male dominance. I have come to use the terms “yin-ego” and “yang-ego” to emphasize the fact that because the ego has struggled to differentiate itself from the unconscious does not mean that all ego functions must be heroic. In fact, such an ego would be maladaptive and self-destructive over time.

Energy itself cannot be identified as masculine. The uroboros may seem feminine to the male, but as the Great Spirit/Matter, it is androgynous, the organizing Self that drives the ego, as Dylan Thomas’s “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” To view the ego’s creation from the unconscious as an image of birth from a mother, one would have to note that the creative phallus of the father was an essential aspect of the unconscious fruition, and that the fetus not only initiates but also passively receives the process. Ego is not, then, necessarily yang; it has feminine characteristics from the beginning. Though the yin-ego is by definition passive, passivity is not without energy. Yin qualities enable the ego to reflect, image, contain, generalize and empathize, and to embrace one’s frailty.

So entwined have the characteristics of animus and ego become that many psychologists define ego strength entirely in terms of masculine adjectives. What women perceive as strength has at times been considered weakness when judged by male values. Indeed, people of both sexes have been hospitalized as severely disturbed for behavior that could be judged as heroic from the standpoint of the yin-ego. A contemplative lifestyle, for instance, unless practiced under the aegis of a religious institution, would be considered abnormal by some psychologists’ standards. A religious attitude in itself has been criticized as a form of weakness, a delusional system to avoid the pain of mortality, according to those who define “normality” as extroverted and rational. Yin ego-consciousness seems to be imaginal and synthesizing, and yang ego-consciousness factual and analytical.

Good parenting requires much yin energy. Young children need waiting for, not hurrying; to have all their feelings held, not judged; to be contained, not driven. Yang-consciousness, oriented toward the future and efficiency, has difficulty here. I have found it easiest to catch my negative animus when I have been hurrying--then I have been most unkind and unconnected to my children. Our schools often reward only the yang ego, and the child who reflects yin experience is misplaced. A bright, introverted child of ten told me she found school going too quickly for her. “When the teacher says something that reminds me of something else, my mind wants to think of it; but if I do, then I find the rest of the class goes on to something else and I am lost.” That is how the creative thought process becomes discouraged. Parents often judge themselves harshly for lacking patience. It is understandable, for yin-consciousness has been poorly modeled and unsupported, except in rare subcultures.

A brilliant woman told me she was considered retarded by her early teachers, not an unusual situation. Neglected, unkempt, the child of alcoholic parents, she was noticed, tested (IQ, 70), tolernted, but never touched until her second-grade teacher bothered to sit close to her and teach her to read with their fingers touching the book. This was all it took for the awakening to happen. Because that teacher shared a moment of grace with her, enabling her to feel received and not judged, her intellect was able to flourish.
I have learned to fail. And I have had my say.
Yet shall I sing until my voice crack (this being my leisure, this my holiday)
That man was a special thing and no commodity, a thing improper to be sold.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, from “Lines Written in Recapitulation,” Collected Poems, p. 384.
The confusion caused by the defining of ego in predominantly masculine terms has led some psychologists to wonder whether the term “ego” is useful at all, and whether the psyche can be conceived of as egoless, without a “monotheism of consciousness.” (See James Hillman, Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, pp. 177-181.)
My own practice is to think of ego as representing yin/yang features, because phenomenologically we are so accustomed to the experience of a central, organized aspect of the personality which can contain awareness of many parts, that it is difficult to imagine an egoless personality structure maneuvering its way between polarities.

Every woman contains within her psyche the masculine principle, though it may be very repressed. The better the relationship to the masculine principle, the more the woman is able to use animus qualities in appropriate ways throughout her life, and the less conflict she has about doing so. This means that in most women the masculine principle will be experienced as “other,” but the relationship to that “other” may be quite positive.

When the principle of the opposite sex is dominant and unconscious, it obliterates the functioning of the ego and results in problems, especially in close relationships. But the more experience the ego has in dialogue with the contrasexual principle, the more egosyntonic the relationship with the contrasexual partner becomes and the more choices one has in one’s repertoire of conscious behavior. This is why male-female relationships in the outer world promote the blending of yin-yang qualities in the personalities of both men and women. Without the opportunity for positive outer experiences, one has to work harder to come to good terms with the inner partner.

It is still possible, however, to have a good relationship with the contrasexual archetype without much contact with outer-world partners, if one is aware of the capacity to use information from the unconscious to understand this powerful inner partner.

It has been said of Emily Dickinson that she, with Walt Whitman, “all but invented American poetry.” (Ellman and O’Clair, Norton Anthology, p. 33.) She was, in her “strange, explosive ponderings,” prolific, but during her lifetime of reticence and obscurity, only eight of her 1800 poems were published. She said of her awesome father—a lawyer, congressman, treasurer of Amherst College—”His heart was pure and terrible, and I think no other like it exists.” She could not bear to attend his funeral; she listened to it alone in an upstairs bedroom. Her mother, kind, patient, pious and sickly, evoked condescension and even contempt from Emily, who hated the social duties of housekeeping and sewing imposed on women.

Dickinson left home at seventeen to attend Mt. Holyoke, a few miles away, but returned home, never to leave, before the year was up.

We know of two men with whom Emily Dickenson corresponded, but, like her sister, she never married. Some cataclysm occurred in her inner life around 1861, an event only indirectly referred to in her poetry but probably having to do with an experience of unrequited love. From that time on, her poetry changed. She seemed to have been transformed from girl to woman. In spite of a seemingly uneventful life on the surface, she left a treasure of inner riches. . .

You have just read an excerpt from Animus Aeternus by Deldon Anne McNeely

Using some of the more enigmatic poems of the 20th century as guideposts, Deldon Anne McNeely explores the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Teresa of Avila, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anna Akhmatova, and others whose works have had an indelible impact on the evolving world soul. This is literary criticism taken to another level--the level of psyche. Once again, with her hard-won wisdom deeply rooted in soul, Jungian analyst Deldon Anne McNeely delivers -- embedded within the stories of this finely crafted book, one finds redemption and liberation. Some will mirror your own story--other tales will be about those you love. Animus Aeternus is a worthy companion for any modern-day woman.


Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including 
Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, 
and a growing list of alternative titles. 

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