In Jungian psychology, the anima and animus are seen as the bridge to the soul. One way to experience the soul is to get in touch with the unique sense of self that remains after we strip away all learned conceptions and false beliefs (ego) about who we are.[i] What remains is the deepest possible authentic expression or essence of our unique being that is still personal, the subject that cannot be made into an object, or the soul. This unique core of our existence knows nothing about the duality of the opposite sex, gender, or the feminine-masculine polarities.[ii]
As our self-identification as boys or girls develops during childhood, we invariably cover-up, split off, disown, repress, or dismiss qualities of the opposite sex to various degrees.[iii] Since we are all born to a mother, this intricate process is different for males and females. Little boys soon learn that they are not like mother, painfully dissociate from her, and identify with father figures, while little girls learn that they are like her, but not like father, who becomes somewhat of a mystery to them.[iv] Carl Jung[v] discovered this split-off and called the disowned feminine in males the anima, and the disowned masculine in females the animus.[vi] The parts of these disowned (and therefore unconscious) realities that are not recognized and reclaimed in later life appear as inward shadows that cover parts of the soul and consequently become outward projections onto the opposite sex, which is called a complex.[vii]
You experience the projection of your anima when you feel a strong emotional (versus sexual or otherwise) attraction to, or threat from, a woman’s aura. If the attraction is mutual and you decide to become a couple, it will feel as if you have found and come home to your long lost other, your soul mate, or “twin-flame.” The blissful feelings of completeness when you are harmoniously together, the longings that you feel when you are apart, and the fears of loss and abandonment that you experience when she withdraws or challenges you are expressed in the lyrics of many love songs, such as “when I found you, there was no more emptiness inside,” or “if you leave me now, you take away the biggest part of me,” and movie dialogs such as “I love you, you complete me,” and her “you had me at hello.”[viii]
Lovers with these experiences have fallen in love with a partner who has a compatible anima/animus complex. After a while, the pain of separation and missed love/care during childhood which created the complex in the first place will resurface. This especially happens once the honeymoon is over and the lovers fail to live up to their unrealistic expectations of meeting each other’s every need for comfort, acceptance, assurance, understanding, closeness, kindness, appreciation, approval, empathy, support, autonomy, etc. (see list in Chapter 3 under “Needs” and the difference between needs and neediness). In other words, they will start to push each other’s emotional buttons which they did not install in the first place.[ix]
If you cling and never want to let her go, miss her badly when she is away, get easily jealous if she turns her attention to somebody or something else,[x] withdraw in shame if you can’t make her happy,[xi] run if she seems to threaten, manipulate, control, or suffocate you, or if you feel that you can’t live without her—but need to change her so that you can live with her—then you know where the edge of your complex lies and where the healing work of your wounded anima begins.[xii] Your soul calls you to transcend your complex (shine light into your shadow) by realizing the wholeness of your essence and your oneness with all creation (Love), while your ego tries to protect you from being hurt again by defending its separate sense of self or clinging to what seems to be its salvation.[xiii]
If she shares your emotional attraction and you decide to stay together as a couple despite the inevitable conflicts that will arise, then you can serve each other as catalysts to uncover your soul’s essential nature by starting your healing, growth, and awakening process together. You then become soul mates in the true sense; two people who lovingly but relentlessly challenge each other to transcend their egos. This will bring forth your soul’s full potential to love unconditionally, not only for your own sake, but also for that of your partner and all sentient beings.[xiv] This dynamic answers the question of how a soul mate is different from family members or friends whom we may love dearly, but not in the unique way that we experience with a romantic partner.[xv]
The five stages of anima/animus complex development that are outlined below provide you with a generalizing orientation to how a woman’s animus and a man’s anima may evolve. The actual stage and severity of the complex that an adult is displaying depend largely on his or her childhood and past relationship experiences. As you read through the descriptions below, one or more stages of the anima may resonate with your own level of development, just as you will recognize the animus of women that you are—or have been—in a relationship with. Note how stage five is almost identical for both sexes.
Also, see Carol Gilligan In A Different Voice introduction page 20 (xx) where she outlines that: “men think by knowing themselves they will understand women, while women think by knowing others they will come to know themselves”, and page 16 where she quotes Virginia Woolf as saying: “it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex. Naturally, this is so. Yet, it is the masculine values that prevail” and adds; “as a result, women come to question the normality of their feelings and alter their judgments in deference to the opinion of others.”
Stages of Anima Development in Men
1) Women as mother
He needs a mommy to take care of him.
In this first stage, a man’s anima is completely tied up with the mother. She is not necessarily his personal mother but the image of a woman who is a faithful provider of nourishment, security, and love. She represents all that is natural, instinctual, and biological. A man with an anima complex of this type cannot function well without a vital connection to a woman, and easily falls prey to being controlled and exploited by her. He frequently suffers from impotence or has no sexual desire at all, and is therefore called a mama’s boy. This type of anima possession also manifests through fear of accidents or disease, or a dullness of personality. The Greek Sirens and the German Lorelei personify these dangerous aspects of the anima, which may even lead a man to his death through suicide over a lost love relationship.
2) Women as a sex object
He wants her to make him feel good.
In the second stage, the anima is a collective sexual image. She is a Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, or Playboy model. Men in stage two are often Don Juans who see all women as sex objects, and engage in repeated sexual adventures, which sometimes develop into sexual addictions. These relationships are invariably short-lived, because he is not faithful, is always looking for his next conquest, and no woman can ever live up to his unrealistic image of the ideal female partner.
3) Women as wife
He wants her loyalty and support.
In the third stage of his anima complex development, a man becomes ready to care for a wife and be devoted to his family. He is the loving protector and provider that women in the equivalent stage three of their animus development seek. Men with this anima accept their partner as she is, as long as she fulfills her role as supportive, undemanding, caring, and faithful wife, available sex partner, and loving mother to his children. His sexuality is usually integrated into their relationship and not an autonomous function that drives him into promiscuity. He can differentiate between love and lust, which allows him to create a lasting partnership (if she stays), because he can tell the difference between making someone the object of his sexual desire and deriving the benefits of being a faithful husband to his partner.
4) Women as a guide to creativity and awakening
He struggles with her need for independence.
In the fourth stage, a man’s anima functions as a guide to his inner life. As women in stage four of their Animus complex development become emotionally and financially independent from men, they often turn away and abandon their husbands/partners against their will. This turn of events often challenges the men who are so left behind to seek other sources of appreciation, value, significance, fulfillment, happiness, aliveness, passion, joy, purpose, peace, and love outside a relationship. Through their quest a desire to answer life’s deeper questions of “who am I,” “where do I come from,” “why am I here,” “what is the meaning of my life,” “what should I do,” “what is my purpose,” and “where do I go?” often arises.
Contemplating these questions, reading books like the one that you are holding right now, meditating, or seeking a bond with others on a similar path in men’s groups, New Age churches, and personal-growth workshops allow men in this stage to bring deeper levels of their unconscious anima into awareness. As they do so, they experience a liberating process of awakening to their authentic nature, true purpose, genuine passions, and capacity to love “unconditionally”—all independently of a partnership with a woman.
On the flip side, these men may act like they are having a midlife crisis, become commitment-phobic, avoid deeper intimacy with women altogether, or engage in serial monogamy or polyamory so as to avoid sacrificing their newfound freedom or being limited by one partnership. As such, this entire experience represents only a partial awakening, as the idea of living alone is not Integral, fully realized, or the ultimate realization of human development. This partial awakening is transcended when a man enters stage five of his anima development.
5) Women as equal partner
He meets her as an opposite and equal partner.
Similar to a woman in this stage (see below), a man in stage five of his anima complex development has accepted the fact that conflicts and ambivalence are intrinsic to human relationships, and he sees how their resolution contributes to his ongoing healing, personal growth, and spiritual realization. He feels confident, secure, and comfortable to express his authentic sexual essence (which tends to be masculine in heterosexual men), while he embraces his feminine (anima). This self-acceptance allows him to invite differing views, experiences, and feelings of his female partner without feeling threatened, offended, or puzzled by them.
Her authentic stage-five feminine qualities naturally complement his masculinity and vice versa. Since he has found his own purposeful identity that does not depend on her inspiration, support, or approval, he appreciates his partner’s independent authority, and doesn’t feel responsibility, shame, or insecurity if she is unhappy—even though he shows empathy, care, and devotion, and is supportive when requested—and enjoys her all the more when she is happy.
He neither clings, nor pushes her away, but fully opens to embrace her at all levels of his being when they are together and stays content and fulfilled when they are apart. This all-embracing equanimity allows him to enter into a mature monogamous relationship as an opposite and equal partner, which itself opens the door to radically new life experiences, emotional healing processes, and deeper spiritual realizations, which in turn often become the foundation for altruistic acts of kindness and service towards others.
Stages of Animus Development in Women
1) Men as alien outsiders
She fears, hates, and loves him.
Because of abuse or abandonment from men with whom she identified during childhood, such as her father, a fatherly figure, older brother, or male relative or family friend, a woman in this stage completely denies and suppresses her animus as alien inside and outside of herself. She trusts her mother and other females, while she distrusts, hates, or fears men. This is often countered by a strange curiosity about men, which she and the men she tries to date are confused by.
This ambivalence can make her extremely seductive, needy, and clingy, and cause severe symptoms of the “seduce and withhold” syndrome. As soon as a man gets close to her she withdraws, only to come back to ask for more after he becomes distant. She can break the heart of a weak man, who tries to prove that he is different, attempts to rescue her from her fears, and so becomes codependent as she lures him into her pathological cat and mouse game.
Within the limits of her domain in a household, family, and female-oriented work environment (e.g., schoolteacher, nurse, artist, gardener, therapist, healer, working with animals, etc.), such a woman may seem grounded and self-confident. Outside those limits, she leaves the work and responsibility for creating a functional society to men and psychologically healthier women.
2) Men as a father, God, or king
She wants his approval.
The self-esteem of a woman in this stage is directly connected to the response and approval that she receives from men. She is often driven by a need to be seen as the most attractive female, and constantly monitors her value by her internalized masculine judgment and through externalized male reflection. This may lead to a split in her personality when she imitates male behavior in order to be liked by men, and at other times presents herself as a sexually seductive femme fatale (such as in the movie Basic Instinct) to be desired.
She either hides behind a feminine mask of beautiful appearance, a graceful charming manner, and entertaining wit, or develops a tomboyish attitude through teasing, competing, and challenging, or some other facade that suggests success. Women in this stage gravitate towards men that they perceive to be more attractive, intelligent, and exciting than they could ever be themselves. They often try to live up to desirable men’s expectations of the perfect mate through dietary restrictions, vigorous physical exercise, cosmetic surgery, adapting to men’s intellectual interests, developing new talents, and being sexually available.
If a woman remains in this stage, she is at great risk of entering a profound depression when her beauty and sexual attractiveness wanes, and the number of heads that she is turning and the men who admire her diminishes.
She may then isolate herself from all intimate relationships because her perfectionism overrides her ability to be compassionate and to forgive her own and others’ mistakes. This may lead her to withdraw into a cold and bitter self-denial in which her anxieties create all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses, such as panic attacks, vomiting, heart problems, fatigue, and body aches.
A strong, conscious, and patient man (or a good psychotherapist) can support a woman in this stage to find her own worth, passions, and identity—independent of male approval—which then allows her to enter into stage three of her animus complex development.
3) Men as hero
She wants him to take care of her.
A woman in stage three wants a man as a protector and provider with strength, courage, and ability, who can meet her needs, cherish her, and marry her. He represents her ideal (if often unrealistic) image of the knight in shining armor who fulfills her expectations for good looks, intelligence, solid reputation, stable finances, generosity, loyalty, humor, kindness, care, integrity, and faithfulness.
To be in a good bargaining position, this woman will focus on her appearance, health and fitness, and will adapt to the world of men by seeking a higher education, pursuing a career, fighting for social justice, or saving a failing business. She will appear as self-affirming, and expects something in return. She functions well in the competitive world of men, sees herself as equal, is willing to share responsibilities, and will contribute and perform as long as her partner is able to provide more in return—since women want to marry up.
As long as he meets her expectations for financial security, social status, and devotion, she will support him to achieve his full potential while often denying such achievements to herself. This can lead later to feelings of resentment and anger when she sees that she has been “denied” the right to experience her own competence, and when her partner/husband fails to live up to her ever-growing expectations for more (the bigger house, car, vacation, career, income, etc.)
Some women in this stage will enter an inward journey once they acknowledge the transitory nature of their physical attractiveness, question their ability to succeed with men, bump up against the limitations of finding acceptance in the male world, or hit the proverbial glass ceiling. This may lead women to the restoration of their female authority as they take responsibility for their own identity and move into stage four of their animus complex development.
4) Men as independent beings
She wants her independence.
A woman in stage four makes an active choice in favor of her self-interest and self-fulfillment—independent of men, a partner, or husband. This transition takes place with the realization that she has constructed her own experiences throughout her lifetime in relationship to men, and now wants to find her own identity. She will stop trying to be perfect in all things in order to please her partner (who was a heroic father figure in the previous stage), as she becomes emotionally free from his approval and support. Having discovered her own source of worthiness and foundation, she is working to restore her female authority. Financial independence through her own labor or through other sources of money that are often only available to women, such as “divorcing well,” alimony and child-support payments, generous lovers, support from parents, or Social Security benefits, are the prerequisite for this transition.
Men can notice when their partners enter into stage four of their animus development when they start to challenge them more often, care less about their needs, seek their financial independence, and refuse to take responsibility for holding the relationship together. If a man is in partnership with a woman in this stage, it is important to know that it is not his fault that her pain of staying will eventually be greater than her fear of leaving, and that there is nothing he can do but to take care of himself emotionally and sexually, protect the financial assets that are legitimately his (if he has to with the help of a CPA or lawyer), and, if he can, support his former partner with love and compassion in her transition. Once separated and/or divorced, she will feel free from the evaluation and needs of men for the first time in her life.
These newly single women are then much occupied with challenging work, their animals and children, social activities, educational advancements, maintaining their household, hobbies, world travel, and their friendships. At the same time, they look down at women who show more feminine or balanced qualities and who desire to be (or are) in a committed partnership with a man. To women in stage four, partnered women still seem to be in the pitiful stage two or three of dependence on a male partner (which they have just escaped). However, married women may have actually advanced into stage five, which women in stage four cannot fathom yet. They discredit partnered women as un-evolved and often compete socially and professionally with them in merciless ways. Women in stage four frequently break with the conventional role of a caring mother, show tough love, and feel fulfilled outside a partnership with a man.
Still, there remains an underlying fear of isolation, especially in older women, when concerns about the disappearance of their skills and autonomy in the midst of a crisis arise. This often leads to feelings of ambivalence. On one side there is a secret longing for the stability and support that a partnership with a man could provide during times of stress, fatigue, loneliness, or desire for sex. On the other side, there is the fear of becoming emotionally dependent and enmeshed, taken advantage of, dominated or repressed again.
Frequent complaints about the lack of good men who are physically fit and attractive, highly intelligent, successful, accomplished, mature, kind, loving, generous, evolved, supportive, spiritual, and available when they need/want them, but who remain flexible, undemanding, and unattached otherwise, are a hallmark of women in stage four. Becoming men-hating die-hard singles, settling for “friends with benefits” whom they string along, or engaging in serial monogamy are often the only solutions that seem to solve their dilemma.
5) Men as equal partners
She wants him as an equal and opposite partner.
Just as a man, a woman in stage five of her animus development has accepted that conflict and ambivalence are intrinsic to human relationships and has realized the significance of a partnership to balance her further psychological growth and spiritual awakening. Having fully claimed her own authority after transcending her animus complex, she no longer sees men as alien, superior, inferior, or independent. She finally comes to realize that the idea of living and going at it alone was a distorted conception of human existence, because no one lives alone.
She sees that in being human, we have a variety of economic, physical, sexual, psychological, and spiritual needs that cannot be met by living alone. At last, she has the insight that a balanced personality at all levels of her being always develops in a self-other conception, and never through the discovery of an independent self. This woman then desires the material, intellectual, emotional, sexual, and spiritual synergy that is co-created with a man who meets her as an opposite and equal (which means opposite feminine and masculine polarities with equal levels of consciousness, rights, and responsibilities). Since she may have never experienced a stage-five partnership, she needs guidance from a man in stage five of his anima development, who is able to meet her in an Integrally informed way. These couples can then form interdependent partnerships in which they heal, learn, grow, and awaken together, and enjoy family and social activities together while contributing to the well-being of others.
Female Authority: Empowering Women Through Psychotherapy – A Jungian Approach (1990) by Polly Young-Eisendrath and Florence L. Wiedemann
In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (1982/2016) Carol Gilligan.
The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire (1997) David Deida https://www.amazon.com/The-Way-of-Superior-Man-audiobook/dp/B07FXZBYJ9/
The Masculine in Relationship: A Blueprint for Inspiring the Trust, Lust, and Devotion of a Strong Woman Paperback (2019) GS Youngblood https://www.amazon.com/dp/1699443386 (maybe nothing new, read reviews.)
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine Hardcover (1990) by Robert L. Moore, Douglas Gillette. https://www.amazon.com/King-Warrior-Magician-Lover-Rediscovering/dp/0062505971/
Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man (1992) Sam Keen https://www.amazon.com/Fire-Belly-Being-Sam-Keen/dp/0553351370
Iron John: A Book about Men (1990/2015 Robert Bly https://www.amazon.com/Iron-John-Book-about-Men/dp/0306824264
- How did your mother (or female caregiver) feel about being your mother?
- How did your father (or male caregiver) feel about being your father?
- What were significant disappointments or trauma you endured during childhood?
- How do your parents’ feelings about you and your childhood experiences affect your relationships with the opposite sex today?
- What are your fantasies, desires, demands, expectations, and requirements, that you project onto a (potential) partner? He/she must/should be … .
- When are you able to trust the opposite sex?
- What is a man/woman (wait for instructions)