Jungian Psychology Series: The Anima and Animus

My last article in this series examined the shadow. As its name suggests, the shadow is that part of our personality that we tend to keep in the dark, concealed from our own and others’ awareness. Because the shadow is composed primarily of undeveloped characteristics common to one’s gender, it is symbolized in dreams by dream figures the same sex as the dreamer (e.g., a female in a woman’s dream represents her shadow). Carl Jung observed, as have many others before and since, that the human personality possesses an androgynous background; it contains symbolically masculine and symbolically feminine attributes. The masculine side of a woman’s personality he called the animus. The animus is symbolized in women’s dreams by male figures. The feminine side of a man’s personality he called the anima. The anima is symbolized in men’s dreams by female figures.

The anima and animus can be negative or positive, hurtful or helpful. The negative anima can persuade a man to be irresponsible or lazy, while his positive anima can encourage him to feel more fully or become more loving. The negative animus can persuade a woman to be overly self-critical and judgmental, while her positive animus can encourage her to make bold and courageous changes in her outer life. In most cultures masculinity has tended to be associated with law, logic, leadership, independence, spiritual and religious ideas. Femininity has been more frequently associated with feeling, relationship, nurturance, sensitivity, and nature/earth. Of course, these are generalizations; most of us will express all of these qualities to some degree.   In fact, Jung maintained that the growth of the personality demands the development and integration of these complementary aspects of our being. He also observed that in youth through mid-life, personality growth tends to focus on the development of the ego and integration of the shadow. At mid-life and beyond the unconscious places increasing emphasis on the rounding out of the personality through integration of our other half–the anima or animus.

A woman in her fifties dreams: “I’m with a drunk man. We’d been drinking the night before but he’s still drunk. We enter a restaurant and the host is a man that recognizes me. He says he catered a party I had a year or so ago. My friend is embarrassing me. As we leave the host holds my hand and says it was nice to see me again. My drunk friend gets jealous. We leave there and get in the car. The road is icy and we skid all over.  I take over driving. A police officer stops me and tells me that my mother is in the hospital. She had a heart attack. I go to the hospital and comfort a girlfriend who is sobbing uncontrollably….”

This dream contains both positive and negative animus figures. The restaurant host is an embodiment of the dreamer’s positive animus. He behaves in a caring and supportive way towards her. As host and caterer he also represents a source of emotional and spiritual nourishment. This is the nature of the positive animus in a woman’s life. Her drunk friend, on the other hand, is a negative animus figure. In her outer life the dreamer had a problem with alcohol. He symbolizes this destructive tendency. At a more fundamental level, he also symbolizes the thoughts and attitudes that  keep her from properly valuing and honoring herself. Notice, too, that he is jealous of the positive animus/host. The negative animus does not want to relinquish its influence upon her life.

The dreamer gets in the car with her drunk friend driving. Symbolically, she is living life through the viewpoint of her negative animus. (If the drunk friend was an actual boyfriend, the dream might indicate that she is letting him run her life.) The road is icy and they skid all over. In other words, going through life “under the influence” of the negative animus (or anima) can spin you out of control. Water is a symbol of the unconscious, but frozen water can suggest frozen feelings. At this point of the dream the dreamer takes a very positive step: she takes over driving. This is an act of becoming more conscious and of taking more responsibility for her life and decisions. She is then stopped by a police officer and is informed of her mother’s heart attack. Her mother probably represents the feeling and nurturing dimension of her psyche. The heart attack suggests an injury to her feeling capacity, for the heart is the symbolic center of one’s emotional life. Living under the domination and belittling attitude of her negative animus, is it any wonder that her inner feminine, symbolized by her mother and sobbing friend, is suffering?

Through this dream the unconscious has symbolized for the dreamer her underlying psychic struggle and has offered a path to healing. She must become more conscious of the competing/conflicting attitudes within herself, receive the nourishment of those that are life-giving, stand against those that are harmful, and reconnect with her deeper feelings and feminine instincts. Like slaying a dragon, these will not be easy tasks. Fortunately, she has an ally in her positive animus, who’s wisdom and helpfulness will likely be reflected in some of the people in her outer life.

When working with the anima and animus figures of your dreams, try to determine their helpfulness or hurtfulness towards you and your personal growth. If they are symbolized by a person you know, what are your associations to that person? Does he/she like you, care about you, give you encouragement, or does he/she make you feel bad about yourself, belittle you, or persuade you to waste your time? How are you relating to this person in your dream? How do you relate to this person in your outer life? Are you standing up to the negative anima/animus, or colluding with it? Are you embracing the positive anima/animus or are you rejecting it? Can you identify specific beliefs or attitudes in yourself that are represented by these dream figures?

The greatest factor determining the nature and quality of our outer relationships is the nature and quality of our relationship to our own psyche, especially the shadow, anima/animus, and the Self. In their most positive and developed aspect, the anima and animus are the embodiment of our soul, or spirit. When our relationship to our soul is cooperative and loving, the soul serves as a guide to the Self, the spiritual core of the personality. When we are disconnected from our soul or at odds with it in some way, we experience what shamans have called a “loss of soul.” Loss of soul is often manifested in modern society by depression or an addiction. So keep your soul close, pay attention to your dreams.

6 thoughts on “Jungian Psychology Series: The Anima and Animus

  1. Great article. I have a question I was hoping you might be able to answer. How do you work therapeutically with an Anima or Animus in order to get the most out of life? I have read a lot of theoretical material, but not too much practical advice and for that matter techniques on this subject.

    • Hi Edward,

      That is a good question. One way to learn more from the anima and animus is through the process of active imagination (a form of contemplation developed by Carl Jung). In active imagination you dialogue with the figures in your dreams or fantasies to learn more about them. You put questions to your dream figures, for example, and allow them to respond spontaneously from the unconscious. The insights you gather become food for your own development and deepened awareness. Your Anima may ask you to make certain changes in your life or may cause you to question some of your previously held attitudes or beliefs. In making these changes, you become more whole, or complete. In men, the negative anima may make herself known in a mood. Talk to your mood. Find out its perspective. Is it upset about something? Does it see something you don’t see? Of course you will also encounter your anima through projections you unconsciously place on the women in your life. Examining the strong attractions or dislikes you may have towards certain women can help you learn more about your own inner feminine, her attitudes, and how she influences your consciousness.

      Also, John A. Sanford has written a helpful book on the anima and animus and how they influence our relationships. It’s entitled, The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in Each of Us Affects Our Relationships. It is worth reading if you haven’t already.

      Thanks for writing.


      • Hi Andy,
        I did find some of your suggestions useful, much appreciation for taking the time to answer so thoughtfully.

        I have read Sanfords book, and while its great at describing the anima/animus I found that it did not contain a whole lot of material on how to work with it. Still a good read in my opinion. I am trying to think at what I am trying to get at with my question, I think its more along the lines of are there some creative techniques or new techniques in depth psychology that may be helpful in working with anima and animus?

        I also would like to say I really like the way you write. I read everything you post where most posts I find are insightful.

        • Thank you, Edward. I will think more on your question. (When you say working with the anima and animus, can you give me a clearer picture of the type of goal you are thinking of? How would your life/relationships be different if you discovered a new way to work with the anima/animus?)


          • Hi Andy
            I have this mentality that one size does not fit all. Active Imagination is great for working with some people, but in my experience not all. I would like to increase my skill range by having a few different options when working with Anima/Animus.
            Specifically, in what ways could someone work with the anima/animus to increase wellness or wholeness. If an Anima is troublesome and some self-defeating behaviour occurs, how would a person go about getting back on track in life? What options does the person have technique or skill wise in this regard? I am not sure if that clarifies it at all?
            I do not know that my life would be all that different. It’s a good question, I will have to think about it with a bit more depth.
            If I might make a suggestion for a future article. I would love to see a feature article on illness/disease/injuries and how they may point us in the direction of wholeness. Something deep, giving pause for reflection and contemplation would be fantastic.
            Thanks again

          • Hi Eddie,

            I will keep the article idea in mind. Thanks for the suggestion.
            I agree that active imagination work isn’t a good fit for everyone or in all situations. I understand your desire for other helpful techniques, yet I also feel the need to caution that too much focus on techniques can get you into trouble. Most of the time we must feel and intuit our way through situations, without ready-made interventions, and that’s a good thing (although more difficult). A danger of techniques is being seduced into the role of technician rather than healer. I suspect that I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. Thank you for helping me think more about these things.


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