Menu Close

Jung’s Concept of Anima & Animus, And A New Definition

Let’s look at Jung’s concept of anima and animus before turning to a more nuanced definition that bypasses the problems of gender inclusivity or lack thereof. By doing so, you’ll get a more nuanced understanding of your own psyche. We’ll finish by discussing how this nuanced definition can inform our shadow reintegration.

We start with Jung’s classical definition, before talking about gender and embarking on an expanded definition that takes into account that discussion.

Intro to Jung’s Anima and Animus

Jung saw the Anima as a man’s unconscious image of a woman, and the Animus as the woman’s unconscious image of a man. Regardless of which sex we are, we hold an idealised, generalised image of what the other sex is and ought to be.

They are part of the personal shadow: they sit underneath our conscious awareness and from there dictates how each sex relates to the opposite one.

They also also exist in the collective unconscious as forces that dictate how each sex collectively relates to the other sex.

I’ll add that our shadow doesn’t only influence our mental imagery, but works on all levels of the individual: personality, behaviour, emotions, and so on. Shadows are powerful subconscious forces that define us as much as our conscious personality traits do.

Like all psychological concepts and the living, breathing psychology they describe, this one was heavily influenced by the times in which Jung proposed it, and certain features of it have become controversial.

As such, let’s embark on a modern definition. My conclusions are based on my study and implementation of shadow theory and developmental theory, in particular the work of Ken Wilber, Doshin Roshi and others who are operating from an integral, post-postmodern perspective.

Gender and Validity of Anima and Animus

In researching this topic, I discovered that it has caused much controversy when it comes to gender and identity.

In Jung’s day, men were men, and women and women, or at least they should be. That is, you had a male personality if and only if you were biologically male. You had a female personality if and only if you were biologically female. If you identified as other than your biological sex, or exhibited characterstics of the other sex, you were ridiculed. 

Unsurpisingly, the Zeitgeist influenced Jung’s theory. It’s my understanding that this biological pigeon-holing led Jung to unknowingly conclude that you have an anima if and only if you are biologically male, and an animus if and only if you are biologically female. 

To our modern, or postmodern, sensibility, this seems old-fashioned, naive, even discriminatory, but despite his undoubted naivety, it actually seems to me that Jung was quite progressive in this regard. It takes bravery to posit that all men have a buried feminine side. Most modern men are scared to admit that, let alone the men of his time. Women are equally loth to recognising their masculine side.

Nevertheless, our modern attunement to gender and identity has brought Jung’s view into question. If gender and sex don’t necessarily equate, how can men have a buried feminine side, and vice versa? If all gender is a social construction, surely Jung’s view is as unconvincing as our arbitrary definitions of gender? Does the concept have any validity at all?

I have enormous respect for all movements that aim to liberate people, but like many others I feel the movement has gone full circle and is becoming repressive and insular in its own way. I thoroughly believe that Jung has a lot to offer, so long as we don’t get lost in the gender minefield.

First of all, when we look at a person, one of the first things we recognise is their biological sex, and the vast majority of times we’re right. While that doesn’t guarantee they identify with their biological sex, or with any sex at all, it’s there, and it’s usually easy to identify.

Second, the very concepts of masculinity and femininity describe the fact that biological men primarily exhibit certain characteristics (masculine ones) while biological women primarily exhibit others (feminine). It doesn’t mean that men have to exhibit them, but they tend to.

The concepts of masculinity, femininity, anima and animus are just that: concepts, ones that seek to describe tendencies in human beings. Whether these patterns are nefariously culturally conditioned or not, they’re here, so let’s seek to understand them.

I find the tendency to reduce humanity to an amorphous soup and denying the male, female, masculine and feminine to be as discriminative as quintessential sexism. Billions of people are biologically male and are proud to be; billions are biologically female and are proud to be. And many people of both biological sexes are realising they are a blend of masculine and feminine. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s not force people to be asexual or transgender or post-gender if they don’t want to be.

Ultimately, I think there is a way to integrate our modern understanding and sensitivity with Jung’s original definition.

To that end, let me acknowledge that our new sensitivity to gender and identity actually contribute a singularly important concept: that our identity is more fluid than we believe, that there are no strict, rigid, unchanging boundaries in gender. This helps us realise we’re more complex than we tend to acknowledge: though we may be primarily masculine, we have feminine aspects, and vice versa.

This insights enables us to see that masculinity and feminity are two poles or archetypes that express themselves through us in varying amounts. Their names derive from the biological sex that tends to embody each more than the other. They’re not intended as a way to repress, categorise and stereotype people.

Thus, the Anima and the Animus are the shadow aspects of masculinity and feminity, not of biological males and females per se. 

I would even go as far to say (based on my limited knowledge, I don’t think Jung ever claimed this) that we all have an anima and animus, simply because we all express masculinity and femininity to varying degrees, irrespective of our biological sex or gender identification. Thus naturally we experience the shadow sides of each too.

In fact, I have a way that I think bypasses the gender problem altogether, and that is to discard biological sex from this conversation. After all, what’s important in psychology and shadow is our sense of identity: what material do we consciously identify with, and what is buried in the subconscious?

Forgetting our biological gender, are we identified primarily with masculine characteristics or female characteristics? Which do we shun?

Everyone is included, not because our biological sex or gender identification are special or uniquely sacred, but because our biological sex and gender identification don’t matter in this conversation unless they help us understand our own psychology.

Which psychological qualities help us live fully and express our uniqueness, and which hamstring us? And in the pursuit to understand this, we might find the concept of masculinity, femininity, anima and animus to be revealing.

In this way, the conversation on one of Jung’s central concepts can be a genuinely inclusive and free itself from the minefield of political correctness and tip-toe sensitivity. More importantly, it shows us the complexity and trickiness of our own psyche.

Jung’s Anima and Animus, and My Tentative New Definition

As a refresher, the traditional definition is as follows.

A women’s animus is her eternal image of a man; a man’s anima is his eternal image of a woman. These are typically subconscious, buried beyond our awareness.

Every man carries within him the eternal image of a woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image … The same is true of the woman: she too has her inborn image of man.

Carl Jung

In this I find that Jung fails to acknowledge the unacknowledged masculinity and femininity in us all. To assume a man is 100% masculine as has no repressed traits (masculine or feminine) is quite naive, as is assuming that a woman is 100% feminine with no repressed masculine or feminine traits. That’s where my extended definition comes in.

Conscious Traits Imply Unconscious Traits

As we work towards my definition, let me note that:

Woman is compensated by a masculine element and therefore her unconscious has, so to speak, a masculine imprint. This results in a considerable psychological difference between men and women, and accordingly I have called the projection-making factor in women the animus, which means mind or spirit.

Carl Jung

If I interpret Jung correctly, it seems that by virtue of being predominantly a certain gender, we’re by necessity imprinted or stamped with the exact opposite. In being one, the other is by definition unconscious. More generally, a pillar of modern shadow work is that our psyche inevitably contains the opposite of our conscious or apparent traits, whether masculine or feminine or a blend or neither.

The front face of a mask has its outer contours; turn it around, and you see the contours reversed. The outer contours cannot exist without the inner; our personality traits can’t exist without their opposites, even if the latter are buried down beyond our conscious awareness. They are present in their apparent absence. Thus, so too are our unconscious masculinity and femininity.

This means that, regardless of our biological sex and gender identification, all of our conscious feminine traits by necessity contain their masculine traits in the shadow, and all our conscious masculine traits contain the feminine traits in shadow.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t be more masculine or feminine without repression of the other pole. It just means that we all contain a certain blend of the two, and the more we cling to one and deny the other (or certain traits of each), the more inauthentic and unbalanced we are.

The opposite of every persona is a shadow.

Doshin Roshi

My Extended Definition

Thus, I’ll tentatively extend Jung’s definition by saying that the anima and animus are the eternal concepts we hold with regard to both sexes, regardless of our biological sex or gender identification. In this way, we avoid rigid gender typecasting and acknowledge that we all have masculine and feminine traits. As such, we have unconscious eternal concepts of both sexes: we all have an anima and animus.

The extent to which we consciously embody these eternal images is the extent to which they are conscious aspects of our personality and to which we can embody the full gamut of human traits – masculine, feminine or otherwise – in our own unique way.

The more we deny and repress masculine traits, the bigger our animus; the more we deny and repress feminine traits, the bigger our anima.

Use This Knowledge

Though I like to look deeply at our psychology from a somewhat theoretical point of view, I love helping you to deeply transform it.

As you embark on later shadow work, I encourage you, whatever gender you identify as, and whatever biological sex you consider yourself, to try to unearth your unconscious masculine and feminine traits.

It takes great bravery to admit that these repressed traits are yours and then to reintegrate them, but doing so is a huge step towards psychological maturity and the blossoming of your full, authentic personality.