You are having a coffee. It is a calm, beautiful day, probably Friday. You have worked hard all week and now you blissfully sitting outside, relaxing with your friends. You tell jokes and stories and it’s fun. However, out of the corner of your eye, you see him or her entering the stage. Suddenly, your friend’s voice begins to fade, the rest of the street seems to lose its color and your friends and the table are carried away by some strange current.
Sounds familiar? It is a bit like you’ve been cursed. When that particular person starts talking to you, you get confused. And I mean you, the rest-of-the-time-serious-confident adult individual. What the hell? Maybe someone indeed cursed you. You simply cannot let that magical creature suddenly entering your life to just leave it like that, so you boldly ask for his or her number or at least a Facebook profile.
And so it goes…coffee, drink, a walk in the park. Magical kiss under the moonlight. One thing leads to another. Suddenly you find yourself thinking about this person all the time. Wondering what he or she would say about things. Calling her or him at 1 AM to tell them what an experience for you it was to eat a cheese sandwich. Suddenly everything you want to share and do is with this person. Suddenly, everything starts looking more colorful. Better. Nicer. It really feels like magic.
And magic it is. The magic of your animus, or anima. Animus and anima are terms from the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. They represent unconscious archetypes in the psyche of the individual, in Jung’s theory opposite to his own gender. The animus represents in the woman the “masculine” in the unconscious and anima the unconscious “feminine” in the male psyche. For the purposes of this article, we will for a moment ignore the potentially problematic characterization of “male” and “female” in Jung’s analysis, which perpetuates a binary rigid gender division, since this analysis would require a whole other article. So for the purposes of this article, we will use this example on the male/female counterparts.
We will start by viewing animus and anima s manifestation of unconscious socially determined male and female roles. That is why animus and anima in fairy tales are often referred to as collectively known archetypes of male and female roles, such as the wise old man or the wise old woman, the sorcerer or the witch. But things are not that simple. There is an added personal dimension to this.
Animus and anima, Jung believed, are upgraded over three lifetimes in human life: through first encounters with the sex that one is attracted to, for Jung the parent of the opposite sex. Experiences are constructed in the unconscious, which are then what one finds attractive throughout life.
This logic is reflected even in the popular proverb “opposites attract”. You’ve probably experienced this yourself, if you’ve ever gotten into one of those quarrels with a partner that starts with something seemingly innocuous, like your desire to watch a documentary on one program, while your partner just wants to watch an action movie on Netflix. After a while, all the differences in certain relationship come to view – you want to spend Sunday afternoon reading while he or she wants to go snowboarding. If the sex wasn’t good, then you wouldn’t have anything to talk about…but the sex is magical! And then you usually curse the fate for putting you together when you so obviously have nothing in common and at the same time are not able to live without each other.
The fate here is just another name for your anima and animus. What you think you do not have on a conscious level attracts you to your partner. Often, if we are aware enough, this is the perfect opportunity to make that forgotten, cut-off part of ourselves more accessible to our awareness.
Animus and anima are thus not only magical. In part, they are actually quite real, since they consist of unconscious patterns that we once suppressed in our lives and which now fine-tune us to the attraction of the person with those particular characteristics when we spot one in our surroundings. Although Freud differed in his interpretation of this phenomenon since Jung considered only parents of the opposite sex to be constituent of our anima and animus and Freud expanded this to other experiences with opposite gender, I find an example from his book The Interpretation of Dreams to be very potent in terms of us being able to understand how this happens.
Namely, Freud explains to one patient that his preference for a girl who wore a yellow dress when they met was related to his memories of yellow flowers, which in turn connects with the memory of an idealized hometown from which he was forced to move out prematurely. So we’re not going to go so far as to claim that you’re going to go crazy just for a piece of clothing, but it seems that some of the details that our subconscious remembers and / or suppresses as we grew up are crucially linked to what we like. Add to that the opposite (or the one you prefer) gender and what you get is your animus or anima.
You may have noticed yourself some of the patterns you keep repeating in your own relationships (“blue and bearded, blue and bearded, blue and bearded… what, this sounds like a pattern!” When you find yourself not being able to resist one particular type of personality or looks, there is something to explore there.
What is good about animus and anima is this magical allure that makes everything prettier for the time being. What is not so good is that anima and animus are partly our projections and not the reality of the person we like. Since we apply our own unconscious projections of what an ideal man / woman should be, everything feels very nice in the beginning (although there is also a good chance here of a hurricane sweeping you if the patterns are sufficiently unconscious and the animus is strong enough). However, things change with time as we begin to see the difference between what we saw and what the person versus us really is. And then, as time goes by, we may wonder who this person is who shares a bed with us and why we haven’t seen it before. It’s simple. Because we saw our animus or anima.
“So what now?” A friend asks me over coffee when we talk about this. “If animus is not in play then I find the person boring. If it is, it will be too intense. How can I live? Will I be dead from excitement or dead from boredom? This animus stuff is complicated”
But are they really? Although we are always partly in the control of our anima/ animus, we may not have to choose between dying from the onset of passion that flicks between our animus and us or eternal boredom. Perhaps we can learn to recognize these unconscious patterns that we repeat in relationships and use them so that once passion flares, we master thins in a calmer way. They are a powerful tool for self-growth. Anima and animus in our partners can be used to recognize and integrate the part of ourselves that we see in them and deny in ourselves. According to all spiritual perceptions of a person as a whole, be it Zen Buddhism, Yoga or some other tradition, there are all energies in us, only during our life and experiences we have learned to manifest some stronger and some weaker. These parts we have not learned to manifest, then represent the repressed part of the self, according to Jung, the “shadow” part, the part that we are then inclined to project outward or to look for in other people. Many spiritual disciplines also work directly to awaken the duality and balance the opposing energies within us.
Therefore, it is necessary to become aware of these unconscious parts of ourselves, to get acquainted with the oppressed and to see how what we have suppressed has attracted us in a partner. It is also necessary to distinguish our own projections from the real partner who stands before us as a separate, unique person. We can achieve this by introducing a pattern of awareness into all parts of our relationship or by making sense of our own projections and the difference between them and the real partner before us. Once we do, we will finally be able to see what it is what magically attracts us and why. And finally meet the person behind our animus/anima. And thus open up a new horizon of opportunity for relationship on a more aware and mature level.