Getting to Know your Anima/Animus: An Intuitive Exercise

In Jungian psychology, everyone supposedly has an anima or animus, the aspect of the self that is the opposite of the self. Men tend to have a female anima who holds the more feminine characteristics of their personality while women tend to have a male animus who holds the masculine part of their personality.

The anima or animus serves as a way of alienating and othering the parts of ourselves with which we feel less in tune, making the anima or animus a shadow part of the self initially. As a shadow, it holds the possibility of wreaking havoc in one’s life if left suppressed and unintegrated. However, the anima/animus is also an incredibly important part of the self, thus each of us feels an attraction to it and to the things we encounter in the world that represent or symbolize it.

So long as the anima/animus is unknown, we run the risk of seeking integration with it in its destructive form; however, when brought out of the shadow and into consciousness, it can become an aid to the self rather than a destroyer/controller of the self.

I’ve been exploring my animus over the last year and have developed some fun exercises that I wanted to share with anyone who may be interested in getting to know their “other half” as well.

Getting to Know your Anima/Animus

Start by identifying the broad type of personality of your anima/animus. This is most easily done by taking note of the characters in books and movies to whom you feel magnetized. You’ll probably notice a trend emerge if you start to list them.

This isn’t your basic “I like this character” feeling. It’s stronger and deeper than that. It’s the characters that you fantasize about—the ones that you don’t entirely understand why you’re so drawn to them, but the ones that are irresistible nonetheless.

I suspect that part of the fascination that Twilight has held despite how bad it is (both in writing and in content) relates to it tapping into the unconscious animus of many women. (Picture of Edward and Bella from Breaking Dawn p. 2, 2012)

I suspect that part of the fascination that Twilight has held despite how bad it is (both in writing and in content) relates to it tapping into the unconscious animus of many women. (Picture of Edward and Bella from Breaking Dawn p. 2, 2012)

In making the list, avoid judging whether these are good characters or bad. You probably will have a mix, but getting into analyzing whether it’s a healthy attraction to a good character or not will merely interfere with tapping the unconscious. For the time being, suspend your judgment and treat them as if they were all neutral.

Once you have a list, step back and take a global assessment. You might have a ridiculous range of characters, some heroes in their stories, some villains. Some people you might want to know in real life; others you might never want to meet in actuality.

What do they share in common though? There will be something, perhaps many things. Are they all inventive? Perhaps they all tend to be very loyal. It’s those similarities that are key and that create the core of the anima/animus personality.

If you prefer a less analytical way of discovering core characteristics, you could also do a form of “divination” using story cards, tarot cards, or story cube. Roll (with the cubes) or draw (with cards) 6 to 10. Identify the characteristics they bring to mind in relation to your list.

Once you get the core shared personality characteristics, then you bring the analysis in. Given what all of your characters share in common, what makes them different? What makes one a good character and another a bad one?

The “bad” character, or the one you feel sort of uncomfortable with having on your list, holds valuable information about how your anima/animus could potentially be unhealthy. It may be what you fear you will become if you merge with the anima/animus or it may be the way that the anima/animus tends to reveal itself when you are not integrated.

However, even the negative anima/animus symbols hold the possibility for being healthy and good. They can guide you in where you might need some character development. They can inform you in where to take care as you get to know yourself, perhaps where you need to put in boundaries for yourself or evaluate your motives.

For example, quite a few of the characters on the list I made were either people who used power to protect the less fortunate or power to revenge the privileged. Thus, I know that my animus can help me in my activism and fight for social justice…or he could use oppression as an excuse to become an abuser himself. I have that choice, and knowing my animus allows me to consciously and actively do something about that choice.

Identifying the personality as well as the potential expressions of the personality for your anima/animus is the most important step, but you don’t have to stop there. If you wish to go further and get to know your anima/animus individually rather than just as a group of symbols, you can do some active imagination with your anima/animus.

It’s a little like meditation, but instead of sitting there without much purpose other than breathing and noticing, you invite your anima/animus to visit with you. Balancing between allowing your mind to go where it wants and directing it towards your purpose, you can interact with your anima/animus in a sort of lucid-dream-like meditative journey.

Don’t feel too distressed if your anima/animus doesn’t show up right away. It takes time to be active in your journey without your conscious mind interfering too much. If you haven’t done much work with intuition before, it might be easier to start by exercising your intuition with a less specific goal may be helpful.

This has been one of my favorite and most rewarding journeys. I hope that if you take this journey in bringing your anima/animus to consciousness that you will find it as rewarding as I have.

Quick note regarding queer individuals. Much of the language for the anima/animus theory is pretty hetero/cisnormative. I have tried to avoid language that “boxes in”and leave it more open. I have a fairly strong dominant feminine side, and my animus presents as masculine even though I’m not solely attracted to men. However, I wouldn’t presume to be versed enough in the theory or in queer experience of the theory to propose how other LGBT+ individuals may find this expressed for themselves. I am open to feedback and welcome hearing the stories of queer individuals who may have done work with their shadow side/non-dominant side.   

Pissofftimist: Someone Who Hates Both Optimism and Pessimism

I’m not an optimist, and I’m not a pessimist.

I’m a creature that requires both light and dark to survive. I have a dual nature, one side that believes that Santa Clause reads my letters every year and the other that recoils from the sight of angels and little babies like a vampire recoils from a stake.

Is the glass half empty or half full? Doesn’t matter. If I’m thirsty, I’ll drink what’s there. If I’m very thirsty, I’ll complain that there isn’t more.

Sometimes I like to indulge in a little fluffy happiness, reading fairy tales or watching a Disney movie, but I can recognize that life is hardly all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I also like to indulge in dark things, like Emilie Autumn music, horror movies, and Edward Gorey storybooks.

The light and dark naturally balance themselves out, like night and day. They each have their place in the cycles of the year.

Which is why when I find myself confronted with that damned positivity movement, I want to vomit. Too much positivity is maddening, like being locked in a white room with bright lights. It’s more a form of torture than it is a form of therapy.

I don’t think positive psychology is bad. I certainly approve of a deeper approach to mental health besides responding to “illness.”

However, more and more I’m sensing that those who favor positive psychology want to ignore the “negative” altogether. Those who favor “strength-based approaches” want to pretend that weaknesses don’t exist.

It’s an artificial positivity that is annoying as fuck. The only way to sustain that kind of positivity is to either be so naïve that you’ve never experienced tragedy or to be in so much denial that you’re constipated on your own head.

Life doesn’t have to be about the opposition of two mindsets that on their own are unsustainable. I can appreciate the beauty of a tiger, but I also remember that it has teeth with which to chew me. Neither takes away from the reality of the other.

This all-or-nothing trend isn’t new, though. A hundred or so years ago, we were convinced everything was about sex. Jung criticized the idolization of Freud’s theory in his autobiography, musing that “the numinosum [e.g. worship of a theory] is dangerous because it lures men to extremes, so that modest truth is regarded as the truth and a minor mistake is equated with a fatal error” (Jung, 1963, p. 154).

Although we’ve since rejected the assumption that everything is motivated by suppressed sexual impulses, admitting that other motivations may come into play as well, it seems we have yet to learn from our actual mistake. We continue to unquestioningly embrace the next in-vogue school of thought as if it were a god.

I can only hope at some point we will swing back more towards the middle on positivity as well, preferably before we’ve turned it into a full-blown religion. In the meantime, I’m going to ward off the “100 days of happiness” dementors with a little intentional darkness.

Reference:

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.