If we know that western men and women are out of touch with, or worse, deny that humans have an inner, unconscious life, imagine how much of a stretch it is for western men to come to a place where the concept of an unconscious “anima” the inner feminine is even feasible.
We grow up with a first “imprint” of the feminine comes from our mother, or our first nurturing female. Her voice, her eyes, her very breathing, sighing, baking, cleaning, washing, and interacting with others paint and record a video-recording that leaves in indelible set of imprints on our psyche. Somehow and somewhere there is another partner, a man, in that woman’s life, prompting responses of various pitches, volumes, intensities, sensibilities that pry open our perceptions and then conceptions of how men and women respond to each other. Depending on the quality of the harmony, rhythm, cacophony, resonance and resilience of the relationship between the two first nurturers, we begin to construct an image and the impact of that image on how we experience that dynamic. Do our encounters with “mother” help us feel accepted, tolerated, alienated, rejected? Do our responses generate smiles, frowns, shouts, screams, turned-backs, silences? Do we feel welcome where we live, or, even before we have the words, unloved, unwanted, and barely tolerated?
“You’re just like your father!” could be one of the chants that penetrate our ear drums and our psyche. Perhaps, normal embraces of warmth and tenderness are sparingly dispersed among the taunts. Perhaps even over-sized helpings of food seem to be an attempt to compensate for the emotional turbulence of exaggerated anger, impatience, and intolerance. Naturally, like the universal puppy, we simply want to please. Nevertheless, all of our vigorous efforts to “please” this adult authority figure, as well as the tone, mood atmosphere and ethos in our “four walls” continue to rumble along on emotional corduroy roads in a vehicle with no gas in the shock-absorbers.
This portrait may sound to some like a melodramatic “pity party. However, it is intended to establish an excessive even compulsive feeling of emptiness, inadequacy, unwantedness, rejection and alienation and separation from which many young boys spend much of the rest of our lives trying to “heal.” Whether from a “mother wound” or from a “father wound,” many young men struggle even to acknowledge their/our woundedness. Trying to fill the emptiness of a parent who considers him or herself inadequate, fearful, less-than-worthy is not only impossible; it also robs the young person from the needed energies that could be expended in more worthy and creative activities. So, the spectre of a mountain of recovery faces many young men, whether or not they are conscious of the depth of their emotional starvation. Lacking a vocabulary on which to “hang” these deep feelings, young men will often try to medicate their amorphous and ethereal and insubstantial discomfort and pain.
Filing the discomfort into another of the chores needing to be addressed, (isn’t everything about life needing to be qualified as a “task” to be accomplished?) young men then proceed most likely to first deny and then to minimize their discomfort. Perhaps they/we bury ourselves in so many activities/tasks/goals/objectives/strategies/tactics that our lives become literally and metaphorically a pursuit of one or multiple trophies. Early in our adolescence, we notice the attention of the co-eds in our class paid to those athletes who win championships, score touchdowns, slam-dunk the basketball, score the winning goal in the overtime of the league championship hockey tournament. We objectify our very persons as agents of our own acceptance through the expressed applause of our peers. And, generally we become quite adept at this strategic/tactical process.
Of course, we are not aware cognitively nor are we able to integrate the concept that our parents/care-givers have their own inadequacies, unworthiness, neurosis, for which they are compensating, over-compensating, and projecting onto their children. Vicarious living through the achievements of one’s child, even if it is unconscious, nevertheless, imposes a subtle and lingering burden on the psyche/shoulders of the child, while leaving the parent in complete impunity for the responsibility. Neither participant in the dynamic is conscious of its existenceor its impact. Resentment, especially based on what are essentially unconscious dynamics, shoves its tentacles deep into our psyche and will only shove their barbs into the light of day at moments when we least expect them, often when we are experiencing some ‘trigger’ event that re-awakens the buried emotion.
“The unconscious of a man contains a complementary feminine element, that of a woman a male element. IT may seem paradoxical to suggest man is not wholly man or women wholly woman, yet it is a fairly common experience to find feminine and masculine traits in one person. The most masculine of men will often show surprising gentleness with children, or with anyone weak or ill; strong men give way to uncontrolled emotion in private, and can be both sentimental and irrational; brave men are sometimes terrified by quite harmless situations and some men have surprising intuition or a gift for sensing pother people’s feelings. All of these are supposedly feminine traits, as well as more obvious ‘effeminacy’ in a man. This latent femininity in a man is. However, only one aspect of his feminine soul, his anima. ‘An inherited collective image of woman exists in a man’s unconscious, says Jung, ‘with the help of which he apprehends the nature of woman.” (Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology, Middlesex, England, Penguin, 1953, p.52)
As an archetype, the anima is an image of “woman” not an image of a particular woman. So long as that image remains as archetype, it has a timeless quality.
“She is often connected with the earth, or with water, and she may be endowed with great power. She is also two-sided or has two aspects, a light and a dark, corresponding to the different qualities and types of women: on the one hand the pure, the good, the noble goddess-like figure, on the other the prostitute, the seductress, or the witch. It is when a man has repressed his feminine nature, when he under-values feminine qualities or treats women with contempt or neglect, that this dark aspect is most likely to present itself.” (Fordham, op. cit., p. 54)
Nevertheless, failing to grasp and to acknowledge the “feminine” aspect of male personality, as is the case for millions of men, especially it would seem among many of the most contemptible world leaders, men attempt “to make “her” into an external, physical woman. We do this by projection. This is our ego’s way of trying to possess anima, to imprison her in mortal flesh, to experience on a personal, external, physical level. One specific thing is required ion order to return anima to her psychological role as Queen of the inner world: a man must be wiling to withdraw the projection of anima from the women in his life. This alone makes it possible for anima to perform her correct role within his psyche. This alone makes is possible for him to see his woman as she is, unburdened by his projections.” (Johnson, op, cit., p 93-4)
“This effort to withdraw his projection of anima is very problematic for modern western man. “He is so accustomed to his pattern of trying to life out his unlived self through other people that the prospect of giving up seems a disaster. He feels that all the joy and the intensity of life is contained in the hope that one day a women will come along who will make him whole and make life perfect. It is hard for him to see that he could live with a woman and be close to her and yet not try to live his life through her.” (Johnson, op. cit., p. 109)
It is not only the man who is potentially caught up in the projection of anima onto a female. “Our culture trains women that their role is not to be human beings but to be mirrors who reflect back to a man his ideal or his fantasy. She much struggle to resemble the current Hollywood starlets; she must dress and groom herself and behave in such away as to make herself into the collective image of anima. She must not be an individual so much as the incarnation of men’s fantasy. Many women are so accustomed to this role that they resist any change in the arrangement. They want to go on playing the goddess to a man rather than be a mortal woman: There is something appealing about being worshipped and adored as a divinity. But there is a heavy price attached to this role. The man who sees her as a goddess is not related to her as a woman; he is only related to his own projection. His own inner divinity, that he has placed on her. And when his projection lifts, when it migrates away from her so some other woman then his adoration and his worship will go with it. If he has no relationship to her as one human being to another, then there is nothing left when the projections evaporate.” (Johnson, op. cit., p. 109-110)
Having failed to withdraw projections of the anima from a specific woman, and having imposed a shared and inevitable pain from the withdrawal of that projection, this scribe can attest to a dearth of mentoring, coaching, learning and appropriate development that likely has been, is now, and will be in the future the fate of many men and women. I can also attest to the narrowness and exclusive “extrinsic” training and apprenticeship of those about to enter the professions of teaching, social work, clergy and parenting. As a culture drowning in the empirical, scientific, objective, conscious and sensate, as if these are the only qualities of human existence that matter, we are collectively and individually immersed in a shared shame of ignorance, denial and avoidance of transmitting other more important dynamics of human personality and the dynamics of their interaction.
Universities, in the west at least, are failing their undergraduates if they refuse to acknowledge and to teach the insights embedded in the writings of Jung, and in the dynamics that pervade a culture blind to the unconscious. Such blindness can no longer be tolerated as willful, deliberate, or even the recipient of lip service. Churches, too, as well as their seminaries, are being challenged to reflect on the conflicts within their congregations, between laity and between clergy and laity, when the unconscious projections are rampantly playing out before their eyes. Of course, in order to accept the truth of these dynamics, both individuals and organizations would have to adopt new perceptions of their responsibilities and their opportunities.
Schools, and faculties of education too, could open the eyes, ears and minds of their aspiring educators to their own deep gifts of personality, and the potential embedded in the personalities of their students and colleagues, as well as the processes that might be deployed in professional discussion of many of the more turbulent and stressful situations that emerge daily. Principals, especially, both men and women, need to comprehend and to acknowledge the mysteries of the unconscious and its potential role in interjecting “sand” into the “gears” of the class, and the school.
In order for such a world view to become operative and instrumental among our various organizations, individual men, too, could become much more conscious of their potential to deny their own biographies, especially the unconscious anima, in order to more readily and successfully engage in relationships with women.
It is my own failure in relationships that prompts these scribblings. And the impact of these failings will confront each of my days, memories and reflections as long as I continue to breath.