The more ‘complexes’ a man has, the more he is possessed; and when we try to form a picture of the personality which expresses itself through its complexes we must admit that it resembles nothing so much as an hysterical woman—i.e. the anima! (122-3)
An affair of the heart that strikes suddenly, love at first sight, is a divine madness, a perilous path to approach the numinous. The dharma of the hero and his mistress is a difficult discipline, and it is impossible to always maintain the right attitude. A magical quality full of tender sentiment and good cheer intoxicates the drunken lovers, yet then the medicine turns to poison. Where first exist two friendly creatures in joyful synchronicity and mutual infatuation is later the certain danger of the most vulgar abuse and vicious slander. The outcome is betrayal and rebellion against Love itself. Where once the fair creatures had sworn in good faith that theirs is a match made in Heaven, then comes animosity, animality and acrimonious separation. The conflict is not personal: it is destiny, and the various stages of the process are prefigured, including reconciliation and renewal if each is able to nurture mature relations. In torrid affairs, each is possessed by archetypes, which will certainly activate personal and collective complexes hidden in the shadow and cause affects of all variety. The effect is both mystic rapture and ape circus. To see this more clearly, first is an explication of the archetype in relation to the subjective ego, the persona and shadow, and a definition of a complex. Then, the anima and animus projection will be compared with warnings to a would-be hero on the autonomous possession and inflationary transference of the anima-animus phenomenon.

The words are easy; the experience is the daring art of living. An archetype is an original model, forms without content and phylogenetically inherited images, predispositions and possibilities that can be developed through activity. Archetypes are the psychic governing structures of collective life and the subjective individual. The subjective ego, the conscious personality, consists of perceptions, memories, thoughts and feelings. The ego is highly selective in building its persona: it filters and censors, and thus incongruent, irrelevant, repressed or distressing content enters the personal unconscious, or shadow. The shadow is animal nature, the normal instincts which must be suppressed for civil life. The shadow is the unadapted, undeveloped and awkward qualities and tendencies often projected onto others. A group of contents can become a complex, which are autonomous and possessive. Writes Jung, “every constellation [or, activation] of a complex postulates a disturbed state of consciousness. And, in fact, an active complex puts us momentarily under a state of duress, of compulsive thinking and acting” (38). Some complexes, however, are essential for outstanding achievement and offer freakish vigor and a life well-lived.

The anima-animus phenomenon is such a complex and the alchemical archetype of mystical union. In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung writes, “If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece’” (29). The anima is the image and expression of femininity within male psychology, and the animus is a cherished masculine ideal within female psychology. The anima defies easy definition and categories, but Jung asserts she has a distinct character: she appears first as an erotic fantasy, the elfin forest nymph and incertissima amasia, the most hazardous beloved (Mysterium Coniunctionis 68). “Moreover, the anima is inevitably projected upon a real object, with which he gets into a relation of almost total dependence. Every reaction displayed by this object has an immediate, inwardly enervating effect on the subject. Tragic ties are often formed in this way” (103). The soul-image and its associated intense feeling is often transferred to a real person, the mundis inferiori who is unlikely to meet the demands of representing the soul-image at all times and in all ways. In Man and His Symbols, Jung suggests, “Women who are of ‘fairy-like’ character especially attract such anima projections, because men can attribute almost anything to a creature who is so fascinatingly vague, and can thus proceed to weave fantasies around her” (191). This mysterious anima inspires writing, musical composition, dancing, painting and empathic participation in life. She reveals secret knowledge and hidden wisdom and often teases with the strings that loosen and bind psychosis as the femme fatale. Anima initiation includes ethical struggles, personal misadventure, impossible dilemmas, positive catastrophe and a dangerous encounter with the numinous.

The animus, in contrast, is an ideal that accepts no exceptions or compromise. It appears most often as an irrational collective opinion, prejudiced and based in fear and ignorance. In Symbols of Transformation, Jung characterizes the animus as “a slightly hysterical, infantile hero whose longing to be loved shows through the gaps in his armour” (304). When projected onto a real person, the animus is the standard against which a man is overvalued or undervalued. This delusory attitude not only makes it impossible for a female to accept a male as he really is, but the male in his valorous attempt to conform to the assumptions of the female will feel ashamed and deflated when he inevitably mismatches the guise demanded of the animus. Hence, Jung’s warning to the desirous and daemon-possessed soul-seeker on the encounter with this infantile woman: “He will at once be made identical with her animus-hero and relentlessly set up as the ideal figure, threatened with the direst punishments should he ever make a face that shows the least departure from the ideal!” (307). Here then is true love, not in dreams or fantasy, but in concrete reality: a girl finds a hero, a daring man with a problem, and the hero finds his soul.

True love, nevertheless, has some unpleasant aspects. Jung warns in Psychology and Alchemy: “Although man and woman unite they nevertheless represent irreconcilable opposites” (152). The relationship can swiftly degenerate into mutual hostility, typically the reappearance of a repressed conflict or inhibitions in transference drama. Earlier tension never adequately concluded is replayed in the new situation. In the anima-animus phenomenon, neither male nor female see each other clearly, and their pictures of each other are further corrupted through misinterpretation. Yet the projection is not a production; it is automatic and possessive, and the complex recycles, with new complications, those problems of life that are never fully solved. In Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Jung concludes, “Very often the relationship runs its course regardless of its human performers, who afterwards do not know what happened to them” (16). Through analysis, projections can be identified and withdrawn, thus reviving the potential and spontaneity of a love relationship and growth of personal character. A mature encounter produces an improvement in the quality and depth of experience, and also a renunciation of heroic self-mastery and wrong assumptions. The goal is compassionate acceptance free of inferior attitudes and exaggeration of expectations.

Again, projections are not created or made, but something that is done to us by the unconscious that we only recognize afterwards. Projections are not an activity of the individual, who when possessed by a complex is in a state of diminished responsibility. Projections are something that happens to the individual, who may then become aware of the revealed patterns by an exertion of analytic effort. Similarly, anima and animus are a priori categories that become empirical facts through experience. Jung suggests, “The form of the world into which he is born is already inborn in him as a virtual image” (107). Thus, anima and animus images are present at birth, or as Jung describes it, “you have a certain image in yourself, without knowing it, of woman, of the woman. Then you see that girl, or at least a good imitation of your type, and instantly you get a seizure and you are gone. And afterwards you may discover that it was a hell of a mistake” (110). The individual first projects these vague images not on a beloved, but on the parents and then again onto alternate parents.

An infant has no separate identity from its parents. The animus of the daughter is projected upon the father, and the anima of the son is projected upon the mother. So far as the parents satisfy the demands of the projection, they are esteemed; as a gap opens up between an innate expectation and the actual people, conflict in the family and tension in an individual’s inner life is avoided illegitimately by repression. What is repressed, however, inevitably returns loaded with dangerous resentment and often displaced into other situations. When a child begins to separate from his parents, he produces fantasies of substitute parents, projected then onto real people. The new objects become the target of the original value; the first complex passes its values onto the second complex. School experiences and aborted immature relationships also shape a personality and its complexes. Pupils reflect the problems of their teachers, thus making educators as influential as parents and perhaps more. Later, a mature public persona, with grooming habits, political opinions and props, is an adopted taming of personality or conformity so society will accept him and provide rewards for a private life.

Throughout this development, the original inborn image is modified and evolves in accordance with experience. For example, if a man has a tumultuous relationship with his mother, then his anima expression will tend to irritability, depression and distrust. When he transfers the unconscious anima image from his mother to a beloved, his uncontrollable emotional outbursts and desire in the guise of rage may trouble or disturb the young lady who will likewise be possessed by tyrannical argumentativeness and destructive power plays instead of love. He is moody, jealous and vain, and often the target of his anima-projection worsens his feeling of discontent, which is contagious and a psychic plague. Jung writes, “Whereas the cloud of ‘animosity’ surrounding the man is composed chiefly of sentimentality and resentment, in woman it expresses itself in the form of opinionated views, interpretations, insinuations and misconstructions, all for the purpose (sometimes attained) of severing the relationship between two human beings” (112-3). Anima-possession in the male triggers animus-possession in the female, who is then obstinate and brutally reckless; both blindly act like irritated beasts.

Again, these are symptoms of autonomous processes of the unconscious; thus, it is of little value to blame the individual for being less-than-human or expect a person to live up to an ideal that is set too high. The animus, especially, is prone to stubborn proclamations and ill-considered remarks of what ‘ought to be’ and in danger of being split off and unaccepting of life as it really is. In Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung describes how possession by the anima or animus complex sinks the relationship to an instinctual, animalistic expression:

In the state of possession both figures lose their charm and their values…Turned toward the world, the anima is fickle, capricious, moody, uncontrolled and emotional, sometimes gifted with daemonic intuitions, ruthless, malicious, untruthful, bitchy, double-faced and mystical. The animus is obstinate, harping on principles, laying down the law, dogmatic, world-reforming, theoretic, word-mongering, argumentative and domineering. Both alike have bad taste” (124).
Here, the animus-possessed woman becomes an illegitimate authority, and coupled with a despairing and perhaps self-destructive and suicidal anima-possessed man, the interaction turns toward self-righteous vilification and ludicrous exhibition of their inferior personalities, perhaps most banally through perversity trauma or “fantasy shock” conflicts. In Aion, Jung asserts, “It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman…she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life” (13). She is thus his greatest danger and his sought after reward. She is guardian sprite, comfort in suffering, companion in ecstasy, seductive playmate and celestial wife.

Edinger proposes that identification with the anima or animus is always an inflation (15). He defines inflation as “blown up, distended with air, unrealistically large and unrealistically important, beyond the limits of one’s proper size; hence, to be vain, pompous, proud, presumptuous” (7). This inflation is not only the cause of eventual alienation, regret and suffering, but also positively produces prophetic hunches, capacity for personal love, feeling for nature and a relationship to the unconscious (Man and His Symbols 186). In the anima initiation, which sometimes causes men to destroy their careers and themselves, “what one then discovers about oneself and about man and the world is of such a nature that one would rather not speak of it; and besides, it is so difficult to put into words that one’s courage fails at the bare attempt” (Mysterium Coniunctionis 233). Painful strife, scorn and disgrace are the prelude to assimilating content that was projected. Intolerant fanaticism is transformed into calm acceptance, detachment and the realization of the meaning of life.

An archetype firstly and lastly displays itself through instinctive impulse, which accounts for its volatility. The anima-animus phenomenon leads both to the peak of the mountain and to the depths of the abyss. In the encounter, the subjective ego and its ideal persona is confronted with a shadow, and the inherited patterns, collective dynamics and individual evolution that shape a personality are revealed. Though it may be a disastrous struggle, a man may count such an initiation as the highlight of life, from which all else past and future is determined. The heroic stance, however bold in its time, proves itself to be fleeting; such a posture cannot be sustained forever. Through most painful conflict, the man is defeated, yet what was gained in the suffering can never be lost. He won a concrete moment of union with his soul, not as an afternoon daydream, but as a lived reality; the woman, likewise, gains a new level of intellect and purposeful activity. Both are transformed through the experience. Though perfection is unattainable, and the process is never complete, each may ripen beyond the selfish desires of instant gratification and the agonies of afflicted perspectives to a compassionate acceptance and profound long-lasting relationship. Each is able to see through the limits of their own view of life and then encourage the other character to evolve beyond the burden of distorted projections. 


Edinger, Edward F. Ego & Archetype: Individuation and the Religious Function of the Psyche. Boston: Shambhala, 1992.
Jung, C G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton. N.J: Princeton University Press, 1978.
-----. Aspects of the Feminine. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1982.
------. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1970.
-----. Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia. Princeton [N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Jung, C G, and Anthony Storr. The Essential Jung: Selected Writings. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Jung, C G, John Beebe, and C G. Jung. Aspects of the Masculine. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Jung, C G, and Marie-Luise . Franz. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell Pub, 1968.
Jung, C G, and R F. C. Hull. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.