My Anima II: Gender Identity and the Self

What is gender identity? Is it part of our deepest self? Or is it something created by social expectations? How would we know? How does it work?

The last few weeks I’ve been reading Murray Stein’s Jung’s Map of the Soul, and it’s been a bit of a revelation. For almost 20 years now I’ve been thinking and meditating on archetypes, shadows, visualization, and all this other Jungian stuff, but it has been difficult to find a good, coherent, logical presentation of Jungian theory, all laid out clearly. Stein’s book is excellent: it covers the material at a comfortable depth, without too much jargon. 

One of the revelations for me has been Stein’s explanation of the “Animum” archetype. (I call it “Animum” rather than anima or animus for reasons that will become clear.) In my original post on the anima, from back in 2006, I gave this definition:

An anima is a female archetype in the subconscious of a man. According to Jung, who coined the term, the anima is a composite of female figures that have influenced the man strongly — beginning with his mother, and later influenced by teachers, girlfriends, and so forth. It is a source of intuition, creativity and inspiration. It is a place where the man projects female aspects of himself that he may be uncomfortable with. Analogously, females have a male archetype, the animus. Less is known about the animus, probably because so many psychologists, Jungian and otherwise, have been male.

(Quick note: when I wrote this in 2006, I was clearly just summarizing information from Wikipedia. The current Wikipedia article contradicts this, saying explicitly that the anima is not a composite of individuals, but an expression of a universal archetype. Stein agrees with this assessment of Jung’s view.)

This definition was enough for me to work with at the time, but Stein gives a much more complete picture. He explains how Jung believed the Animum to be formed, and thereby shows exactly what it is, and what it does.


When a child begins constructing a social identity — a sense of self within a society — they create a Persona, a sort of social mask to wear. The Persona is a somewhat simplified / adjusted version of the self that can be presented to others, to help mediate social situations. I think of it as a bit like a social media identity: it may be basically a true reflection of the individual, but it is necessarily an incomplete picture, and it may be quite different from what’s really going on behind the curtain. In some cases people may be unaware that their Persona is different from their true selves, but most people know, I think, that the “self” they show at the office or at school is different from the “self” at home, and the “self” with the family is again perhaps different from the “self” one is conscious of when one lies awake at night staring at the ceiling.

But, for Jung, there is a second mask we wear, because in addition to the external world of people and objects, there is another world, the internal world of the subconscious. The self has to deal with both of these worlds, and it has a mask for each. Just as the self constructs the Persona to help mediate with the social world, the self constructs the Animum to mediate with the subconscious world. This is an automatic, intuitive process; and the self doesn’t have a lot of control over it, especially at first. 

In general, the self creates the Persona out of pieces of itself that it thinks will be helpful socially. For example, if the self likes cats, and it thinks that liking cats is socially advantageous, then liking cats will be part of the Persona. But whatever is left over — whatever is socially disadventageous, or is felt to be too dangerous or shameful to expose — gets shunted into the subconscious, where it is grafted onto the Animum. And thus, the Animum is created out of features of the self that do not match or fit with the Persona.

So, if the self’s Persona is male, then any unacknowledged feminine aspects of the self will be subconsciously added to the man’s Animum. A man will therefore generally have an Anima. Likewise, if the Persona is female, any unacknowledged masculine features will go to create a woman’s Animus.

Once a gendered Animum begins to take shape, as an Animus or Anima as the case may be, it then becomes connected with the gender archetypes in the universal subconscious. A gendered Animum is not a conglomerate of all the gendered people a person has encountered in life, but an admixture of (a) features of the self that do not fit the Persona and (b) features from the gendered archetypes in the universal subconscious.

It seems clear, then, that men and women have different kinds of Animum because of the sexual dimorphism of our society. (So I am calling it an “Animum”, using a common Latin neuter ending, to reflect its underlying gender-nonspecific nature.) If people did not experience strong social pressure, the Animum might not take on any gender-specific features. I’ll return to this matter in a moment.

Since the Animum is created instinctively, it is usually underdeveloped compared to the Persona. Oftentimes, the Animum is weak, helpless, sick, or incomplete. This can have bad consequences for the individual, because the Animum is always a powerful attractive force.

We are strongly drawn to the Animum, and strongly drawn to people who remind us of it, consciously or unconsciously. The Animum is, after all, an archetype of spiritual growth and wholeness. We feel instinctively that by approaching the Animum, by engaging with it, we can grow and learn. So, ironically, if you have not developed your Animum, you will find yourself drawn to people who are themselves weak, helpless, or lacking integrity. You may seek out people who are heavily dependent on you, or find yourself wanting to “fix” them. You might learn a lot from such a relationship, but of course you cannot really fix your relationship with your Animum by “fixing” other people. You have to work on yourself first.

To bring it back around to gender identity, then, it seems clear to me — although I am just guessing — that since the gender of the Animum is complementary to that of the Persona, it follows that if your Persona’s gender is undefined or unimportant — that is, if the fact that you are a particular gender isn’t that important to your social sense of self — then your Animum’s gender will also be undefined or unimportant. The Animum might appear as a different gender at different times, or might be androgynous; or it might even show up as a non-gender-specific animal or some other being.

I should emphasize, in case it’s not obvious, that your gender identity is something quite distinct from your gender expression and from your gender orientation. Your gender identity is part of your self (the gender you seem to yourself to be); your gender expression is part of your Persona (the face you show to the world); and your gender orientation is the gender you are sexually or romantically drawn to. So perhaps it’s most accurate to say that the gender of the Animum is likely to be the opposite of your gender expression, rather than your gender identity, because the Animum is the reflection of the Persona (i.e. the social expression of the self, not the true self). But, again, that’s just a guess.

It might also be worth noting that some people find themselves romantically or sexually attracted to their Animum. I believe this is perfectly natural, since, as I said above, the Animum is a symbol of growth and wholeness, and we are drawn to that. But I think it’s also perfectly natural to simply be drawn platonically (asexually, aromantically) to one’s Animum archetype. Since gender orientation is not inherently correlated with gender expression (Persona) or identity (self), gender orientation is not inherently correlated with the gender of the Animum. One may, for example, be a gay man with masculine gender expression and masculine gender orientation, and have an Anima to whom one is drawn platonically. And these factors are also completely separate from how well developed your Animum is. A gay man with a poorly developed female Anima may, for example, be drawn to have feminine friends who are dependent, or in need of “fixing”. Meanwhile, a lesbian woman with a well developed Animus may have strong relationships with male friends who are themselves well-rounded, healthy, and independent. And so forth.

When I first met my Anima, fifteen years ago, she was a thin, frail woman, living in a shack in the midst of a field of brown dry grasses. Nevertheless she was a tremendous source of strength and growth, because the Animum is the self’s door to the subconscious world (just as the Persona is the door to the social world). For example, my Anima offered to do Tarot readings for me, and, weak as she was, she channeled spirits and introduced me to other guides who could help us both. As I worked with her, I strengthened her in visualization meditation, channeling energy to her, and giving her a larger house, better inner landscape “territory”, and whatever else she expressed a need for.

Her hair is now thick and red, rather than thin and blond, and she is powerfully built; and she is an excellent seafarer and equestrian. She lives in a castle by the Sea of Fire. The castle rises from the midst of a small village of traders and smiths, nestled in thick forests. There are high turrets and towers with an excellent view of the ocean, and a library, workshop, attendants, and advisors. Essentially, she rules a small kingdom. On my inner journeys she will sometimes accompany me, although, for reasons I do not entirely understand, if she travels too far from her kingdom she changes shape — often into a bird, animal, or earth spirit.

Sometimes she is not at home, and I can’t find her. At these times she is usually sailing the Sea of Fire — exploring, bringing back treasures and stories from the deeper realms of the unconscious. She brings me so many ideas I can barely keep track of them all. I am, and will remain, her loyal friend and ally, as she is mine: a bridge between my known self and the sea of the unknown psyche.

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