Animus-Anima, Yin-Yang

In my meditation at the beach this morning, I found myself contemplating the balance of yin with yang — in myself, in others, in our societies and in the world. I also became more aware that Jung’s concept of animus (masculine psyche) and anima (corresponding feminine psyche) could be rather closely equated to that of yin and yang … or, more appropriately, yinyang, as they can’t actually be separated except for conceptual analysis.

Yin is often considered a ‘feminine’ aspect, while yang ‘masculine’, and just as with animus / anima, each person contains both aspects. The concept of yinyang extends to everything in nature, not just humans, and an excess or deficiency of either creates an imbalance which results in disharmony, disease, chaos. When it comes to the human psyche, we do often align with one aspect or the other largely on the basis of gender and biology, hormonally as well as culturally induced. However, some of us are exceptions to this and manifest more of the opposing force — for example, more of a ‘yang’ personality in a woman, more of the anima in men.

This doesn’t necessarily indicate ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ qualities as we might interpret them. Both the concept of ‘anima’ and that of ‘yin’, for example, have a good deal to do with nurturing, sustaining, maintaining, supporting, while ‘animus’ and ‘yang’ exhibit in ways of creating, destroying, short-term and strong results rather than a more long-term approach.

A related concept in Jung’s framework is that of ‘archetypes’, or imagery, icons, prototypes, constructs that are found to have similar meaning and attached feelings throughout the human species — such as ‘mother’, ‘hero’, ‘fool’, ‘teacher’. So, for example, the Creator / Destroyer archetype(s), which we can conceive of as two, or as two faces of one, might be equated with ‘yang’ and ‘animus’ — that is, the masculine aspects within a person or a society tend toward creation and destruction, externalized manifestations, powerful acts that are quickly undertaken with potentially long-lasting results. While most often viewed as separate archetypes, I believe that they can also be seen as twin faces of the same phenomenon, and the person who is focused on creation — in the start-up phase of a business, the early days of a relationship, the initial passion of a project — is just as likely to destroy everything at once in order to achieve a clean slate … and the opportunity to build again.

Other archetypes — the Lover, the Caregiver, perhaps even the Ruler — are looking toward gradual growth and development, nurturing, sustaining, and are less interested in either creating or destroying. These characteristics are more often equated with ‘yin’, and also with ‘anima’. Again, while there is a feminine aspect attached to both ‘yin’ and ‘anima’, each is found in men as well as women, and each needs its opposing force in order for balance and harmony to be present.

And so, we come to the practical application as was the focus of my morning meditation. If one’s nature, regardless of gender, leans more toward the Creator and/or Destroyer archetypes, for example — more toward ‘yang’ energies — then there is a direct and obvious need to cultivate the opposing characteristics, in focusing on nurturing, sustaining, longterm investment in people, projects, ideas. The opposite is also true. Time, and aging, and biology will take care of this to a certain extent, as our hormones and our life values tend to shift in mid-life. Biologically, men experience a ‘feminizing’ to some degree, and women the opposite. In Chinese medicine, this is conceptualized as women becoming more ‘yang’ in their middle years, while men tend more toward ‘yin’ aspects.

But what if, for example, you are female, yet align more with ‘yang’, with ‘animus’, with archetypes and life patterns such as Creator and/or Destroyer? Does biology in mid-life then move you even further in this direction?

It’s a paradox. Estrogen decreases, leading to a different ratio with progesterone and thus more ‘masculine’ characteristics not only physically but psychologically as well; this would indicate a preponderance of ‘yang’ energy, though Chinese medicine conceptualizes women’s peri-menopausal process itself as a ‘false yang’ — not a yang excess but a decrease of yin, ultimately leading to what seems to be a more yang state of being. In the psyche, what seems to happen in reality is the attempt at a new harmony, a re-balancing. Those women who were focused on nurturing, sustaining, gradual building and maintaining processes seem to become more creative and take on a more externalized manifestation of power; the reverse phenomenon is also evident.

Perhaps the greatest process in our mid-life phase is the righting of seeming imbalances, the exploration of all that we have not — yet — been, or haven’t emphasized, the reclamation of shadow material. While this can be a conscious choice and process, it can also seem to happen almost in spite of ourselves. We become that which we were not. The same process seems to occur in both women and men.  

May it be so. In our quest for conscious living, in our need for balance, may we continually grow and explore the ‘opposing’ forces within our psyches — and experience wholeness.

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