Jungian Shadow Self, Animus Anima, Psychotherapy and Beyond
May 6, 2013 by Stephanie McCracken counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, Uncategorized 0 comments
The Delicate Dance
The delicate dance, our human nature eternally pirouettes. A melodic sway, a hip sashay, and life is brightly illuminated by the sun’s luminosity. Soon the night falls, and we are left contemplating the sepia toned shadows outlining the nocturne. Darkness and light, yin and the yang, animus and anima, life and death, each of these do flow within us, watering the gardens of our souls. There is more to consider as our ever present opposites are further knotted by the presence of a shadow. This opaque sum of us that follows the persona, as it is cast to the ground for all eternity. How is it that we seldom bring our shadow to the truth of light? Instead, we tend to leave it bereft in the unconscious parts of our selves where it unleashes even greater power in an effort to be noticed and heard. Allow us to remember that there is wisdom in the darkness.
As a woman, my family and friends, indeed culture at large, exerts a strong influence upon me to nurture the archetypal image of the “Great Mother” female. For a woman this means that we are to be social, nurturing of our close friendships and the cohesive glue and bleeding matriarch for our families. She is the ever doting caretaker who will sacrifice any moment of indulgence for her husband and children. I applaud these women. Yet, it took me years to appreciate this domestic scene. As a child I did not prefer to play with toy dolls and strollers. I was most happy to run, imagine, and read books.
Primavera by Botticelli, courtesy wikimedia.org
We should always remember what a challenging duty being a mother is. To nurture a family and watch it grow is one of the greatest gifts of all. Yet, even for the most tireless caregivers, balance is always the highest function. My animus has always been a bit more developed. I am driven toward increasing my abilities which remain outside of our conventional domestic sphere. Female executives recognize the trade-offs and cultural misgivings of assertiveness and flaunting success outside the home. These women are often relegated to the social sidelines as “bitches.” Sadly, there are still many who have a difficult time understanding women who do not subscribe to the preconceived notion of “what they should be.” Now we see the “doing it all” woman who will raise her family and nurture her career simultaneously. While some argue that these women are wearing themselves thin, there are others who recognize the importance of achieving a healthy balance between self-interest and familiar nurturance.
Dichotomies are present in most every facet of life, and the greater understanding that we develop of them, the better able we become to integrate competing impulses into a harmonious whole. As social creatures we all, to varying degrees, crave the comforting sensation of intimacy and togetherness. Yet this reminds of a parable involving porcupines which Arthur Schopenhauer originated. Later, Sigmund Freud was known to have been so stricken with this allegory that he placed a porcupine figurine on his desk as a reminder.
Schopenhauer’s story goes something like this: Porcupines live together in close social groups to brave the bitterness of winters. Cold, they inch closer together. Yet, as they draw increasingly nearer to each other their quills protrude. Their most important defense mechanism which prevents them from being hunted by other animals is activated. Inevitably the agony of being poked by the quills is painful and thus the porcupines move further apart to avoid the pain. This does not last long, as the chill of the air brings them back together in an eternal dance of seeking warmth and avoiding pain. Freud believed that human dynamics mirror this dance. My own personal experience allows me to recognize the validity to this simple theorem, a delicate balance between emotional intimacy and isolation. Yet the sad truth is a back and forth dance is an ensemble which should be conducted with precision and elegant beauty. It is by bringing the need for both isolation and intimacy into our awareness that we can begin to dance with greater ease and harmony. I know of relationships where the couple spends so much time bandaging their wounds from those pesky quills, in fear that there may be another jab coming, that they seldom remember the joys of enjoying each other’s warmth. The joy of togetherness, with recognition of the importance of solitude, will bring this shadow into focus thereby strengthening the relationship.
As we continue to consider all of the ways that dichotomous energies influence our essence on a moment to moment basis, we may experience a deepening empathy for our nature. As any artist or writer would fully understand, great creativity is birthed in the silence of introspection. In those times of meditation for the comforting quietude of the infiltrated mind, the artist is able to glean her energy in the creation of elegant sentences superb in their meaning and syntax. Just as a composer, singer, or songwriter intuits a masterpiece by utilizing both the wisdom of the notes and the silence in between the sounds. Indeed, silence and sound both lend their power to the creation of music. I have known people who are so terrified of silence that they prattle on endlessly, perhaps afraid that they may fall into a void of nothingness if not for the sound of their own voice. Ironically, such people never say anything of importance and invariably run out of audience, producing the silence that is so feared. Perhaps such a person could strengthen the ability to pause for just a moment and reflect on their words and instill them with some meaning.
Finally, the energetic shift of the animus motions toward the furthest reach of the spectrum, to the spaces where stillness remains but a memory. Culturally, it seems that the majority of our population is bound by the unwritten code which encourages or forces our motion, progress, and intent, into a faster, frantic pace that produces unhealthy results. It is no wonder that stress related illnesses continue to rise as our bodies sputter out due to the ever increasing demand for progress, it seems that deadlines loom like executioners to our health.
Dance at Bougival by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy wikimedia.org
Within the 3 x 6 span of my yoga mat, I have developed a vital valuation to actively seek comfort and peace. Surrender within moments of quiet and stillness. It is easy to note how the shadow can overwhelm the stillness. When we see one who spends all her time at the gym, training with weights to make the physical body larger than nature would have intended for it to be, we are witnessing an overindulged animus. Often people use steroids and other regimented combinations of compounds to tweak their physical form, but no matter what the compound their physical body is pushed beyond its natural limits. Our muscles are not intended to train 5-7 days per week and the creation of this sort of body build is symptomatic of far too much use of the animus’ energy. Such a female would do well to allow the anima to guide her toward relaxation and wellness. Even more than meditation, such an animus driven person would do well to perform an in-depth exploration of the energies that propelled her to desire such goals. The inverse of this would be one who allows the anima to overtake all motion leading to utter stagnation. Perhaps the most dramatic form of this would be a person who has been lying in bed for years at a time. This person has suffered from an extreme case of the anima releasing itself into the shadow and they must desperately balance with the animus for their health and wellbeing. Now the fact is that the majority of people do not fall within the dramatic outliers of such disharmonious alignments of their energies. Most of us vacillate between more subtle surges of motion, stillness, sound, quiet, intimacy, and solitude. The key to navigating life’s motion most successfully is to be aware of these nuances within the animus and the anima as there is infinite wisdom to be found within both. I ask you to ponder this question to yourself today: in what ways is my animus serving me and in what ways is my anima serving me? Keeping in mind all of the ways that the masculine and the feminine exist within each of us. Consider this as follow-up, in what areas are my energies crying out for greater balance? Where could I develop greater balance in my life? Consider these in the eternal quest for your happiness, by way of mindful, healthful, bountiful, wellness.