Jungian Archetypes and Their Unconscious Influence

jungian archetypesThe concept of Jungian archetypes is often misunderstood.  People either believe that archetypes are concrete mythological images or motifs or that they are representatives of models of behavior.  They are neither of these. An archetype is a reference to an inner image which operates – most often unconsciously – in the human psyche. We can see examples of archetypes manifested in art and religious imagery.  Manifestations of specific or concrete images of archetypes are symbols of the archetype at work in our psyches. As Erich Neumann described, the dynamic effects of archetypes manifest in us as “positive and negative emotions, in hallucinations and projections … in anxiety, in manic and depressive states, and in the feeling that ego is being overpowered. Every mood that takes hold of the entire personality is an expression of the dynamic effect of the archetype, regardless of whether this effect is accepted or rejected by human consciousness; whether it remains unconscious or grips consciousness.”

I recognize that there is some psychic factor active in me which eludes my conscious will in the most incredible manner. It can put extraordinary ideas into my head, induce in me into unwanted and unwelcome moods and emotions, lead me to astonishing actions…

C.G. Jung

 Who are these unannounced, psychic visitors? From where do they come?

 The Shadow

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.

C.G. Jung

Our own shadow is the most accessible archetype with which we can come into direct contact. If we do not make contact with our shadow, we meet it in projection – that is, we meet it outside of ourselves. Listen to people you know ranting about people they do not like. They say things like, “I can’t stand the way she …” Then, they proceed to describe encounters with or qualities about that particular person. Have you ever noticed these are actually qualities which the complainant possesses (sometimes in great volume), but they are qualities of which he or she is completely unconscious. This is the nature of the personal Shadow.

The Shadow is something about ourselves of which we are unconscious.  It is not the way we act when no one is looking.  It’s the way we act when everyone is looking!  The Shadow is an archetype that is an aspect of our personal unconscious.  That is, the Shadow is something related to unrecognized aspects of our personality. These aspects of our personality have an autonomy about them, meaning that they “act out” on their own.  As long as they are unconscious, they retain a measurable psychic energy that is unavailable to us, which is why they can act out on their own.  The Shadow can be integrated and the lost energy repossessed if only we take the time to realize it in ourselves.  Jung said that it was indeed a great feat to realize one’s own Shadow, to accept it, and finally integrate it.  Only when we recognize it, can we stop acting from it and transform ourselves.

Our Shadow will appear in our dreams and it is often in the character of someone we despise – someone who, as in real life, really triggers us.  This can be a person we know or it can simply be a manifestation of some despicable dream character. It is not always only our darker qualities that lie hidden in shadow, but also many of our positive qualities.

The shadow is not the only inner figure of which we are unconscious. In a man, this unknown inner figure is a female and in a woman, it is a male, respectively known as the anima and the animus.

 The Anima

The anima is a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche, such as vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, [and] feeling for nature …

Marie-Louise Von Franz

There are many ways in which the inner figure of the feminine manifests itself in a man’s personality. When the anima is undeveloped in a man, she can come through in moods such as hyper-sentimentality or sulkiness. She may also appear in aspects of his character as hyper-sensitivity, cowardice, or effeminacy. In her crudest and most primitive form, the anima manifests as erotic fantasy.

A man who is not in touch with his inner feminine will project her qualities onto the women in his life. If he does not already believe that he has found “the one”, a man may go from woman to woman in search of the perfect one, not realizing that what he is searching for is something within himself.  The inner figure of the anima will affect a man’s personality compulsively until he cultivates his inner feminine and develops a mature emotional attitude – both within himself and toward life in general.  Watching the anima in movies is a good way to see her in action.  In her positive characteristics, the anima is a man’s connection to his own depths, most specifically to his intuitive, inner wisdom, something which is completely unrelated to his typically outward, rational thinking.

The Animus

A woman’s inner masculine, rather than emerging as moods or erotic fantasy, shows up as what Marie-Louise von Franz called the “sacred conviction,” and it is often “preached with a loud, insistent, masculine voice or imposed on others by means of brutal emotional scenes.”  Typically, these convictions are not even her own, but rather they reflect only what she has heard or read in the latest news.  A sure sign of an animus conviction will be a woman’s frequent use of words like “they, we, us, or everybody and always”. If she is not outwardly aggressive, then a woman’s animus may emerge as cold, calculated, and unrelenting aspects of her personality.

In a woman’s psyche, the animus manifests as the dreamy thoughts of “what should be,” or worse, in the dark whisperings of her worthlessness and hopelessness. The unconscious animus keeps a woman from engaging in her actual life.  In a woman’s dreams, the animus is the seductive lover that carries her away from the rest of the world or he is the frightening man always in pursuit of her. When he is finally recognized as an inner figure, a woman will discover an unfulfilled, creative potential within herself, something which is uniquely her own.  She will also realize her inner masculine qualities of courage, spiritual independence, and well-grounded sense of objectivity.

Identifying this other in ourselves is the first step in breaking free of its unconscious influence. When we identify with the moods or thoughts associated with these inner figures, we believe our distorted perspectives about the world, about others, and about ourselves.  How can we break free of chronic self-doubt associated with these moods and greet them at the door of our awareness and welcome them? How can such seemingly dark guests be approached as Guides who can clear us out for some new delight? Jung tells us,

One should cultivate the art of conversation with oneself …

In other words, Jung advocated that we take up a meditation practice that relaxes the conscious mind, in particular so we can develop what he called active imagination. In active imagination we first separate ourselves from the mood or thought.  Only then can we enter into an active dialogue with the inner image behind it and find out what unrealized potential the figure has in store for us.

And finally, it is often through the discovery and integration of these inner figures that couples can discover the true secret of real and lasting relationships, for it is often the anima and animus that are behind the downfall of every relationship.