Understanding Anima | The Woman in Every Man

Carl Jung’s most misunderstood concept

Anima Carl Jung

In simplest terms, anima represents the feminine aspects of a male’s psyche. Everything in his psyche that’s traditionally feminine and unconscious summed up in one image, such as hunches, intuitions, moods, receptivity, and capacity to love himself.

Anima is a man’s guide to assimilating feminine traits and the feminine principle, yin. She’s also the gateway to accessing the deepest layers of his psyche. Ideally, a man is fully masculine while also embodying traditionally feminine traits.

Anima can be the single most important dream character in a male’s life. Ultimately, it’s tied to a primary function of dreaming: to help harmonize and unite the conscious mind with the unconscious mind.

Anima’s main enticement is the promise of the best, most meaningful relationship of a man’s life if he goes the distance. He gets to marry his dream girl. She can be mom, lover, wife, muse, goddess, and best friend all in one—but usually not all at the same time.

Instead, as a male matures through his lifetime relationship with anima, she evolves. She first appears as a mother figure. When he reaches his teen years she morphs into an ideal lover. When he matures into manhood, anima matures along with him, becoming a mature and independent female. Finally, she evolves into a goddess figure such as the Virgin Mary or the Hindu’s Devi, the Divine Mother. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get fixated at an early stage of development and never evolve beyond it.

These roles played by anima are the best way of identifying them in dreams. Additionally, they can be identified by a feeling of close familiarity. They’re recurring dream figures, appearing time and again as the same figure or as a type of figure, so keeping a journal of your dreams will help you identify them. They can appear as females you know or know of, such as celebrities who embody the role, or as completely imaginary characters.

The form and image of anima depends on what an individual male responds to: princess, professor, mother, queen, sister, biker chick, corporate gal, librarian, runway model, temptress, Playboy Bunny, African queen, Asian beauty. She’s alluring and can be powerfully attractive, but her appearance depends largely on a man’s relationship with this part of himself. If his relationship with anima is bad, she can appear as a witch, bitch, Siren, Mermaid, nag or hag.

Anima can be thought of as short for “animated,” because that’s what she does for a man who lives up to her expectations—which are really his own expectations. He pleases anima when he does everything he can to mature and live fully, and in return she animates him with purpose and love.

When the relationship between a man and his anima is bad, it leads to self-destructive behaviors and even violence. He’s an “addictive personality.” He tends to be listless and bored—or he goes to the other extreme and lives a life of constant adventure and challenge. He never stops to ponder what’s missing from his life. What’s missing is the deep and meaningful relationship he can have with himself. He’s moody, unbalanced, depressed, sometimes sexually uninterested—or at the opposite extreme, he’s a playboy or sex addict. His tortured relationship with his inner self can bring out the worst in him. In many cultures, a man in such a predicament is said to have lost his soul.

Anima is often described in terms of soul. And indeed, a man with a good relationship with his anima is usually quite soulful.

It’s a recipe for disaster when a male projects his anima onto women in his life and expects them to live up to that image. It’s a tendency that begins in early childhood and can continue throughout his life. That man will never be happy for long with the women he tries to make into mates, lovers, or mother figures. No mortal woman can possibly live up to the anima ideal, nor should she try.

Anima dreams can be a source of confusion and relationship troubles when misunderstood as desiring someone other than your mate. Married men dream about falling in love with anima, their ideal woman, and think it means they must subconsciously want someone else. Actually, they are called to have a special relationship within themselves. Anima isn’t just a dream character, it’s a relationship. Guys, respect it the same as you’d respect a soul mate or love of your life.

Characters like anima arise from the deepest reaches of the psyche and are independent of the ego. They’re archetypes. Archetypes are shaped through a lifetime of experience, beginning from birth as a sort of blueprint that’s the same in everyone. A male’s mother or primary female caregiver is the first image given to his anima. She becomes the blueprint. Then the image is filled in throughout his lifetime by experiences with females of all types, but especially the ones closest to him.

His Shadow side won’t let him just have his anima all for himself. He has to fight for her like a knight fighting for his beloved, and the stakes are all or nothing. Shadow is a guardian at the gate to deeper access to a man’s unconscious mind, the ultimate test that must be faced.

Read my post about animus. Animus is the female’s version of anima. Anima and animus are quite similar but have essential differences. Anima can be thought of as a man’s guide to his feelings and moods, and animus as a woman’s guide to her thoughts and rationality. Both serve as guides to the unconscious.

The “second test of courage” referred to below is taken from Carl Jung’s writings about anima. He said that a man’s first test of courage is to be aware of his shadow. The second test is to know his anima. Remember, she has a dark face that devours men, and most people can’t even begin to fathom the fact that they are made of both genders. The conscious gender – your gender – becomes the conscious personality. The other gender remains unconscious.

What is a penis? A vagina on the outside. What are testicles? Ovaries on the outside. Seriously. All fetuses begin life as female. All of us are made of both genders, and we are not complete until integrating everything about ourselves that is unconscious. [To further understand the relationship between homosexuality and “soul,” or anima, read my post: homosexuality as a soul experience.]


anima explained


I'm the author of "Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams," and "The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Sign and Meanings." At reddit.com I'm known as RadOwl. I began studying dreams in the early 1990s and delved into all major schools of thought, especially the writings of Carl Jung.

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3 Responses

  1. narkalieuths says:

    Great article!

    One thing I don’t get though, is why our anima has a “dark face that devours men”. I thought her characteristics depended on the nature of our relationship with her. Shouldn’t the dark face exist when we repress her? But then, what would be the big difference between our two tests of courage and, generally, how are we supposed to integrate both archetypes?

    I’m sorry if you have already mentioned this and I didn’t notice.


    • RadOwl says:

      Yes, the face that anima shows depends on the man’s relationship with that part of himself. The dark face shows when he is immature or hostile toward the unconscious. You can think of the dark face as the “shadow side,” but instead of being the Shadow of the ego, it’s the shadow of the unconscious. And that’s truly scary to see.

      The first challenge is to see and integrate the Shadow of the ego. If it’s handled, the door opens to deeper access to the psyche. Work with anima really kicks into gear. Work with anima is an even greater challenge than Shadow because it involves integrating characteristics of the other gender while maintaining a strong sense of personal identity. When anima remains inaccessible in any sort of sustained and meaningful way, the man dries up. But if he’s hostile toward anima, or he has no ego boundaries with it, the psyche can get really out of balance. That’s what I mean by the dark face of anima. For example, men who grow up with highly critical mothers tend to have her voice in their head well into adulthood, and the voice integrates with the shadow of anima. A point can come when he’ll do anything to escape it, which can lead to suicide or violence, especially sadistic rape. Addiction is another dark face of anima.

      Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

  1. April 12, 2017

    […] with your unconscious—a relationship that potentially leads to an inner marriage with your anima or animus, your soul. Shadow is not bad by nature. In fact, it’s necessary. Nature created it […]

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