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Understanding Animus: The Man Within Every Woman

understand animus carl jung

Carl Jung tells us that inside every woman is a man. He calls it animus.

In simplest terms, animus represents the male aspects of the female psyche. It’s everything traditionally masculine and unconscious about her summed up in one image.

Animus is a female’s guide to assimilating masculine traits and the masculine principle, yang, and gaining access to her deepest inner self. Animus teaches her that she can be fully feminine while also incorporating traditionally masculine traits, but it might be a struggle if she fears being viewed as too “manly” or is locked into her gender identity as a woman. Her animus wants her to be all woman and realize that the picture includes his qualities and characteristics, too.

Animus can be the single most important dream character in a female’s life because it’s tied to a primary function of dreaming: to help harmonize and unite the conscious mind with the unconscious mind. Keep in mind, though, that harmony in the psyche means balance, and balance is a compensatory process where the unconscious mind can go to equal and opposite extremes of the ego. It can be messy.

J.M. DeBord aka RadOwl
J.M. DeBord, aka “RadOwl

Animus is an archetype, a blueprint for personality development, behaviors, and thinking and feelings processes. The blueprint is an outline, and personal experience with men—beginning with a woman’s father or her first important male parental figure—fills in the details. That’s why early in life the animus tends to take form in dreams as the dreamer’s father, brothers, or other type of male authority figure such as teachers and caretakers.

Animus can be a friend, guide, husband, or lover, depending on what a woman needs and the nature of their relationship. It’s a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Some dream characters come and go, but animus is there from childhood to the end. The form he takes tends to be one that a female responds to at whatever stage of life she’s in, and he can keep the same face for years at a time. A woman knows her inner man on sight and feels him even when he’s not visibly present. He can be at her side whenever she wants or needs him. But keep in mind what we said previously about the compensatory relationship between the unconscious mind and the ego. If something is out of balance in that relationship, animus can be an enemy or trickster or worse. We’ll talk more about that later.

Animus in Dreams

animus as manly man
Animus can first appear in a female’s dreams as a man of strength.

Animus tends to pop into a woman’s dream life, help her with some things, go on adventures together, give her the boost she needs, then go away till she needs him again or she’s ready for the next step in her development. And in typical animus fashion, he’ll be off doing some manly, important thing, then show back up in her dreams at just the right time. The implication is that her animus has a life of his own even when he’s not in her dreams.

Animus dream characters tend to change form and develop over time, often reflecting a female’s conception of an ideal man at that time of her life. During her childhood, he is a father-figure. During her teenage years, animus is portrayed as a man of action, of strength and muscle. He’s the quarterback of the football team, the Tarzan to her Jane, the rebel, the man of adventure. He continues to evolve through stages—the house-husband type, the professor type, the man of words and ideas—and if all goes well he becomes a sort of spiritual guide, her own personal Buddha or wise man—except a lot hotter! Animus is keenly attractive but won’t necessarily be the most physically attractive male. It tends to show more as a personal magnetism, especially as a woman matures.

The roles played by animus figures in dreams are the best way of identifying them. Additionally, they are identified by a feeling of close familiarity. Keeping a dream journal helps with identifying them because they recur, either as the same character or type of character.

animus is a man of adventure
Animus can appear in a woman’s dreams as a man of adventure, a rebel, a swashbuckler, like Indiana Jones.

In men’s dreams, anima figures tend to appear with a rotating array of faces and forms, whereas animus figures in women’s dreams tend to keep the same appearance for long stretches. They can appear as males a female knows, such as her father or brothers, as celebrities, athletes, or famous males such as presidents and CEOs who embody the role, and as completely imaginary characters.

And the point of it all? To teach a woman to be more like the strong, independent, assertive, take-no-shit man in her dreams, while allowing her to be all woman.

Over a lifetime, a woman’s conscious personality will become more like her animus if she allows it to be. Genders roles are strongly reinforced by culture, and it can be just as hard for a woman to be manly as it is for a man to show a softer feminine side.

Animus = Animated

Animus animates a woman, no matter what stage of life she’s in. When the relationship is good, she can be both fully feminine and comfortable acting masculine, and her life will be filled with purpose and gusto.

When the relationship is bad, it’s really bad and shows, especially in her sarcasm and criticism. She’ll know exactly where to hit a man where it hurts, and she can make sport of it. Her animus will appear in her dreams as a bad man. He might even be a murderer or rapist, a way of depicting deep inner conflict. Or he can be a man she belittles and argues with and enjoys exposing for being less of a man than he should be. The relationship is compensatory, balancing something one-sided or lacking about the ego. When animus is a “dick” it’s to teach a woman something about herself by reflecting it back. Animus is only playing its role as a character given a role to help the ego know and operate within the psyche. Ego is only a small part of a big picture.

The fireworks get intense when she confuses her inner man with the man or men in her life. Then it’s a fight to the death—usually emotional or psychological death, but sometimes physical, too. The worst sorts of behaviors tend to be driven by an out-of-whack inner relationship with oneself.

Fireworks can be caused, too, when a woman dreams about animus, her ideal inner man, loving him, and thinking it means she subconsciously wants to leave her mate. Her relationship with animus is internal. She can have both a mate and animus in her life, and she can love both equally and differently. But she errs when she expects the men in her life to live up to the ideal shown to her in her dreams. It’s called animus projection, and it’s bad news.

A woman’s Shadow stands in the way of accessing her animus in a good way. Shadow is a guardian at the gate to deeper access to her unconscious mind. Once Shadow is dealt with, animus becomes a consistent ally and friend.

understanding animus

Understanding Animus | For a firsthand account of a woman’s discovery of her animus, see Tracey Cleantis’s excellent article: Jung for Dummies: Animus Planet.

Understanding animus | Read about the woman in every man, anima.

Understanding Animus | See a reddit conversation about animus, and this discussion of anima and animus that goes into more depth.

Understanding Animus | Here’s a quick video that explains animus in the Jungian tradition:

12 thoughts on “Understanding Animus: The Man Within Every Woman”

  1. Hello, RadOwl! Thank you so much for such a wonderful article. I felt like I found what I was searching for. A week ago I asked myself what is in me that holds back my relationship with my husband, specifically my attitude towards him? What is wrong with my masculine side? I’ve read about animus from a Jungian psychology book, it the information was not enough to understand what I need to change in me to change my relationship. And, yesterday I had a dream, I woke up and knew that it was my animus showed up. I was with Jason Statham, James Bond like actor. We were in a room, and were in some kind of shooting-training. We had guns, every time I am about to shut him, my gun did not shoot. And all the time when I hid behind any furniture, I saw the laser aiming, meaning he got me and could have shot me, but he does not do it. So I understand that it is kind of a game. I feel like he is strong, he can kill me if he wants to, but he decides to play with me. Then I feel sexual arousal and feel the same from his side too. We just put off our clothes and about to have sex… and… I see him in front of me, with his athletic body, strong, confident… but he is short… I am taller than him. It struck me. Then I think “whatever… I want him…” then the scenery changes different plot, differ people, men are praising me for my intellect and knowledge… and I hear my mother’s voice: “she is so smart, she could have had better. This (She means my husband, she does not even name my husband, talks with disdain) is not her level!”

    I woke up with sweet feeling of satisfaction with that arousal but some bitterness. What do my mothers words mean? So I am reading and thinking, to find answers to my initial questions What and how to change in me? I feel I got the answer, but also there is something that I cannot grasp…

    1. It can be tricky to figure out what a dream character means when they’re based on people you know, such as your mom in this case. Her statement about your husband is in her words, and they may even be how she really feels, but how much are they your words? It’s your mom in the dream, but she’s a psychological imprint, too, and she can simultaneously be a bit of her and a bit of you. So look hard at her words and ask if they could just as easily come from your mouth. There may be a revelation here for you.

      Intellect and knowledge are the territory of animus, and the tricky aspect of it is when it becomes competitive in a woman because this aspect is not part of her conscious nature. In your dream it could be expressed when the Statham character proves he could beat you if he wants to. Among men this sort of competitiveness is natural and they know how to use it naturally, whereas in women it’s more of a learned thing. The transition from the game to the praise, then to your mother’s voice, is telling. It interconnects, and I think it’s the response to your question about what’s holding you back in your relationship with your husband.

      I think the question is, do you feel like you can beat your husband in the game that should come naturally to him? That in a sense you can be more of a man than him (in the dream you are taller, and the symbolism of it can mean “dominant.”) And if so, does that mean you respect him less? If so, there’s a dynamic at work in your relationship that turns evolution on its ear and might be influencing how you perceive him. Even when we think we’re enlightened about gender roles, it goes against our nature, and I’ve noticed a trend that forceful and intelligent women will say it’s OK for men to be beta care-giving passive types, or that it’s OK if they make less salary or have less standing socially, but they don’t really believe it. They still want deep inside to mate with a man who can earn their respect, and I mean RESPECT. Do you know that the Aretha Franklin song Respect was written by a man, and the words are directed at his wife who doesn’t respect him? Gives you something to think about.

  2. Thank you for the post! After deciding to meet my animus more actively, I (Korean) dreamt that our family moved into a smaller house and a Japanese guy I used to know in a martial arts club appeared within the house, and disappeared out of sight walking up the stairs carrying a suitcase of sorts. Thing is though, then my imagination sees him either just going up to do something or considering to take out swords/knives of some sort with an evil intention, making me scared- and that was it. Am I confronting my animus too actively perhaps?

    1. It doesn’t look to me like you are too active in engaging with your animus. It looks more like a conventional dream story about carrying emotional baggage or anger, or even feeling like you don’t have enough room for yourself. Usually what you see in a dream is not what you get, so the implication of having bad intention is a reaction to something you are seeing within yourself. For example, the man from your class could represent an attitude or feeling within yourself that you find uncomfortable or beyond your ability to deal with. It could be a thought in your head — symbolized as being upstairs — that makes you uncomfortable.

  3. Hi RadOwl thanks for this post, it is very illuminating. I have had only a few strong animus dreams over the last 10 years, and it always feels like a physical, close romantic connection with a youngish English male actor type man: 2 of them were actors I knew of from television. Over the last 6 months I did some extensive shadow work by letting it “speak” to me privately, and I would write down what my shadow thought of certain people and events. I then had a strong dream where my animus appeared as the image of my real-life manager (male boss) at work who had also been doing some performance work. My question is: what if any is the significance of that particular male (from your real life) showing up in your dreams as animus?

    1. It’s uncommon for an animus figure to have the appearance of someone you know, but wow, interesting twist. I surmise that the manager embodies some of the qualities of your animus. Do you see or sense anything in common between him and the two actors who have appeared previously as animus figures?

      Another interesting thought: perhaps by choosing someone you know to play the role of animus figure, your dreaming mind is saying that your conception and/or expectation is coming closer to reality. Oftentimes, a woman’s expectation of her “ideal man” — animus — is hard for any man to live up to.

  4. Thank you!!! You have written the absolute best description of animus and shadow that I have ever read! I’ve been working with my animus for many years now. We have a fun, exciting relationship. Several years ago, whenever my animus and I were on a dreamtime adventure, the ‘bitch’ showed up to ruin things. After considerable research, I found that she was my critical ‘shadow’ woman. I made representations of all of us and did some ‘sand-box’ therapy dialog accepting and honoring that aspect of myself that has helped women survive in a patriarchal culture. She’s never shown up in a dream since.

    1. As you know from reading my post, the shadow is the guardian at the gate to deeper access to your unconscious mind. It shows you what you need to face within yourself. Your response of dialoguing and honoring that aspect of yourself shows your maturity and insight. Thank you for sharing.

As Dr. Frasier Crane says, I'm listening. Leave a comment.

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