Hazem Saghieh

Carl Jung: One Step Forward, One Step Back

We often hear or read an Arab man calling another “a man’s man” as a compliment. However, the flatterer may be overlooking the fact that his praise is insulting and demeaning to women. Indeed, man is supposed to represent the gender placed in opposition to the gender that woman represents. So, when the fact that the flattered party is a man is emphasized, this implies that he is not a woman - rather, it underlines the fact that he is not a woman, whereby any ambiguity that might leave him confused with a lower and lesser counterpart is removed.

As with every prejudice, this one is deeply erroneous, or at least that is what we understand from Carl Jung, the first of Freud’s students and the first to repudiate his ideas because of Jung’s opposition to the Freudian emphasis on sex as the driver of action, as well as Jung’s reservations regarding his teacher’s conceptualization of the unconscious. Thus, after his defection, Jung devoted himself to what he called “analytical psychology” and developing his theory and experiments on the “collective unconscious.”

“Anima” and the “animus” are among the “archetypes” discovered by the Swiss psychoanalyst. “Anima” is a term derived from Latin that means breeze of wind, as well as life or soul, while “animus” means mind, as well as aggression and hostility; it is the base of the word animosity.

Beyond semantics, however, these two gender elements, which are unconscious by definition, reside in another “archetype,” what Jung called the “shadow” or the “dark and obscure side of our personality” that we must break through if we are to understand the being that stands behind it, though this “shadow” has an immense propensity to resist being penetrated.

The “anima” and “animus” are two opposite features of an individual’s personality. Men have the female “anima,” while women have the male “animus.” Just as “anima” comes to personify all that is feminine in men, “animus” comes to personify all that is masculine in women. Both, in the end, constitute part of the collective unconscious, whose purpose is to link us to the deepest pits of our psychological worlds. However, the difficulty of becoming aware of this process renders dreams and fantasy the path that must be followed.

The famous Austrian psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote that Jung discovered his “anima” in the Russian physician and psychoanalyst Sabina Nikolayevna Spielrein, who had been his student and then colleague before an intimate relationship between them developed. “In doing so, he formed his idea about the all-important role anima plays in a man’s life. Sabina Spielrein thus was, if not the originator of, certainly the person who served as inspiration for, the anima concept.”

Although our understanding of sex and gender now differs drastically from the theories put forward by Jung and his attempt to help us “understand ourselves,” this principle of duality is nonetheless useful for understanding our personalities and working with them to bring harmony to their divergent features. The most prominent negative ramification of dividing our psychological makeup into two different parts, that is, one gender identity that is external and another that is internal and unconscious, is that it leaves us neglecting and suppressing the second identity.

The suppressed identity turns against us and hurts because, according to Jung, “what you resist persists.” Here, too, resistance does nothing but exacerbate the problems being denied amid a refusal to confront them. One should not limit oneself to acknowledging this concealed side if one is to avoid this conflict between the different components of oneself. Indeed, accepting them as well is necessary, because, with every fixation on our negative, tormented, and perhaps depressed positions, our resistance to solving the problem grows, either by belittling it, denying the entire event, blaming others, or gratuitously putting effort into changing certain people and deludingly thinking that we are setting them back on what we think is the right track.

Since acknowledging the problem - that is, reality - is the first step to solving it, establishing harmony between our divergent sides facilitates interactions between the two genders and renders it richer and more beautiful. On the other hand, it fortifies our capacity for addressing our psychological makeup, making us more conscious of who we really are. We thereby become certain that our capacity for restraint and control is extremely limited in comparison to our elaborate psychological makeup.

The problem with Jung’s theory is tied to the essentialist qualities that stem from a stereotypical consciousness in an era with a penchant for stereotypes. Choosing “anima” for women and “animus” for men assumes that tenderness and soulfulness are absolutely feminine qualities, while reason and aggression are absolutely masculine qualities.

Even in lexical terms, “anima” represents “universal female characteristics,” while “animus” represents “universal male characteristics.” The former, when it is in men, imbues them with feminine desires, which are negative by definition - like a boy retreating inward in search of protection and his mother’s bosom. As for the latter, when it is in women, it leaves man’s rationality, practicality, and external sociability transferred to them. If a man reconciles with his anima and integrates it, he becomes a kinder, more tender and empathetic person, but if a woman reconciles with her animus and integrates it, she becomes more self-affirming, her opinion acquires a louder voice, and her ability to reflect and learn, as well as to engage with others, grows.

Jung himself was not economical in expanding on these “essentialist” differences. He described the “masculine principle” as “logos,” a predisposition for logic and precise verbal formulation. Meanwhile, the “female principle,” “eros,” refers to a reliance on emotions and the relationships it engenders. And, in order to avert any misunderstanding, logos is dubbed paternal and eros maternal.

Thus, we can place unchanging qualities under the categories “man” and “woman.” We place immense emphasis on the self, rationality, interest in the outside world, and aggressiveness under the former. Under the latter, we see the predominance of subjective considerations, sentimentality, introversion, and irrational opinions.

Jung was known for his support of women’s suffrage. Nonetheless, his proclivity for pigeonholing women into a few rigid formulas deprived them of other rights, in addition to confiscating history, its phases, and its transformations. If we add what the “metaphysical essentialism” and a “spiritual tendency” that critics argue characterized his analytical school, we are left with a dark side of Jungism facing its bright side, which teaches that the distance between men and women is far shorter than presumed.