Beginning Within

Maintaining personal balance in a shifting culture

One of the articles in Gender (IC#16)
Originally published in Spring 1987 on page 19
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

Robert A. Johnson is a lecturer and Jungian analyst in private practice in San Diego, California. He is the author of He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, We, and Inner Work. He has studied at the Jung Institute in Switzerland and at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India.

Lila: It seems that we’re in the middle of a very critical time in our evolution, as individuals, as a society, and as a species. Do you feel that archetypes evolve with people, or do they stay the same as we bring forward their different colors or different archetypes altogether?

Robert: One could make both of those points, but I’m most interested in the very slow but demonstrable evolution of the archetypal world and its manifestation with us as it evolves and changes. The archetype of, say, the father image is different now than it was in Old Testament times. The archetype has been humanized. Two or three thousand years ago, the archetype of the father was the terrible, stern, judging, lawgiving Yahweh, and throughout 2000 years of Christian time, it has warmed and mellowed; it’s God the Father, the kind and supporting father.

We live in a time of great change in how men and women see themselves and how they respond to life and to each other. The deepest thing I have to say in comment to that is that the principle work is to be done within the individual him/herself, and to learn to cope with one’s own masculinity and femininity within is an absolute prerequisite before one has the right to talk about exterior relationships. A man will treat a woman almost exactly the way he treats his own interior feminine. In fact, he hasn’t the ability to see a woman, objectively speaking, until he has made some kind of peace with his interior woman. The same is true for a woman and her interior masculine. Jung’s concept of the animus within women and the anima within men is the most important single thing in this whole subject. Almost everybody wants to talk about what we should do out there and marriage customs and how we can alter this or that, but there’s no progress to be made until there’s peace within one’s own being.

Lila: If someone agreed with you that that is true, but didn’t know how to start, what would you advise?

Robert: Dreams help, and there’s a kind of honesty open to a modern person which expands the word beyond its previous connotations. If a man can be honest about his own feminine reactions, he can do an enormous amount to clarify his relationship with an objective woman. There are two most important things for a man to do in his life: make peace with his mother complex and make peace with his anima. These are the two greatest steps in maturing that a man has to go through.

Lila: How can a mother help her son to do that, or is the point that she can’t?

Robert: She can help a great deal. She can give him a Good Mother image to begin with and have the genius to step aside at the right moment.

Lila: What about fathers and daughters, or mothers and daughters? What is the important element for a young woman who is just evolving?

Robert: It parallels the young man. If she has a good, strong, reliable father image, which is hard to find these days, that will be her image of men, probably for the rest of her life. She’ll look for a husband who embodies those qualities. But if her father is alcoholic or devoured by moods or dominated by his wife, or is absent, then the father image lies vacant for a girl, and the animus takes its place.

Lila: So for people who find themselves with these kinds of alienations, the best thing to do is to learn to accept and recognize how they feel, and to work with their dreams?

Robert: Yes. That helps, so much.

Lila: Anything else?

Robert: I like the old custom of godparents. Neither of my parents were good carriers or teachers for me, and at age 15, I had the instinctive sense to go out and get myself a pair of godparents. They didn’t know each other. Those two people saved my life. I had a woman friend my mother’s age, and we never spoke in such terms, but she was my godmother. She saw me through from age 15 to 22. She died then, and it was the hardest death I had to face in my life. My godfather lived until fairly recently.

Lila: It seems particularly important in adolescence. In Island, Aldous Huxley presents the concept of teenagers being able to go to another home as a release valve for pressures in the family.

Robert: The Christian ideal was that the parents raised the child physically, but that the godparents were his or her spiritual teachers, and instinctively youngsters will go out and get somebody to teach them. I’ve been a godparent for dozens of youngsters going through adolescence. It seems to be my role in life. I have no children of my own, but I’ve godfathered many, many.

Lila: Are there other issues related to gender that you see as critical in our present time?

Robert: There’s a big trend going on that is so puzzling, but profound in its implications, and that is the softening of men and the hardening of women. Men are getting soft and gentle and standing back, and women are getting sharper and having careers and taking a bigger place and coming out more. So there’s a new kind of marriage to be seen in which the woman is dominant and makes the decisions. Her quick masculine wit and humor and idea and plan is out there before the man can even speak. It’s almost a standard American marriage now. I saw a scene in a bus station once. It was a little family knot; Grandmother was going home. The youngster burst into tears at losing Grandmother and went to her mother, who gave her a cuff on the cheek and said "Now brace up." She went to her father, and he comforted her. There was sternness from the woman and softness from the man, both of which are needed, but one would guess it would come the other way.

Lila: Where do you think this reversal comes from?

Robert: I think the patriarchal world has reigned supreme for so long that the pendulum’s swinging too far the other way. It needed to be rectified, but to swing the pendulum too far the other way is almost as bad.

Lila: Can we prevent that?

Robert: Some consciousness would help. A husband and wife can sit down together and say "Whose province is what? Where does a masculine consciousness serve best and where does a feminine one serve best?" I often have to tell a woman "Look, don’t make all the decisions for the family with that lightning quick mind of yours. Leave some of it for the man. He may be a week late, but he’ll get there, if you’ll just keep quiet for a while."

Lila: Do you think that that quick consciousness has always been natural to women? When men took the lead more, were women slower to reach such decisions?

Robert: Woman has always had that capacity, but it was never allowed. And now it’s a little too much. History has always been a series of pendulum swings, but the individual doesn’t have to get caught in that.

Lila: Do you think we’re destined as a society to go all the way into a very long pendulum swing the other way, or is it possible to modulate it sooner?

Robert: History seems to be so clumsy. Again, I place my hope in individuals, not in the great collective swings. I think we’re headed rapidly into a matriarchy right now. It’s already here to be observed. The energy seems to be in women now. They’re quick and sharp and have decisive ideas. Men are rather soft and dreamy and moody. I jokingly say, "If we keep on going, we’ll reach the efficiency of the beehive, where we need a few men for fertilization, and otherwise they’re not required." I had a patient once who dreamed she kept her husband in the deep freeze except for mating. Lots of men feel that way.

Nothing will see us through the age we’re entering but high consciousness, and that comes hard. We don’t have a good, modern myth yet, and we need one.