Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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Animus Possession

Women experience a special problem about working with self-worth and it is what Jung sometimes called “animus possession”. Because we are deeply—most of us blindly—immersed in a patriarchal society, we have an egoic mask which is governed by patriarchal symbols and which supports the values of the patriarchy. This mask totally subdues a woman’s true nature. So she has to find a way to remove the mask, because it is completely false and it denies her womanhood and the deep values of the feminine.

As the patriarchy has flourished and established itself as our predominant culture, so its principles and values have become embedded in our psyches. This aspect of the inner world of both men and women has been named the patripsych. The patripsych upholds unconsciously the values of the patriarchy. While this poses a deep challenge for men, it is a distinctly different problem for women.

A woman’s conditioning is so imbued with male values that her ego structure relates exclusively to a male system and does not resonate with her natural female self. What makes this so difficult to work with is its near invisibility—not really seeing it, not knowing it, not thinking there is anything wrong with it, because there is extremely rarely any alternative to having to adapt to it. You can feel the pressure from the evolution of several thousand years of patriarchy. So the difference for a woman is that as soon as you start to peel away the layers, very soon what appears is an infantile layer of stunted growth that is everything-that-pleases-daddy. This is her deep conformity to the male value system. When that has been shed there is this little seed or undeveloped impulse that is the tiny, unformed ego of her own femaleness that longs to be developed as womanly qualities. Through those qualities a woman can re-engage with the world in an entirely new way. With the patriarchal mask discarded she is free to be herself in a way that is not constricted by patriarchal norms.

Men have to strip away their identification with the negative values of patriarchy too, because a man’s real potential lies deeper. So, for men, developing genuine self-worth is more of a humbling practice. When women do their inner work they get bigger, more visible, more noisy and less civilised—more obviously free—whereas men become deeper and more humble. It is a different direction, but for men as well as for women, the issue is how much the patriarchy is within you, unquestioned and inviolable.

If you are a woman who entered into the man’s world with a career you have even more to handle from the point of view of your inner life. You are in a man’s world anyway and you cannot get out of it—no one should kid himself or herself that they are not in it. However, if you have gone into it in a masculine role you are likely to be even more deeply submerged. The higher you have risen in the hierarchy of the man’s world the more subsumed in it you are.

Do you know the story of the Greek goddess Athena? She was born out of a male version of a Caesarean section. While the god of heaven and earth, her father Zeus, screamed in agony, Hephaestus, the god of the forge, cut open his head with an axe. Out of the wound Athena was born, wearing full armour and brandishing weapons. She considered herself to have only one parent—her father Zeus. When you get a successful woman who is “straight out of her daddy’s head,” you can see she is functioning like a man – not like a woman—in a man’s world. It is absurd to say that this says anything positive about the equality of women or feminist values, because it is more antithetical to women and the women’s movement than if a man held the job.

Exploring the tension between male and female values leads you to another schism—the division between inner and outer. The repression of the in-turning, feminine principle by the outgoing, masculine principle is reflected in the history of war, conquest and gynocide. When you get those dreams with a male figure who is oppressive and who is after you, there is the patriarchy and the oppressive masculine ego inside you saying, “No, little girl!” That is the fear, the patriarchy personified and deeply internalised.

[Excerpted adapted from The Flight of Consciousness, Richard Harvey, Ashgrove Publishing 2002,]

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This article was published in Spiritual Guidance, April 2012, on

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