Men and Trauma: protecting the innocent anima at all costs

First published September 17, 2016

"Middle Light" by Tom Chambers, used with Permission

Imagine that some treasured, innocent part of you is threatened.

Imagine that you can simply remove that part, and stow it somewhere hidden.

Imagine that there is a private, secret place where you could hide this part of yourself.

Now, imagine, in order for that part to still be filled with the living essence of YOU, that it needs to be alive. It has its own essence, perhaps it has a personality.

What does it look like? How does it talk?

Is it your most innocent self? Your most vivacious or vicious? What about the most vulnerable part?

If you’re particularly bothered by the threat, imagine that there is a protector available to this part of you.

What does the protector look like? How does it behave?

How does it respond to a threatening force?

What does the behavior look like in the presence of the innocent?

How does the behavior differ between the innocent and protector in the presence of an external threat?

According to the work of Jungian analyst Donald Kalsched, the dyad of the protector and this innocent aspect of self is a powerful force in the psyche. Kalsched calls what I described above the Self-Care System (Kalsched 1996, 2013). The Self-Care System operates at the individual level, and represents a kind of splintered self in situations where a person has been traumatized. Since there is no such thing as a human being who hasn’t endured trauma, Kalsched reasons everyone has some version of the self-care system operating in the psyche.

The Self-Care System can be thought of as kind of a dual angel and innocent abiding in the psyche. They are splintered aspects of the same self. The protector emerges to keep the innocent safe. The innocent emerges to keep the psyche aware that there is an innocent soul at the core of the person, one that cannot be defiled, regardless of the trauma that the body, mind, or psyche endures.

Jungian analysts and depth psychologists talk freely about some pretty lofty psychological concepts: the Shadow, the Anima, the Animus, Alchemy, Individuation, Projection, Introjection… and after decades of a highly refined subgroup operating in that space, those concepts and language have become very meaningful to a tiny subpopulation of mythologists, psychotherapists, analysts, and psychologists. For most other people, the words themselves are meaningless. That’s why Kalsched’s terms are so refreshing. The Self-Care System is an easy entrance point to a system of protection, repression, and abuse of the self.

The psyche for analytical psychology is kind of like a hybrid of the mind and the soul. The psyche has an identity seeking integration between the core of its identity and the personality, or the person who lives in the conscious world everyday. In this model, the psyche has a life that is built from parts of the unconscious, and parts of the conscious. The goal of the healthy psyche is to unify these parts, the ultimate end of which should be the person becoming whole, a process sometimes referred to as Individuation.

Jung believed and most Jungians teach, that for men, the inner, unspoken psyche is called the Anima, and is feminine in nature. In many, though not all Jungian circles, the contrasexual, the Animus in women represents the inner psyche. In some traditional Jungian circles however this is not believed to be true. For Jung, the Animus, was primarily a negative masculine aspect internal to the feminine. I believe this tenet is more a product of Jung’s time, than the actual psychic possibility.

I will write more about women’s relationship to the Animus in a future post, it is the relationship to the Anima for men that concerns me here.

If you look at the history of the men’s movement, specifically by examining the work of Robert Bly, Matthew Fox, or Henry Corbin you can see that the primary themes are bound in the relationships of men with their relationship to manhood. Bly explores the relationship of fathers and sons, brothers, workers, and the loss of a culture of manhood defined by myths and rituals. Fox examines the world through a spiritual lens where men (and women) can attain enlightenment through compassion. This is achieved by elevating the spirit through the intentional adoption of a Christ-like attitude and practice of behavior. Henry Corbin studied Islam, and multiple other traditions, and found that creation was filled with Life, and that it was Life that was sacred at its core- offering humanity the option of considering salvation through creation.

The work of these philosophers brings to the fore something we don’t speak enough about in our examination of culture, oppression, and discrimination, the oppression of men.

I am a feminist from my polished toes, to the most errant, curly hair on the top of my head. I know this idea may positively frost some of my colleagues and friends, but I ask for a little indulgence.

Since the beginning of the industrial era especially (and yes across millennia, especially as societies were broken, and reformed), unprivileged men—men who we might otherwise call working class, poor, or disenfranchised, have been taught a singular song:

That their work, their bodies, and the products of both, don’t belong to them.

These men, who make up the vast majority of men, have been taught that the only way to survive in the world, is to give up their individuality, to give up their identity, to give up their personal sovereignty… for someone else’s benefit.

Many of our current definitions of manhood began in the Middle Ages. In Europe in this period, there was no individual sovereignty. A man’s labor belonged to his lord. The idea of individual rights was the privilege of nobility, not peasants. As wars ravaged Europe, and cash was needed for defense, the labor was transferred to the landholders and their generals. The allegiance was split between the lord of the land, and the Lord in Heaven. Cash can only buy so much loyalty. But immortality and how and where it is spent is a much different discussion. Faith and fear were used to reinforce fealty to the Lord of All, lords of the land, and King and country. Fear is a powerful motivator, and throughout most of Western history, there have been a great many external threats to be afraid of: plague, war, invaders, random acts of violence, all of them based on a complete lack of basic individual sovereignty. Only the promise of heaven offered relief, because there was very little control over what happened from day to day on the ground.

In the industrial era, men’s labor went to wages for families, nuclear and extended. Economies had shifted, and religion and cash continued to keep people in line. Life was slightly less fear-ridden, but still dangerous. It has only been since the end of the 19th century, and ultimately after WWI that we have truly sought out peace as a means of living. It is only for approximately 100 years that we have thought that we could control the world and enforce some kind of peace. But while that effort has been the focus of our cultural struggle, we have maintained the structures that have been in place for 1,000 years before. These cultural pillars were created from fear of the world, and the hope of an afterlife that removed the constant threat of struggle and pain.

Men have sold their labor, (and I would argue, their souls) for the promise of a non-tortured afterlife for at least 1,000 years.

Culturally, psychically, this process has had consequences.

That split I mentioned earlier, the Self-Care System got to work, not only on individual men, but on men as a cultural force. And the feminine aspect of psyche, the Anima? She became identified at an unconscious level with the deep, tortured innocent at the core of the Self-Care dyad.

In this model, the personal identity of a very real human man gets tied in knots around protecting what is the abandoned, tortured innocent in his psyche; played out by protecting the innocent representations of that sensibility in the world: women and children. These individual men have cut themselves off from the living principal that might allow them to enjoy the mysterious possibilities of the world. Instead they live in the Self-Care Dyad, always busying themselves with protecting their own inner innocent Anima in anything that crosses their path to project it upon.

In this way, men who are overwhelmed by Anima Protection, which is what I call this extension of Kalsched’s Self-Care System (Kalsched 1993, 2013) become transfixed in the myth of their labor being REQUIRED for the functioning of a healthy society. They do not allow themselves pleasures, wildness, or the principle of living mystery. They require certainty, and they remain stuck in the dyad, protecting the Anima forever, accepting their fate to die for the cause, whatever form it might take, so long as the Anima is safe, and they get to identify with the Protector in the dyad.

As a result of men being cut off from the living mystery, they cut everyone else off. Women, children, other people, and animals become property. The living earth, that grows our food, provides shelter, and warmth, and all of the resources we need for life, becomes an inert commodity capable of being divided into smaller and smaller pieces. Then those pieces can be bought and sold, and the whole process can continue.

The sad part is that women have to some degree broken this system, and actualized the right to their own sovereignty by breaking away from men’s powers of ownership- but the concept itself has not been extended to men for themselves. As a cultural force, many men are too identified with the protector to integrate the innocent anima, or allow themselves any vulnerability - which is the gateway to mystery. And sadly, many women, WANT men to be in that role, to paraphrase a powerful quote from a Brenè Brown talk, “my wife and daughter would rather I die on my white horse, than show any vulnerability.”

And so, as a result, we are saddled with a culture that sees men treat each other like fellow warriors always readying for battle. We have a culture that allows women to treat other women like objects, where money is the purpose of most exchanges. We see men demonize women who don’t act like the innocent Anima so that they can stay in the role of Protector. We see entire cultures treat women as less than equal to men, because neither the cultures, nor the men themselves can honor the vitality that underlies the mystery of their own lives. We see children treated like a tabula rasa, with expectations that they can, and should be, filled with the hopes and dreams of their parents and society, instead of individuals with a unique purpose already programmed in upon arrival.

We have an entire, angry subculture built around a bias that is missing half of the equation.

The Protector no longer has the same job of blind necessity if the Anima gets to live a life of vitality. That means that the human man has to be in touch with his multi-faceted identity. He has to feel his feelings, the strength and the weakness, the joy and the sorrow, the pride and the humility. The body and the psyche don’t know how to shut off only bad feelings. Trauma and the cascade of events that follow, shut down all feelings.

So what do we do? How can we restore the Innocent Anima to her rightful place?

How do we put the possibility of vitality back into the lives and spirits of men without allowing it to be perverted or defiled?

It’s complicated. We have created cultures addicted to the power that comes from this kind of withholding.

It’s kind of like a bottle of champagne. All of the bubbles, the energy, the intoxicating flavors, the joy, the celebration is in the bottle. Let the cork go, and it will put your eye out-so, the bottle is locked up tight. A fallacy has been created that if you collect enough bottles of champagne, that it is the same as drinking one, which is of course untrue. Life must be experienced, in its wildness, its vigor, its vulnerability, its beauty. When we cut off the energy from the pain and threat of vulnerability we block off the mystery from entering as well. When we do that, there is no energy, only protection. The healthy anima/animus is invested in fulfilling the unique mystery relationship between the individual and the world. But if s/he is protected by the dominating force of the split-off protector in the psyche, this can never happen.

The sad part of this relationship between the protector and the innocent in the psyche, is that if the relationship doesn’t evolve, it becomes pathological. This is true whether we are talking about individuals or culture as a whole. We see this at work now in the American political drama playing out in the media. Our culture has gotten so transfixed on the split in the psyche between the cut-off authoritarian protector, and the innocent anima that we have reduced our political discourse to a bizarre show that in no way resembles the American political ideal of the founders. In this political season, we have traded our ideals for the fight in the psyche between two unmatched archetypal energies.

Back to protecting the anima, if you look for this relationship you will see it all around you. It is the foundation of the cultural ideal of protecting women and children, it is the basis of the bizarre split of the anti-abortion debate (no abortion, but no help for living women and children either- I am the protector!), it is the basis of our patriarchal pathologies. It is the foundation of abuse, and of rigid gender binaries.

When the protector is overburdened, the human needs for very embodied desires and experiences become pathologized. The repression of the desire for: sexual experience, wildness, hunger, ecstasy, power, these all become perverted. There is no safe place to feel the DESIRE for vulnerability in a sexual experience, so the sex becomes rageful, which can’t be fulfilled with a trusted partner, so sex, becomes domination or worse, rape. Or sex becomes a desire to escape the protector, and merge with the innocent in the psyche, and becomes incest or sexual abuse. For women, when the protector is overburdened, she may give her power over to an abusive man who wants to fulfill that role. Contrarily, she may become abusive herself, taking on a protective hyper-masculinized personality (what Jung called Animus Possession).

Undoing this phenomenon individually is very difficult, it is even more challenging at the societal level. First and foremost we must learn to recognize it. When logic ceases to be the operating structure in discourse, is the Anima or Animus (in the role of either protector or innocent) the one engaged in the discussion? The thing about the unconscious is that it doesn’t respond to logic. You can’t argue with it. You can’t give it a book to read. It responds to feeling, to art, to compassion, to vice, to injustice. If you want to work a miracle with the unconscious, you will need to step out of the comfort of the Cartesian logic of the modern period, and go for a new tactic. Take the unconscious for a movie date, or draw pictures or tell stories, drum in the woods. Ask the unconscious for a story on how it would feel to be that person. Go meet people, look for the opportunities for love.

On a societal level, we need good art, powerful films, amazing books, and sublime poetry. We need people to tell the stories of the good, over and over again. We need to remind people through their own myths and sacred stories, what the great teachers meant. Every faith in the world has as its most basic tenet, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

The first thing we learn in life is separation, and how painful it is. We spend the rest of our lives finding ways to either blunt that feeling or cope with it. The real cure is integration, bringing the scared, hurt, sacred pieces back into the whole. It is seeing that we ourselves are One but not unified. We are all the ages we have ever been. We are all of the hurts and joys we have ever experienced. We are the mysteries of creation, and the power of destruction. We are friends who shouldn’t be, and the lovers who recognize each other though they have only just met. The ecstasy of being is that the Protector and the Innocent are actually One. The Anima/Animus and the Self, are part of the whole of each of us.

What the new Queen Archetype is teaching us is that there is a sovereign who is greater than just the innocent or the protector. She is capable of holding the whole of the mystery, and integrating both innocence and protection. But this must be done, carefully. The sovereign is not the same as a ruthless dictator, though in the absence of sovereignty we will accept this authoritarian in desperation.

“What have we to gain if we give up the power and authority over others?” the protector protests. He wants to offer the shield and banner. He willingly lays down his life for the glory of protecting the innocent. But what will it mean, if the system he is protecting no longer serves Life itself? What is gained if there is no joy, just continuous collection of champagne bottles that are never drunk? Who is served, if the mysteries are never explored, and quests are only undertaken to line someone’s pockets, or to gain approval? We learn little to nothing, except how to build bigger and better shelves for those bottles. We learn how to kill more trees to build more shelves. We learn to bring the trees down more efficiently to keep the costs of the shelves low so that more bottles can be accumulated at lower costs.

That is the crux of our consumer culture: more, more, more of the thing we won’t let ourselves enjoy.

Time for a Reversal:

Drink the champagne.

Enjoy the Creation.

Invite the protector and the innocent for a quiet sit down to drink the champagne and do something that celebrates life.

Find the mystery. Life wants you- that’s why you are here. She doesn’t need you to hide. She needs you in the world, bringing your truly unique gifts to all of us. Stop protecting the innocent within and teach us all about the mystery of who you are. When you do- you will see the unfolding of that mystery, the lion lays down with the lamb.

That is sovereignty, whole- unto yourself, indivisible, with no one, even if they mean well, to decide your fate for you.


Bly, Robert (1990). Iron John: A Book About Men. Boston, DaCapo Press.

Corbin, Henry and Pearson, Nancy (1989). Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Fox, Matthew (2000). Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions. New York, Putnam.

Kalsched, Donald (1996). The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit. London and New York, Routledge.

Kalsched, Donald (2013). Trauma and the Soul: A Psycho-Spiritual Approach to Human Development and its Interruption. London, Routledge.


@2016-2020 Stacey Simmons, PhD


Write Women  -Los Angeles, California