The Heroine’s Journey:
The Modern Woman’s Quest for Professional and Personal Fulfillment
According to Carl Jung’s theory of human development, the first half of life is devoted to differentiation and development of one’s individual ego, and the goal of the second half of life is integration and a movement toward wholeness, also known as individuation. Individuation is accomplished by developing the undeveloped side of one’s life. Traditionally, for men, this entails developing the anima, the feminine capacities for nurturance, feeling and intuition. For women, this entails developing the animus, the masculine capacities for logical thinking, action and assertiveness.
However, my journey as a woman in the second half of life has taken a different path. As a product of the feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, I spent the first half of my life differentiating in a way that developed my male energy at the expense of my feminine nature. I became an attorney in the male-oriented entertainment industry, and had to “act like a man” to succeed and survive. I felt unfulfilled and incomplete as I moved into the second half of my life. Being a high-powered attorney in New York City was no longer congruent with my changing identity. As a result, when I turned 50, I become a psychotherapist in order to develop my nurturing, feminine and intuitive side, while also working as an attorney for musicians, and letting go of some of the trappings of my career as a New York corporate attorney.
The Process of Individuation
Carl Jung and Erik Erikson both emphasized adult development in their theories (Crain, 1992, p. 287). For Erikson, the developmental task in mid-life is a choice between “generativity” and “stagnation.” Staying on the outward-oriented path of ego development and differentiation without self-reflection can lead to stagnation and spiritual aridity. In contrast, turning inward with introspection in order to attain wholeness and balance in one’s life can lead to ego transcendence, and the ability to give back to younger generations, i.e., generativity. Jung describes the journey toward integration as “our unconscious striving for centeredness, wholeness and meaning, …and inner urge to balance and reconcile the opposing aspects of our personalities,” (Crain, 1992, p. 290).
Traditionally, the path to individuation is said to be achieved by developing “those unconscious parts of ourselves that carry the mystery of the sex that is not ours” (Singer, 1992, p. 134). This model is not relevant for many modern women. During the differentiation stage of the first half of life, high-achieving women by necessity developed the energy of the male sex, neglecting their feminine energy. For such women, the path to individuation is a process of reuniting with the feminine qualities of their anima.
The Heroine’s Journey
Maureen Murdock’s book The Heroine’s Journey (1990) describes the process of individuation for women like me as the “heroine’s journey.” This journey entails (1) separation from the feminine (generally, the mother); (2) identification with the masculine and gathering of allies; (3) road of trials: meeting ogres and dragons; (4) finding the boon of success; (4) awakening to feelings of spiritual aridity; (5) initiation and descent to the Goddess; (6) urgent yearning to reconnect with the feminine; (7) healing the mother/daughter split; (8) healing the wounded masculine; and (9) integration of masculine and feminine (Murdock, 1990, p. 5).
Murdock’s description aptly parallels my journey. I separated from my mother to go to college to find a self-sufficient career. I identified with my father as a successful professional, and gathered male allies during law school and as professional colleagues. My road of trials entailed meeting ogres and dragons in the form of male bosses, competitors and back-stabbers. I nonetheless prevailed and was highly successful. However, this success became increasingly arid for me, and I descended into depression, yearning to reconnect with my nurturing, feminine spirit. In the process, the mother/daughter split was healed as I found my second half of life calling.
Therapists working with modern women can no longer rely on the traditional Jungian theories about the balancing of anima and animus to help those clients on their path to achieving personal and professional fulfillment. For myself, I have known for some time that my anima and animus were out of balance, but the literature on the second half of life, emphasizing the development of the animus in women, did not fit my experience, and did not help me. The heroine’s journey as described by Murdock is the first description I have found that validates my experience. It is a valuable lesson for those working to assist women today in their search for wholeness and spiritual maturity.
By Beth S. Patterson, September 12, 2009
Cooper, J.C. (2004). An illustrated encyclopaieda of traditional symbols. New York: Thames & Hudson
Crain, W. (1992). Theories of development: Concepts and applications (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Murdock, M. (1990). The heroine’s journey: Woman’s quest for wholeness. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Singer, J. (1994). Boundaries of the soul: The practice of Jung’s psychology. New York: Anchor Books.