The Man Child: On the Mother Complex and the Absent Father*

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.

~Andre Gide

Marie-Louis von Franz, a Swiss psychologist, noticed a disturbing trend in the mid-20th century – many men and women who were well into their adult years remained psychologically stunted in their maturation. The puer aeternus, which is Latin for “eternal child”, was originally the term used in mythology to refer to a child god who remains forever young. In one of her lectures von Franz describes the puer aeternus as the individual who “…remains too long in adolescent psychology; that is, all those characteristics that are normal in a youth of seventeen or eighteen are continued into later life, coupled in most cases with too great a dependence on the mother.”

Von Franz predicted that in the coming decades what she called “the problem of the puer aeternus would spread across the world and affect more and more individuals. Her predictions have proven remarkably accurate. Many young men are struggling academically, socially, spiritually, financially, and sexually. They are living at home into their late 20s and 30s, choosing to remain in the comforting confines of their parents’ care rather than testing the unknown waters of independence. Instead of striving to create something of themselves, many prefer the familiar and comfortable virtual worlds of internet, pornography, and video games. They are passive