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Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian

Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought

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Puer's Daughter

Linda Leonard Published online: 17 Jan 2008.

To cite this article: Linda Leonard (1977) Puer's Daughter, Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, 8:1, 22-31


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Linda Leonard


In working with female analysands, the question of how a Puer Father affects the daughter’s personal growth and development has become a vital question for me. But in my search through the Jungian literature, I found that most of the articles on the father pertain to the Senex Father, i.e., the father who has been authoritarian, giving values, the “Old King.” As James Hillman, in his article, “Senex and Puer,” describes him, the Senex in his positive aspect provides stability and certainty; he is potentially the Wise Old Man. But in his negative aspect he manifests coldness, hardness, and exile from life. But what about the Puer Father? The Puer, as Marie-Louise von Frau points out in her book, Puer Aeternus, is a man who remains an eternal boy, who remains too long in the adolescent stage. He tends to be a romantic dreamer who is looking for a mother goddess, wanting to escape the conflicts of practical life, and unable to commit himself. He dwells in a realm of possibilities, avoids actuality, and leads the “provisional life.” By disposition he is impatient; he has not developed the quality to “hold,” to bear through a difficult situation. According to von Franz, such a life-style may exhibit itself in homosexuality, Don Juanism, various forms of addiction, or mere philosophical speculation. The Puer is not totally negative, though, for his connection with the mother principle gives him a close contact with the unconscious and the springs of creativity; he is often a sensitive searcher for spirit. But since his interior year centers around spring and summer, the depth and re-birth which comes from fall and winter is lacking. Like the Senex, the Puer too has positive and negative aspects. Posi- tively he reveals spirit to us in the form of possibility, the creative spark, the search. But negatively he never cames through to completion since he avoids hard times and the down to earth work and struggle required to make the possible actual. Hillman points out that at bottom the Senex and Puer are linked; they are two opposing aspects of a single archetype. The development of the masculine requires their integration. When they are not consciously integrated, then we are faced with a pos-

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Psychological Perspectives


session by one face on the conscious level with a corresponding influ- ence from the other face in the unconscious. Hence where there is a Puer, hiding in the shadow is the leering face of the Senex. Where there is lofty idealism, in the background is the sneer of cynicism. Likewise, where the senex emphasis on duty and rationally sticking to what must be done is in the foreground, puerile moods and impulses are in the un- conscious, popping out irrationally at unexpected moments. With this integral archetypal relation between Senex and Puer in mind, I would like to explore the way a daughter might be affected in her development by the Puer Father, focusing here only on the destructive aspect. That is, can we find in the daughter patterns which have devel- oped as a result of the destructive influence of a Puer Father? And, further, can we gain some insight into the way these patterns, if they are destructive, may be integrated into a more meaningful whole? In order to approach this we must now turn to the her as father and see what is lacking. Archetypally, the father principle provides the values of authority, responsibility, decision making, objectivity, law and order, and discipline. The father is the first model of the logos principle; he introduces his daughter to the outside world, helping her to cope with the world and its confiicts; and as such is the first model of masculinity for his daughter. Through him the animus is initially formed. If his own masculinity is split into a negative opposition between Senex and Puer, the daughter’s animus will most probably be split too unless she has had other prominent and formative masculine figures in her life. Vera von der Heydt, in her article “On the Father in Psychotherapy,” points out that the role of the father is to mediate for his children between the exciting world outside and the home, and that his attitude toward work and suc- cess will color the child’s attitude. If he is confident and successful this will communicate to his children, but if he is afraid and unsuccessful the children will most likely take over this fearful attitude. Hence it is the father’s confident relation to the world which encourages the child to be secure and confident and also to discover genuine limits and boundaries. In the case of the Puer Father, most of these qualities are lacking, since the Puer himself is governed more by the mother and the uncon- scious. Of course, since consciousness springs from the unconscious, the father has to have a good relationship to the mother world as well. But the her has not come to terms with his own limits and authority-hence

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Linda Leonard

he cannot be an adequate model for his children in these respects. Thus

the Puer’s daughter grows up without an adequate mode for authority; and so she often lacks a sense of her own authority. She may suffer from insecurity, instability, lack of self-confidence, anxiety, frigidity, and in general, a weak ego. Moreover, if the Puer Father was overtly weak (as

in the case of the man who doesn’t work and/or the addict), the daugh-

ter is likely to suffer from shame; and, if she was ashamed of her father, she is likely to carry this sense of shame over to herself. In such cases she often builds up in the unconscious an ideal image of man and father

and her life may become a search for this ideal father. In seeking the ideal she is bound to a “ghostly lover,” i.e., a man who exists only in her imagination. Hence, her relations with men and especially in the sphere of sexuality are likely to be disturbed. The lack of commitment

she experienced with her father is likely to produce a general lack of trust in men which may extend also to the whole realm of spirit, i.e., to “God the Father.” At the deepest level, the Puer’s daughter suffers from

a religious problem since for her spirit was not provided by the father.

How, then, is she to find it? Anais Nin, whose father was a Puer, has expressed it: “I have no guide. My father? I think of him as someone my own age.” If the daughter rejects her father due to his weakness, she often rejects the positive qualities of the Puer as well. Consider the following dream of a young woman who had totally rejected her alcoholic father and who had tried to be the opposite of him in every way:

The entry to my father’s house was a small shabby cellar door. Inside, I shivered as I saw the paper hang in greying clumps from the wall. Black shiny cockroaches scurried along the cracked floor and up the legs of a chipped brown table, the only piece of furniture in the bare room. The place was no bigger than a cubicle, and I won- dered how anyone, even my father, could live here. Suddenly fear flooded my heart, and I sought desperately for an escape. But the door through which I had entered seemed to have disappeared in the dim light. Scarcely able to breath, my eyes frantically roamed the room and fidiy caught sight of a narrow passageway, opposite to where I had entered. Eager to leave this distasteful and frightening room, I hurried through the dark passage. As I came to the end my eyes were at first blinded by the light. But then I entered into the most magnifi- cent courtyard I had ever seen. Flowers and fountains, marble statues of marvelous forms shone out before my eyes. Square in shape, the courtyard was really the center of an Oriental palatial temple, with

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Psychological Perspectives


four Tibetan turrets towering above each comer. Only then it was that I realized that all this belonged to my father too. In fear and trembling, awe and wonder, in bewilderment, I awoke from the dream.

The dreamer, on the conscious level, had rejected all the qualities she saw in her father and especially the realm of the irrational and feeling which she experienced negatively in her father’s drunken rages. In her attempt to be unlike her her Father, she developed a strong

She plunged herself into work. She tried

to live by reason, and the men she chose were rational also. But her personality was actually very much like her father’s, so in rejecting him she rejected a large part of her own natural tendencies, and lived in a mode that was really not her own. Her senex attitude toward work drove her into compulsive ambition, but eventually the whole structure col- lapsed and she ended up in a severe depression. Her work had suddenly lost meaning, and the relation with her husband which had been based on the achievement ideal had little to offer. Having lost her relation to her feeling side, she was cut off from her own feelings, from relationship with others, and from trust in the transcendent. Actually, in the last analysis, her work ethic and senex attitude in itself was irrational in that it was so extreme. Her attempt to get away from her father and go to the opposite extreme froced her into an irrational reaction. (Orual in C. S. Lewis’ novel, Till We Have Faces, and the woman therapist in Ingmar Bergman’s film, Face lo Face, illustrate this structure.) If, as in this case, the father has been destructive, it is often neces- sary to go down with him into the destructive area rather than defending against him, otherwise one is cut off from the potentialities that lie hid- den in the depths. This means entering the realm of Dionysius. The depression, which had separated her from the work world of reason, cast her into the depths of hell where she came face to face with the dimension she had been rejecting. Some bouts with alcohol, sex, and hashish, including a “bad trip” in which she lived out a recurring night- mare, opened up the side she had been defending against most of her life. During this period she had one very frightening experience which con- nected the creative and destructive sides of the irrational for her. While she was on the way to a ski resort she had been reading Kierkegaard very intensely on the subject of faith. Upon her arrival she went on a long hike in the mountains and as she returned she saw the mountain

senex attitude toward life.

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sunset which was, “suddenly more than real, wonderously beautiful but awesomely frightening, as though Chagall, De Chirico, and Kirchner had painted it together with God.” This experience shocked her to the point where she thought she was going crazy, but it also opened her up in an awesome way to the transcendent, to that which was beyond her power to control. It was about this time that she had the dream mentioned above. The dream opened her up to the richness that was hidden be- hind the shabby exterior through which she saw her father. It revealed the rich religious potential that lay hidden in the depths. Her task was to integrate this new possibility with the senex attitudes she had already developed. The new realm offered infinite possibility including the possi- bility of going mad. She needed to be able to enter this new realm with the sense of boundary and stability that she had previously developed. Another possible direction the Puer’s daughter may take is to identify partly with the her and remain the innocent daughter. She may disiden- tify on some levels with the “bad boy father” and hope to compensate by being the “innocent good girl daughter.” That is, she may become a “puella,” an eternal girl. In this case she often becomes the inspired daughter of a senex partner and/or an anima woman who achieves her identity only by becoming the image of what the man wants. But then, since she hasn’t integrated the Senex, he often becomes sour, a perverted old man in the unconscious-perhaps not so far indeed from the puer Don Juan father who becomes a dirty old man at the end of his life. Consider the following dream of a Puer’s daughter:

An innocent young girl (about 16) and her friend were being watched by an older man who was in his late 50s and who was after the girl. He was strange, possibly crazy and perverted, and the girl was very innocent. The friend had written a letter to her parents about becoming independent and the two girls were discussing it. The old man, from somewhere in the background, said, “When the inno- cent young girl changes from pants to a long dress and her friend stops seeing her, I will go after her.” The implkation was that he would destroy her. One day, the young girl was looking in a mirror and had on a beautiful long green dress. The same day her friend had stopped seeing her because she had a boyfriend. The innocent young girl asked her friend why, and the friend reported what the old man had said. Then the innocent young girl realized this was her task for adulthood and that she must confront the perverted old man. Realiz- ing that he had been listening in on their conversation, she took his listening device and put it in front of her so he could see that she knew. He was angry and started to grab it and came at her, but she

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forcefully kicked him in the crotch and he went reeling backward. Enraged, he took a bucket of water that had been used to wash the strawberries and he tried to throw this dirty old waste water from the strawberries on her, but she gkabbed the bucket and forcefully threw the water back on him. As she did it, a voice told her that this was a test in the fairy tales of four different languages. Here we hd a transformation from girlish innocence to mature womanhood. The dreamer must consciously confront the perverted masculine aspect which wants to destroy her and fight back. She must leave the role of innocence which may manifest itself on the concrete level as helplessness, dependence, guiltlessness, being a victim-and in- stead assume responsibility for the strength she really has. She must be- come, in Casteneda’s terms, a wa,rrior. The chief task in the dream is not to let the perverted old man throw the old dirty waste water from the strawbemes on her. Strawberries can be taken as an Eros symbol, and so in this case it would mean not to fall victim to negative animus opinions which distrust and devalue love (e.g., “no one could ever love me”), but to throw it back and liquidate such cynicism. This woman had the tendency to project her own strength on others and expected to be “cared for” by her analysts. Bascially, she did not take responsibility for herself, and felt she could only be “cured by love, the love her father had never given her.” In expecting the care and ac- tion to come from the other, she remained passive, a little girl wanting to be mothered and fathered by everyone. She lacked positive animus or masculine development, i.e., the qualities of consciousness, discipline, courage, and decision making; and it was not surprising since there had been no positive influence in her life from her father or any masculine figure. The masculine was present only in this figure of the perverted old man. It seems to me that the Puer’s daughter who has taken the puella direction has certain tasks before her. She must shake loose from her innocence and lack of commitment, become aware of her goal to become mature and responsibly fight the dangers that the feminine without the integration of the masculine present-narcissism, depres- sion, suicidal feelings, inertia, and self-pity. And, if she loses sight of her task and struggle before she has built up those qualities which her father has failed to help her develop, she will remain forever a puella. Here it may be helpful to bring in some insights from Soren Kierke- gaard, the Danish philosopher-theologian. Kierkegaard, in Sickness Unto

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Death, analyzes various stages of despair, i.e., stages of disrelatiomhip to the self (a notion of self that in many ways is not so different from Jung’s view). For Kierkegaard, there are three major forms of despair:

first, a despair that is unconscious; second, despair that is conscious and which manifests itself as weakness; and third, despair which is conscious and manifests itself as defiance. In the unconscious form of despair, the person is out of relation to the self, but is unaware of it. Such a person, according to Kierkegaard, tends to live a hedonistic life, dispersed in sensation of the moment, having no commitment to anything higher than ego-impulses. This is the stage of aestheticism and Don Juanism. Here one can see a puer type of existence in which the person does not, on the conscious level at least, realize he is in despair although, as Kierkengaard points out, the compulsiveness for infinite sensation and pleasure together with intrud- ing dark moments of boredom and anxiety reveal that all is not well. If the person allows the dark moments of boredom and anxiety to enter fully into consciousness, then he becomes aware that he is in despair. At this point the person realizes he is out of relation to the self (which transcends ego-identity) but feels he is too weak to choose the self since that demands that one accept one’s strength to make that decision. Here the person despairs over his weakness to commit himself to something higher than the ego-impulses. I imagine that many Puers suffer intensely in the despair of weakness-wanting to be courageous and take the risk of actuality, the risk of commitment, yet somehow afraid and unable to take the leap. But, if the person penetrates more consciously into the reason for his weakness, then he becomes aware that his excuse of weakness was really only a way of avoiding the strength he always already had. He realizes that what he took to be weakness was really defiance, i.e., a refusal to commit himself. For Kierkegaard, the despair of defiance is a higher consciousness, a realization that one has the strength to choose the self, or in Kierkegaard’s terms, to make the leap of faith which re- quires acceptance of the uncontrollable and transcendent, but that one chooses not to do so in stark defiance against the higher powers which transcend reason and man’s finitude. In defiance, one refuses to change! In the despair of defiance one refuses possibility and infinitude; in the despair of weakness one refuses actuality and finitude. So that the end,

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in either stage, is to refuse both. I have been working and struggling with Kierkegaard for many years, but just recently it struck me that the despair of weakness is really an aspect of the her archetypal pattern, while the despair of defiance is that of the Senex. And yet in the end they are secretly the same, just as Hillman points out the secret iden- tity existing between the Puer and Senex. Women who fall into the first archetypal pattern, i.e., who reject the Puer Father and all that goes with him (the weakness, irrationality, etc.) are likely to end up in the despair of defiance, a senex position which tries to order and control reality but is unable to cope with the greater powers that be and hence fight against them until they are over- whelmed and break down before them. Here the resolution would be to see how the attempt to control is an unconscious reaction which accepts only part of life, and that it is necessary to accept weakness and fallibility and surrender to that which cannot be controlled-to the transcendent spirit within. This pattern seems to be one in which the Puer’s daughter denies her Puer Father, consciously takes the posture of Senex, is then reconfronted with the Puer in the unconscious, and from the position of senex defiance must accept the puer aspects, yet go beyond to the transcendent. Women who fall into the second archetypal pattern, i.e., who remain the puella, would seem to be caught in either of the first stage of un- conscious despair insofar as they remain unaware of their condition (and here the task would be first to become conscious of this) or in the despair of weakness. In the latter case they would be aware of their weakness, their lack of logos development, but feel themselves to be victims of it. Here the task, as I see it, would be to accept the strength and logos potentiality within and work and struggle to build that up. For Kierkegaard, resolution and transformation come ultimately when despair in all stages is overcome through a leap of faith. In this leap one accepts at the same time one’s weakness and one’s strength, the intermixture of the finite and infinite realms in being human. Von Franz shows this possibility of resolution in her analysis of the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.” In this fairy tale, a miller who has been out of work and is becoming poor meets in the forest a man who promises him unlimited wealth if he (the miller) will give this man whatever stands behind his mill. Thinking

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he has nothing of value and that only an apple tree stands there, the man agrees. Here again one sees the destructive aspect of the puer pat- tern-wanting large gains for little or no work, taking the gamble and underneath thinking one has nothing of value, nothing to lose, and hence there is no real sacrifice. But as it turns out, his daughter was standing there and the man in the forest turns out to be the devil, so the father turns his daughter over to the devil, a thing which Puer Fathers often do. This daughter, however, cries on her hands, and since the devil cannot take someone who has so weeped, he tells the father,tocut

off her hands and he will come back for her the next day. Unable to give up the chance for so much fortune, the father cuts off his daughter’s hands, but the daughter then weeps on her arms, and again the devil cannot take her. So the devil doesn’t get the girl, and the father doesn’t get the fortune, and the girl is now handless. Seeing the situation clearly, she refuses to stay with the father (who too late tries to make up for his rejection of her) and she goes off into the forest alone. Here I wish to emphasize von Franz’s point-that here is a daughter who sees her father’s weakness. But her handlessness, von Franz says, shows that at the same time she realizes the ineffectiveness of the senex reaction, i.e., compensating through work or getting into the animus reaction of ambi- tion, intellectualism, and so on. That she is able to weep shows that she has not rejected emotion, but neither can she stay with her father. So she goes off into the forest alone and waits there, trusting that help will

come. And indeed, in the fairy tale it does-she

is protected by an

angel and finally saved by a king. This fairy tale expresses the path of resolution for the Puer‘s daughter

-a conscious recognition of the father’s weakness but without the reac- tion into the senex attempt to control-in Kierkegaard’s terminology an acceptance of weakness together with the power of the infinite to save-and a patient waiting for the miracle to happen. One might say that as women in the first structure tend to fight and lose, part of the Puer’s daughter’s problem is that she may not accept the receptive mode and so may take the work-control route. But then, as von Franz points out, sometimes this fails and work loses meaning and then she is left with nothing. In contrast, the Handless Maiden accepts waiting and the receptive mode and gains a kingdom. She is able to trust and wait in faith and hope.

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In both of the archetypal patterns of the Puer’s daughter which I have been trying to bring out there is a split between pleasure and work, in- nocence and responsibiIity, between the her and Senex. One opts consciously for the senex ideal, but is possessed unconsciously by her father’s puer side. In order to develop she must accept the value of the puer aspect and come to a new integration. The other has identified with the puer side. For her to grow she has to develop the senex side and go beyond to a more wholistic position. At bottom, both have the task of integrating both the puer and senex archetype. Returning to Kierke- gaard’s stages of despair, I wonder if they can be regarded in part (from the Jungian perspective at least) as an aid to understanding animus development for the Puer’s daughter. I suspect that if one starts out with the despair of weakness (the puella) and goes onto the despair of defiance (senex), there may be a difficultyafter the warrior-senex stage to return to the receptive attitude of the Handless Maiden. But if one starts out with the senex-defiance reaction and then returns to the puer aspect that has been rejected, one still must from there pass through the Handless Maiden’s willingness to wait and be receptive. The senex atti- tude is not receptive because it tries to control. But neither is the puella attitude receptive since it is passive and genuine receptivity is active. The Handless Maiden’s receptivity and faith seems to me in both cases to be a prelude to integration, a commitment to enduring the tension of the opposites--Senex and Puer.

REFERENCES Hillman, James. “Senex and Puer: An Aspect of the Historical and Psycho- logical Present,” Eranos-Jahrbuch XXXVI, 1967. Lewis, C. S. Till We Have Faces. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish-

ing Co., 1956.

Kierkegaard,Soren. The Sickness Unto Death. Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1954. Von der Heydt, Vera. “On the Father in Psychotherapy” in Fathers and Mothers. Spring Publications, 1973.

Von Franz,







Tales. Spring Publications,