Puer Aeternus Problem by Marie-Louise Von Franz

One of our students has evolved the idea that there is something like a defective Self, that in certain people whose fate is very unfortunate the symbol of the Self appears defective, which would mean that such people have no chance in life because the nucleus of their psyche is incomplete and defective.

So the whole process of individuation cannot develop from this kernel.

I do not agree with this idea because I have never seen such symbols of a defective Self without an accompanying defective attitude of the ego.

That means that wherever you find such a defective Self symbol, where it is ambiguous and incomplete and morbid, there is always at the same time an incomplete and morbid attitude of the ego, and therefore it could not be scientifically asserted that the cause of the whole thing lies in a defective Self.

It could just as well be said that it was because the ego had such a wrong attitude that the Self cannot come into play positively.

If you eat completely wrongly and your stomach consequently does not react properly, you can react one of two ways.

You can decide that there is something wrong with your stomach, and go to numbers of doctors about it without telling them that you are eating all wrong, in which case the doctors will conclude that it is very tragic but that you have a defective stomach and it is not possible to find the cause.

But, on the other hand, it can just as well be said that if one eats all the wrong things, or does not eat, or eats irregularly, then it is not the stomach which is at fault.

Thus the defective Self always goes with an ego which does not function properly and therefore naturally the Self cannot function properly either.

If the ego is lazy, inflated, not conscientious, does not perform the duties of the ego-complex, then it is clear that the Self cannot appear positively either.

If that man were here today he would certainly object and say, “No, it is the other way round, the ego cannot function because the Self is defective.”

There we are confronted with the age-old philosophical problem of free will: “Can I want the right thing?”

That is the problem which the puer aeternus man will generally put to you.

He will say that he knows that everything goes wrong because he is lazy, but that he cannot want not to be lazy!

That perhaps that is his neurosis, that he is unable to fight his laziness, and therefore it is useless to treat him as a rascal for whom everything would go right if he were not so lazy.

That is an argument which I have heard I don’t know how many times!

It is to a certain extent true, for the puer cannot make up his mind to work, so you can say that it is the defective Self, that something is wrong in the whole structure and cannot be saved. ~Marie-Louise Von Franz, Problems of the Puer Aeternus, Page 35-36