Men Who Never Grow Up – The ‘Puer Aeturnus Complex’

by Peter Milhado PHD on July 11, 2009

Puer Aeturnus is Latin for ‘Eternal Youth’.  It is a concept from the psychology of Carl Jung and applies to those men who, even though they’re in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s have retained the emotional characteristics of an adolescent.  Many of these men, referred to as Puers from now on, had fathers who were partially or totally absent.  Others had fathers who were weak and passive, which left the upbringing to the mother.  All Puers have an inappropriately strong tie to the mother, positive or negative.  If there is no essential differentiation from the mother, there is no masculinity.  A sense of masculinity has to be won by struggle; it is not a birthright!  This is done by taking a stand, overcoming inertia, deciding and acting more, reading and knowing more, by gaining muscle and gaining competence in the world of men (Hillman).  Puers are known for their wandering, their many relationships and sometimes Don Juanisms.  This has to do with seeking the perfect mother in every woman who will give them everything- always to be disappointed.  They are drawn to women who will admiringly reflect and not disturb their narcissistic self-image.  When the ‘in love’ stage is over and the Puer discovers that the woman is not a ‘goddess’, but quite mortal and human, the fascination with her vanishes.  The ‘goddess’ of old is now seen as a devouring and cold witch who wants to enslave him.   Events get even more complicated when the projection fits.  Many Puers are charming and attractive, but there is also a concealed sadistic streak one would hardly guess  was there until it strikes- many women will attest to that.  Charm might make a great first impression, but intimacy, commitment and involvement are needed in relationship.  The more excessive the Puer’s ‘nice guy’ and charming Persona, the more brutal and cold becomes his shadow.  At parties he stays long enough to enthrall and perhaps make a castrating remark to the man of the house before he exits.
The Puer’s main pursuit in life is ecstasy, many times at the expense of everything else.  This can be externalized in a highly symbolic fashion in fascination with flying or climbing mountains.  Many Puers hang out on ski slopes and racetracks.  Many are drawn to drinking, gambling, pornography and drugs to get that rush.

The Puer is impulsive and impatient, has a low frustration tolerance and does not reflect.  He isn’t only threatened by aging, but also by self-discipline, patience, duty, endurance and accepting limitations.  There is no time for standing still, tolerating conflict and solving problems.  He has to be on the move “where the action is”.  He does not like tasks requiring long preparations and training.  He can work, but only in a state of enthusiasm.  When he meets with routine, boredom or tediousness, which are part of every career, he usually quits and takes flight.  He can’t make a commitment in any part of his life.  Action is his fate rather than reflection. Marie Luise von Franz felt that underneath this relentless pursuit of ecstasy is either a need to return to the womb of unconditional love and bliss provided by mother or a secret longing for a religious experience.  One can find many Puers in  different religious settings in today’s spiritual supermarket.  Hillman, on the other hand, felt the Puer’s relentless wandering is a longing for the father and fathering.

Problems also arise when adapting to society.  The Puer envisions himself as a bringer of meaning, rather than one who has to adapt.  Hillman asks “The Puer may give us a sign, point the way, but will he give us a hand?”  The inflated feelings of being superior, along with arrogance and defiance lead to difficulties at work and in relationships.  Quite a few Puers don’t make it to mid-life; many of them die early in the ‘fast lane’ of drugs or impulsive adventure.  Some get lost in religious militancy or sell out to the ‘company’.  Still others flip over and surrender their individuality to clubs and organizations like the local softball team, the Elks, the Glee club or Alcoholics Anonymous.  Without consciousness, men with a Puer Aeternus complex always become victims to their impulsiveness and self-destructiveness or collective movements like pathological materialism; political extremism or religious fanaticism sweep them up.

It needs to be emphasized that the Puer suffers from a most painful and despairing condition.  To be on a never ending journey without a home, to pursue thrills and pleasures relentlessly at the expense of everything and everyone else, to impulsively defy society and women and yet need them desperately, to pay the price that lack of intimacy and commitment demands, to hungrily want success and not attain it, all leads to acute suffering and intense loneliness.  As nature is much kinder towards excessive indulgences, impulsiveness, and unconsciousness in youth, it is not until the middle of life that the Puer’s life becomes problematic.  The quest for euphoria always alternates with it’s opposite, namely dark and sinister moods of depression, irrational fears, physical breakdown or hypochondriasis.  After pride and arrogance, always come despair and depression.  It is in midlife that we get punished by our sins, not for them.  Hillman  feels the cure of the Puer lies in decay and in consciously facing wastage, affliction and moral horror.  The Puer needs to confront his need for immediate gratification, his inflatedness, his self-destructive and strong dependencies, which he denies.

One the positive side, the Puer’s willingness to begin anew, take risks, his spontaneity, potential creativity, childlikeness can be helpful, if he can harness this energy consciously and ethically.  The Puer archetype carries the hope of the ever-present potential of beginning anew.  We do not want to clip the wings of the Puer energy, it can serve all of us.  There are other men who are totally passive and have no fire at all and one wishes that somehow a ‘Puer spark’ would ignite some form of action and wake them from their pathetic slumber.

One for all and all for one.

Dr. Peter Milhado – Copyright © 2009

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{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Milhado PHD April 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm


Maple May 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I fell in love with a Puer when I was 26 (now 30)…I am still in love with him, although we do not have much contact anymore. His father left he and his mother when he was 7. He talks about hating his father and carries that pain still to this day…he is almost 33. He is a drug addict and alcoholic. He is beautiful to the eyes and breaks many hearts. He sucked me in and made me feel like the most important and beautiful person in the world, and then BAM he turned a cold shoulder when things got a little complicated. He formed an emotional attachment to me b/c I remind him of his mother…whom he professes to love very deeply. I am a single mom, and he wants to take care of me…but he just can’t. He can’t bring himself to get close to me for very long. He is scared and his walls are high and thick. I’m having trouble moving on, but I find comfort knowing that its not personal…it’s not me…it’s him.

GO1984 June 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Man kids refuse to deal with the evils with growing up so to stay eternally young and be forever free of adult immorality.

Amy July 26, 2013 at 10:58 pm

this is a perfect description of someone who keeps falling for women he wants to protray as his one and only final mother, so that he can FINALLY grow up. I was married to one, and although put on a pedestal for a very long time, one day, I looked down and saw that my Peur really did believe I was his mother. At that point, I could no longer be his wife.

fall September 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm

This fits a perfect description of the man I am in love with for the past 3 yrs…..he can not commit to marriage or engagement….after many months of research I realized he is probably NPD….now, I see he fits the PUER description as well. Thank you for this article! MUCH needed!!! I cannot walk away……yet

Maggie Brady September 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Dear Dr. Mihado,
I appreciate your article. I am a therapist myself, and had recognized my boyfriend as a Puer, but a m ore “recovered” one I had thought, as he went to prison for his compulsion adventures 20 years ago which derailed all that was precious to him, and he seemed truly humble having been through “decay” as you call it, and asserted ove rand over wanting a more settled domestic life, with me, now at 64. He is 15 years older than me, seemed to have a very clear sense of who I was and what I wanted, and seemed to be making very conscious decision to commit to me and building a life together. We had an amazing wondrous 6 months with more commitment focus from him than me. But once I started asking him to be a bit more accountable (has like 3 crazy jobs, didn’t call when promised, would cancel last minute) he became extremely uncomfortable. This erupted in his letting an ex girlfriend (don’t feel they were erotic) who was angry at my presence in and out of his apt to use things there. He started saying we are “culturally too different” that he is ‘more European” and looser w/ time/culture etc. I was not willing to accept his behavior and move forward, even though he continued to talk true love and commitment, to join our families and children, to plan a fture with me… but the “disappearing” action continued. Finally, after I more seriously confronted him and said I don’t know that I can go on w/ his not working harder on his hurtful behavior, he said he thinks he made a mistake, he’s not actually so cut out for a domestic life, doesn’t care about his home at all, or making a home with someone, and wants to go to Africa to take care of homeless kids, that settling down is “not in my DNA, even though if I had any sense at all I would pick you 100%.” We have for sure been deeply in love and joined a lot of parts of our life- I feel my heart has been shattered into 100 pieces. I am in shock at how cold and unemotional he is all of a sudden in 1 week’s time. Even the therapist we saw said wow in the past week he just turned a switch and become totally A-emotional. It is just staggering the pain I feel. I am trying to stay strong and get back to my own self and life which I admittedly had started to build around him being so deeply in love. Today he sent a message saying “it is killing me how much pain and loss of trust I have caused and I am so confused by it” but he also holds that he’s “basically a happy guy and don’t need to change myself or my life..”
This has shocked all who felt from what he said and how he ws w/ me that he would fight heaven and earth to be with me. But now it’s like this pathologically cut off divestment . I am reeling. Thanks for letting me share.

studying abroad tips October 18, 2013 at 12:18 am

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Ellie November 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm

My partner fits the description exactly! His father walked out when he was a teen and his life stopped there. He went from being a good student to flunking all his GCSEs, started smoking weed, left school and bounced from one dead end job to another whilst living at home with his mum (who he has a lot of anger towards for some reason). He lacks the ability to think things through, plan ahead or talk to people without getting into an argument (we assumed this was ADHD). He is confused about his gender (cross-dresses and sometimes says he wants to be a woman, but then decides he doesn’t, but doesn’t know how to be a man). His finances were a total mess when I met him (he didn’t see the point of saving or getting a pension and considered money as ‘evil’) and he lived for video games, comics, sweets and pornography. His alcohol consumption was very unhealthy too. His idol is superman and he says he has ongoing dreams of flying in the sky and saving the world.

I forced him to move out of his mum’s house and rent with me (a terrifying ordeal for him, but he did it), and we have continued education together (he will graduate in a year). I have also encouraged him to seek out male friends, as he only felt happy around women before, and he has become more comfortable in himself as a result. I have never discouraged the cross-dressing and never made a big deal out of it, but he has chosen to do it less often since his confidence has grown. He has also taken on big community projects that boosted his ego.

It was very much a mother-son type of relationship at first, but I realised the more I encouraged him to move through each of the stages of adolescence that he missed out on, the more of an equal he would become. Our relationship is now much better because of it. There are still times where he will be filled with self-doubt and question his identity, but he has stopped drinking, studies, completes things, has saved towards a house deposit and has a much better attitude towards women. I think the ultimate difference will be when he graduates and realises just how far he has come!

Michael Burns November 12, 2013 at 11:50 am

The problem with man is not the death and destruction that he brings to the world. That in time will heal. They are simple scars upon a body. It is not even his arrogance that he thinks he is the chosen of God, and that that is his right that he own this Universe. It is in fact his narcissism; his twisted and perverted self-love that is his downfall, his so easily acquired willingness to label himself and others. To label himself above the rest; and those not of his kind, he places them in his Darwinian box on a shelf. And it is through that very act that he looses his power, his true power…and maybe in a sense, that is a sign, if he looks at were his master points, to within the shadow side, of a possible direction he might need to go himself. There is no country for old men, but the stars await the eternal child.
And so I would appeal to you to enter through that door, and into that new country and read above the lintel as you pass through the eternal words ‘Pax Intrantibus’.

I expect this will not go past your recycle bin.

Michael Burns

Gale November 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm

This almost fits the description of Mihaly, the protagonist in “Journey by Moonlight”, a novel by the great Hungarian author, Antal Szerb.

tricia January 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

i met and married a man over 2 years ago and it ended with him prefering to scan the internet talking and flirting with other women than our marraige. he had no remorse for what he had done in the end he had three women on the go and he was prepered to do anything to get that thrill..he was without his father from about 8 years old.he appeared to display two personalities, one very excitable and the other almost manic depressive..i later realised that he had been in and out of relationships all his life since a teenager and had a very strong willingness to please mummy or for me to do things like his mother. although devasted by the outcome of this, i am now more at peace with it all…..hope he finds help one day!…

Maricela Castaneda April 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

Wow! This is so my boyfriend.. We’ve been together for nine years and he still is unable to commit. He has been a womanizer and he can never follow through with anything. I’ve been trying to fix him all these years but I’ve realized that I can’t. The article was very informative unfortunately I’m still working on letting go!

Pete July 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I read your article for the second time. The first time I was still with my wife and also my lover. When my wife showed it to me I thought this is a bit like me but I’m not so much like that. Here I am two months later and I left my wife to be with my lover. As soon as we were together I sabotaged it and she couldn’t bear it and left. She has since described how painful our relationship was for her and my complete self obsession. She is now with another man. I am in the depths of my grief. So, I read it for the second time today and yes, I am a puer. I AM A PUER, no doubt and I want to change. I started working at the best job I ever had 6 months ago. Over the last few weeks I have considered giving it up or transferring to another team- basically finding fault either with the job or with myself and my ability to manage the commitment. It is staggering to read something that describes me so much. I do want to change. One thing is to stick at my job and work at it and overcome the resistance in me, my anxieties and fears about staying with the uncomfortableness. The other thing is that I don’t plug the gap that I am feeling by getting another woman. That is a strong pull. My deep grief is taking me into a terrible loneliness that feels like it comes from childhood. I need to feel that and not keep avoiding it as I have been doing all my life. Thank you.

Tony June 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Thank you for posting this astoundingly accurate description of myself. I have read other articles on the puer but none so clear and bell-ringing as this one. At the age of fifty-seven, this article has given me tremendous courage to take full responsibility for the emotional devastation I am now experiencing in my life and have left behind with all my partners and the dear ones in my life who were swept into the current of my extreme narcissism, my inability to commit and a complete rejection of all boundaries and limits. Coming to this realization has brought about deep sadness and self loathing but it has also made it abundantly clear why I am so unbelievably lonely and isolated from the ones I love and from my community. Knowing this now is a gift and I can now see the path to reclaiming my masculinity and an ability to truly commit to being out here in the real world with the ones I love and with my community.

Line for line in this article I can mark off the puer characteristics in me and can all too easily come to the stark realization that I am indeed a puer and have been since childhood. When I was five years old my father had a complete psychotic break with reality, became violent and ultimately had to be committed to a state hospital in the early 1960s. He was given every treatment possible including electroshock therapy and he never returned home. He left my mother with eleven kids to take care of, three boys and eight girls. Now, looking back, I see that I in fact became a mama’s boy, put her on a goddess pedestal and have proceeded to put the women in my life right up there with her. Needless to say, all my past relationships and current attempts to establish a relationship have failed because I have not been able to commit and live in the real world of hard work and most of all, in the world of decay and aging.

This article is a gift. I am an artist and I can now focus on the positive side of the puer, my willingness to begin anew, take risks, my spontaneity, my creativity, my childlikeness and I know I can do this all consciously and ethically, with grace and ease and truly make a difference in this world.

Thank you, Peter.

F. Kle March 19, 2016 at 4:57 am

Dear Dr Peter,

Thank you for that great article !

Unfortunately your article is a astoundingly accurate description of myself

I´m wondering if you could recommend a book about Puer Aeturnus Complex TREATMENT.

Since I do not have financial conditions to pay a psychologist, I have to try it by myself.

Best regards


Peter Milhado PHD March 19, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Read Hillman. And vonfranz

Gabor Lisztes May 14, 2016 at 7:33 am

Dear Peter. Somehow — probably unconsciously — you have given a quite precise description of Enneagram type Seven …
Best regards, Gabor

Tanya September 30, 2016 at 11:22 pm

This article is a perfect description of my most recent relationship. I thought that some version of anti-social personality disorder covered it but indeed the attachment to mother and the extreme immaturity mingled together to create a partner that I had a great deal of trouble understanding. It has brought me great comfort to read this article and to understand that these many character traits fit together harmoniously. Just as importantly I am intrigued by the implications of allowing myself to be in a relationship with such an individual. Indeed I hadn’t felt that young well ever… Not even when I was in my twenties. My ex-boyfriend brought out A Whimsy and a newness from my psyche that I didn’t even recognize. Unfortunately it was accompanied by womanizing an inability to be responsible or attend to conflict and most of the other traits listed in this article. I am in a great deal of pain as I am trying still to leave him behind knowing that his ways are harmful and antithetical to any sort of normal adult relationship. I fear I will always love him as I do now.

paul miller October 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Great article.

Totally on point.

What do your prescribe to one who suffers tom this.

Namely … ME.

rafael October 15, 2016 at 11:28 am

is there a female equivalent?

Peter Milhado PHD October 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm


lucyx October 27, 2016 at 7:51 am

Dear dr. Mildaho

I am (supposed to be) a woman, however, as some say, I just keep being a girl. Your description of this Puer Aeturnus, certainly hit me right on the spot. I have been depressed, wondering, questioning, contemplating on why, do I just keep failing myself and everyone or everything around me. I am always alone. I do have “friends” (coleagues, classmates, etc), but I can never feel any connection with other people. I never have a boyfriend because I just don’t feel like loving. I cannot see or desire any future, no plan, no career expectation. I cannot do long term work and just keep changing. I perform terribly at college and graduated miserably. I find a job related to my study at college, but then I got fired (just recently), for my inconsistency, unmotivated behaviour, high tendency of mood swings, procrastination, and slacking, but to recap its all IRRESPONSIBILITY and fear od COMMITTING to my job. And so I feel the need look back at what I’ve made of myself. I see that all this time, I have always been avoiding responsibilities, avoiding to look straight back at reality. I do have narsistic tendency, most times I look too high on myself. Yes, I am unconfident and thus results in anxiety. I took online personality test (lol), and one of the tendencies detected by this test was “Peter Pan complex”, well I’ve never heard about it before, so I looked up and stumble upon this good article of yours.

It is true, I almost have no parents. Well what I mean is, they are alive, we are a family of five living together and they (mostly just mom though) provided me with shelter, food, education, and whatnot. But they were just never there, especially dad (well he even refused to feed and school his children). And one time, when I was still in highschool, mom told me that she found dad cheating with the maid (hah, classic). He gave her what he never give his own children, attention, financial needs, support etc. I stayed calm upon the info, I treated it like another episode from a soap opera. Though if I’m being honest I was shaken, but I did not have the knowledge of what reaction or emotion I should give or show. (Yet I guess, my time slowly stopped) I’ve had the habit of keeping and burrying my feelings inside because the situation at home was never good even since I was only 5. I never knew that it was no good while I also never care to vent it out through any other means. Now that I’m looking back, it is necessary for me to mention that I have been having no feeling of responsibility ever since elementary school. I’m almost always late for school, but I never felt any guilt or remorse for what I did. It get worse during highschool added with hate for home, feeling like that home is hell, for everyday. But again, I burry those feelings.

I get to a college far from home, a prestigious one at my country. thinking that everything will get by from then. But there, everything blew up, those vented feelings break loose, I got worse, I felt another hell, but this time, inside me. I skipped classes, woke up late, missed assignments, unfocused, impulsive, uncommitted to the study I took, had nightmares (those that make you sad and exhausted when you wake up), and prayed to God almost daily to just take my life. I knew that I was being extremely pathetic. It was just black, no past, no future, a veil between me and the world, and beaten with baseball bats from every side. I tried seeking help, on my initiative I visited psychologist. It helped a little, but they never explain whats wrong, only said things like I got to stay positive, or something on that line.

One time I went hiking with 4 classmates. We employ a guide since it was our first time and the mountain was quite high. This guide asked me “do you still have parents?” I said “yea, they’re in *my hometown*. Why?”, he said “Nothing, you just look like you have no parents”. I didn’t really know what I got to do with this Information, so I just said “oh”. I strugled to graduate, then graduated out of pity. I was disappointed in me, but again I burried my feelings (do I ever learn!). Took a job oportunity without future plans, just to get by at the time being. Then failed again. Certainly, I got depressed.

Yet, it is as the proverb say, “every cloud has a silver lining”. I encounter this article.

I thank you, for giving me, and hopefully other people like me, a HOPE. A perspective that strike a silver lining in this heavy dark cloud of mine. The key sentence for me is “to harness this energy consciously and ethically”. I do, plan to start anew (it was spontaneous and a bit reckless, but I’m learning from past mistakes to prepare myself better and plan ahead). Hopefully this will go well. Its a hard way, and possibly long and tiring, but I will strive and never give up. As even though I’ve made so many mistakes that lead to failure up until now, I’m still not giving up to get BETTER.

It was my mistake that I turned up this way. You know many people fought the destruction and get their way. I succumbed into self pity.

I am fixing it! I will live!

with regards

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