Leaving Home

The American Express advertisement admonishing “American Express: don’t leave home without it!” is familiar to most Americans. The implication is that a person can leave home ill prepared. And we know that this is true.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write about leave-taking and how a person can take her leave in an archetypal way, and also about how leave-taking can go badly wrong. I’ve also wanted to write about whether leave-taking gone wrong can be righted, and if so, how and under what sorts of circumstances.


At the risk of over-simplifying what is in actuality a long and arduous process, let me state that in addition to healthy developmental leave-taking, which at its best is a perilous process, there are the less desirable processes of leaving too soon, too late, or not at all.

One can turn to a large variety of literary sources for archetypal myths of leave-taking. The Bible’s story of the Garden of Eden, the sin of Adam and Eve, and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden illustrates one kind of leaving. But even prior to the expulsion, we have the creation story undergirding the Biblical idea of marriage as a process of leaving and cleaving, for upon being united to his wife, Adam said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Using psychological theories of human development, and most particularly Jungian theories of individuation, one could teach a great deal from these two stories alone.

But one needn’t stop at the Bible or even use it at all to find a multitude of leaving-and-cleaving tales, or of tales of leaving gone awry. Tales from the brothers Grimm such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Hansel and Gretel provide helpful examples from which we can (and will) learn.


Human development itself provides archetypal ways of understanding what appears to be a straightforward physiological process: growing up. Children move from infancy to toddlerhood, to early childhood and on to adolescence and adulthood by circumnavigating a predictable developmental sequence. Similarly, Jung and other analytical psychologists theorized that the process of individuation is also predictable. I’d like to take a look at just how predictable the process is, and how it can go wrong, by beginning with a decidedly non-Jungian theorist, Melanie Klein.

Klein’s theory of object relations is as good as any (and better than most) for usefulness at understanding psychic processes, so I will refer the reader to her theory and also mention that the Attachment Theory that has become so prevalent in the adoption and child welfare literature (and not without cause) has been a logical outgrowth of object-relations theory.


The examples I could give of misshapen leave-takings by orphans and others whose developmental needs for safety, containment and nurturance were simply stolen from them are too many to recount here. One common thread that runs through so many of the wrong sorts of leave-taking is that they often occur between adolescents and their parents, though. The perfect child goes wrong somewhere along the way, becomes the “identified patient” (the one everyone points the finger at for being the root cause of the family’s problems), and is unceremoniously ditched by the parents whose own lack of individuation has been projected onto their own now inconveniently large and uncontrollable offspring, who then becomes some friend’s couch-surfing albatross.

And good riddance, the parents say.

But their own comeuppance is coming soon enough, as they enter late middle age and old age and wake up to find themselves singing Cat’s in the Cradle.

10 responses to “Leaving Home”

  1. daniela Avatar

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly suppose this website needs way more consideration. Ill probably be again to learn way more, thanks for that info.

  2. Henitsirk Avatar

    I read “Hansel and Gretel” to my daughter when she was too young for it, and it clearly disturbed her. Not ready for leaving home and getting lost in the forest, or having mama die, or having an evil stepmother and hapless father abandon her!

  3. Eve Avatar

    Elizabeth, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in Jung and came across some ideas about narcissism recently. What I read was that narcissism as a disorder derives from being stuck in the containment stage of individuation. That is, the person is pretty much stuck in childhood. They never (probably) received the containing they needed, and now they’re stuck in that vast, gaping universe of always being needy. I’m reminded of the children’s book, “More, More, More Said the Baby!”

    The narcissist has needs that simply drive her to insist that others do nothing but serve her, meet her needs, admire, nurture, and even worship her. Criticism is not allowed!

    This is a person whose life is an open wound. Though they act like King Baby, they are much like the Queen of Heart’s baby in Alice in Wonderland, a huge bawling mass of humanity whose needs have never been met and now cannot be met unconditionally in adulthood because they are, well… adults!

    The world outside isn’t set up to meet their childish needs that weren’t met during childhood. And so they try and try and try to get them met, without any hope of actually ever getting them met.

    It seems impossible to me that a parent would seek to have a child meet their needs, but it happens all the time, as I’m sure you can attest to. A part of me thinks that narcissists are the worst kind of personality disorder, because in some ways they don’t seem as crazy as those with other disorders (if that makes sense). It can be tricky, dealing with someone with NPD.

    Anyway, just some thoughts on narcissism. On the one hand I feel so much compassion for people who are that way. They’ve never had what they needed, and they then passed on that same curse to their children. On the other hand, they are the parents, darn it! You didn’t deserve to be an object to satisfy their desires, either.

    Thank God there is a God who can “give back the years the locust has eaten.” Elizabeth, I really think you are a hero. You’ve lost so much and yet, you’re strong and beautiful.

  4. Eve Avatar

    Ruth, I have to agree that leaving well is such a blessing; not everyone gets that (perhaps not most!), and so if we’ve been able to leave with any amount of grace and well-being, it’s a gift these days.

    I hope your friend visits and finds me hospitable. And I also hope s/he was forewarned that I run with scissors.

  5. Elizabeth Avatar

    Eve I gasped when I read the quote above because a few years ago I said to my mother “You reap what you sow” and she flew into a narcissistic rage.

    I’m trying to remember the context. I think she was ranting about me not giving her any grand-children, and that was my reply.

  6. MommaRuth Avatar

    Eve, I have never considered that a home leaving blessing is indeed, a blessing. Of course, now that you mention it, it is an awesome and powerful thing.
    I think of my friend who left/got thrown out. She is my age (30ish), and stuggles so profoundly. I am so very proud of her and her continued struggle to find her inner hearth and home. I pointed her to you blog. I’m sure she will find something of help.
    Thanks for writting from your heart.

  7. Eve Avatar

    Deb, I’m going to try to follow this thread of leaving out to wherever it wants to go, so am not really sure as I type this exactly where that will be. This is one of those subjects I’ve thought about a great deal but written very little about, so it feels like going through a cave and groping to find one’s way along the dank walls.

    Well, maybe not quite so dark, but certainly a subject I want to take some care with.

    I hope you don’t judge yourself prematurely. I hope that there’s something useful in each article that we can all think about for whatever gift or insight there is for us as individuals. Not to overplay it or anything, because I don’t actually have an end in mind. I’m following this idea along even though I don’t normally like to write that way. Normally I don’t start writing until I know where I’m going.

    But, ah, where’s the archetypal Quest journey in THAT?! Hah.

    So try not to judge yourself prematurely and also not to expect profundity from me at this point. For all I know, this thing unfolding inside me is more of a Mickey Mouse cartoon than a meaningful commentary on leaving home. ;o)

  8. Eve Avatar

    Elizabeth, death comes to everyone, and it’s a solitary journey. There’s always that for your parents. And then there is old age for most of us, the great leveler and the great giver of come-uppances. I’ve always liked the way this Bible verse reads, the way it sounds when you rad it out loud: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap.”

    Read that out loud a few times and let me know how it resonates with regard to your parents.

    (The down side is that it resonates for everyone; and puts us in a sort of a bind, doesn’t it, when we think about comeuppances…!)

  9. deb Avatar

    We kicked our son out at age seventeen, something I would not do now, knowing what I now know. But at the time I had a very young, very demanding handicapped daughter to care for. At the time I did what I thought was best, partly I can see now, because I didn’t know any better. Leaving my own parents involved me running from their home as fast as I could because my parents, I don’t know how to explain my parents. My parents were both neglectful and over controlling at the same time. I was allowed a great deal of freedom growing up, with regards to reading and education but the rest of my life was tightly controlled.

    But I didn’t know how to leave home gracefully and my parents didn’t know how to let me go either. I moved out while they were away on holidays to avoid the drama that would ensue once they got home. And there was drama. It happened again a few years later when I packed up my young son and moved to another city. The weeping, the yelling, it was awful. Living with my parents was awful and I wanted to get away from that in the worst way.

    Needless to say, I brought the drama along with me. What else could I do? It’s all I knew. I carried that drama on for years, only letting it go recently. My children all suffered for it, especially my son. Even writing this my stomach knots up and I start to cry. My love for my son, for all of my children, has not diminished one bit since the day they were born.

    I’m looking forward to some advice on how to finish launching myself and how to be in my son’s life again. I’m thinking the whole leaving my husband smacks a little of reliving my adolescence now that I think of it. As for my son, I miss him. He comes and goes but I miss him.

  10. Elizabeth Avatar

    Well I’ll be reading with great interest. I’d like to think that my “parents” will get their “comeuppance” but thus far that only seems like a pipe dream.

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