I found in this blog post the following definition :

Psychologists have a concept they call “provisional living.” That’s the insistence, so often heard from people whose lives are stuck on a dysfunctional merry-go-round of self-inflicted crisis, that everything they don’t like about their lives will change just as soon as something else happens: as soon as they lose twenty pounds, get a divorce, quit their lousy job, or what have you. Of course the weight never goes away, the divorce papers never get filed, and so on, because the point of the exercise is to allow daydreams of an imaginary life in which they get everything they think they want take the place of the hard work and hard choices inseparable from personal change in the real world.

Searching on the web or in Google Books I didn't find a definition of provisional living.

I found on a blog a similar definition as the above in this blog post:

Psychologists sometimes call this ‘provisional living’, whereby you tell yourself that you’ll truly come alive, truly be fulfilled and optimally creative when you’ve moved, married, divorced, retired or whatever. So much of our culture is based on it, it’s hard to resist. When the mortgage is paid then you’ll really be free, when you move to the country, when you no longer have to earn a living, when, when, when…and then of course you die.

I found a reference of provisional living linking it with the passage ritual also in the book Close Relationships : Family, Friendship, Marriage Studies in Jungian Psychology By Jungian Analysts by Bertine, Eleanor:

To overcome the father and the mother is to take up the responsibilities of adulthood, to sacrifice provisional living. Then life will surely become harder and more problematic, but potentially more meaningful. It is a momentous step, so much so that primitive peoples, who are close to the unconscious and its eternal laws, celebrate the transition by the always serious and sometimes rather grim rites of initiation.

I was not able to find a definition in a psychology dictionary or anywhere.

What is the source of this concept? Is it used in psychology and is there a equivalent term that is more used?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to cogsci.SE! Great first question. $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Oct 1, 2014 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Krysta Thanks for your welcome and support, after posting the question I was curious and researched further and tried and wrote an answer. I will still wait for a more erudite answer though. $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2014 at 18:12

3 Answers 3


The English Analytical Psychologist H. G. Baynes first described the provisional life in a chapter of his book "Analytical Psychology and the English Mind". For a good comprehensive description see http://web.archive.org/web/20150403145822/http://jungiancenter.org/essay/jung-provisional-life

The Provisional Life. The dictionary defines “provisional” as “for the time being; temporary; conditional.” Something “provisional” is not lasting. It depends—on conditions, situations, people doing specific things. It is uncertain, more or less up in the air. Given a particular set of circumstances, a committee makes a “provisional” recommendation, in the understanding that things could change. A man undertakes a course of action, provided certain conditions are met. The essence of the word is transience. In Jungian psychology the concept of “provisional life” embodies the transient nature of “provisional.” The English Jungian analyst H.G. Baynes coined the term “provisional life,” and regarded it as a form of neurosis, for its resistance to living responsibly in temporal reality. The Jungian analyst, James Hollis, described the “provisional life” as an “…assemblage of behaviors, attitudes and reflexive strategies [that] constitutes our ‘false self,’…” Jung himself described the provisional life as “… the modern European disease of the merely imaginary life,…” Daryl Sharp provides a succinct definition in his C.G. Jung Lexicon: “A term used to describe an attitude toward life that is more or less imaginary, not rooted in the here and now, commonly associated with puer psychology.”


After searching a bit more on the Internet I found that the more used term is provisional life not "provisional living" and found a definition in a Jungian lexicon:

Provisional life A term used to describe an attitude toward life that is more or less imaginary, not rooted in the here and now, commonly associated with puer psychology.

Acordin to the same Jungian lexicon:

Puer aeternus. Latin for "eternal child," used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level, usually coupled with too great a dependence on the mother.[The term puella is used when referring to a woman, though one might also speak of a puer animus-or a puella anima.]

So the term provisional life is told to be coined and used by Jung and is associated with the Puer Psychology and the Peter Pan Syndrome.

Psychologist Dan Kiley, defined 'Peter Pan Syndrome' in 1983 and it seems it is a real social issue according to an article based on this article hosted by University of Granada :

The 'Peter Pan Syndrome' affects people who do not want or feel unable to grow up, people with the body of an adult but the mind of a child. The syndrome is not currently considered a psychopathology. However, an increasingly larger number of adults are presenting emotionally immature behaviors in Western society.

Wikipedia has also some informative article on puer psychology.

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    $\begingroup$ If puer aternis is the result of having an inadequate father it might be self perpetuing The puer will himself become an inadequate father if he has children particularly a son $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2021 at 11:48

the modern European disease of the merely imaginary life, the "provisional life" as I usually call it.

To Count Hermann Keyserling 30 August 1931

Dear Count,

Best thanks for your MS. I have read it with great interest and find your description of earthbound dying perfectly correct, as well as of primitivity. Will you write a chapter on South American “spirituality?” I am sure you will find striking proofs of the primitiveness of the South American mentality.

At all events you have stressed the importance of personal experience in your chapter on death. This seems to me rather to contradict what you said in your letter about wanting to leave out the personal aspect. The totality of life and experience can be attained only by including the personal, otherwise we succumb to the modern European disease of the merely imaginary life, the "provisional life" as I usually call it.

Unfortunately I shall be away from Zurich until the end of September, as I still have some work to do which allows of no disturbances.

I am glad to hear that your health is better. No doubt giving concrete shape to the turmoil in your unconscious has done much to calm your nervous system and will do so still more in the future if not counteracted too much by adverse circumstances. With best wishes and greetings,

Yours sincerely, C. G. Jung

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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide some background info and sources to your answer? What is this letter, what does it say and how does it target the question? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 14, 2023 at 13:20

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