ARCHETYPAL CLASSIFICATION OF FEMALE MADNESS

Mad Woman [1822] Eugène Delacroix

Linda Leonard, Jungian analyst, in her book Meeting the Madwoman has made a study of the different manifestations of insanity in women. In each chapter of her book, Leonard describes the portrait of a female character that exemplifies a different facet of madness in the woman she calls the ‘Madwoman.’

An archetype is a universal energy or pattern of experience in the human mind. To describe each pattern, the author takes universal examples or archetypes from literature, cinema, mythology and fairy tales; she gives testimonies of women in history who are part of our collective cultural heritage.

The women of history, Leonard writes, capture our imaginations because they have already lived through certain patterns that we may be trying to change. The characters of cinema, literature and mythology reveal the universal dynamics that we all must confront in our lives.

Leonard argues that the need to understand how our mothers can act out their madness is important, on the premise that if we don’t understand our mothers, we don’t understand ourselves.

Thus, it is necessary to understand the side of the mother that we have ignored, that we reject or that we fear, because this is the first facet that we have experienced of the feminine. The madness of our mothers is the most likely to be internalized when we are children. To some extent we cannot do more than become like our mothers.

Contemporary Western culture has repressed the psychological energy and archetype of the Madwoman. It adheres to order and control and emphasizes the repression of genuine feelings in favor of rational formulas for success. Avoid deep thought and reflection, and favor superficial, easy and quick solutions.

The Madwoman challenges all these attributes of the status quo, of the traditional patriarchal authorities — and especially challenges the ‘judge’ of our psyche, the rational, controlling part of our mind that wants to stay in power at all costs, and full-time.

Essentially, patriarchy embodies the Western principle of linear rational thought, with its emphasis on order, abstraction and judging from a higher position. On the other hand, the feminine, in the way Leonard conceives it, is part of the human dimension and is a manifestation that exists in both man and woman.

The feminine emphasizes caring, responsiveness, receptivity, and relationships. Feminine values ​​and interests center on the process of human interaction and are manifested in women and men.

The masculine emphasizes separation, autonomy, principles, rights, and hierarchy. Male insecurities arise through intimacy, while female insecurities arise through loneliness.

Traditionally, mothers are blamed for making their children sick. The mother herself is a wounded woman, potentially physically or emotionally limited, handicapped and frustrated by dysfunctional cultural conditions. Our mothers have enormous influence on the way we understand the world, since they are the first human beings on whom we depend. Their pain is transferred to their sons and daughters, for generations, until that wound is confronted and treated in a conscious way.

The stories in Linda Leonard’s book are from the point fo view of daughters — as each mother has also been a daughter.

Leonard raises the following archetypal classification of female madness:

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Bibliographic references:
Leonard L. Meeting the Madwoman: An Inner Challenge for Feminine Spirit, 1993

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Lida Prypchan

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com