The Peter Pan Syndrome

Peter Pan syndrome refers to someone who does not want to enter adult life.

In J. M. Barrie’s classic 1904 play, Peter Pan is a boy who refuses to grow up. He teaches Wendy and her younger brothers how to fly and then it’s off to magical Never Never Land for adventures with mermaids, Indians, and wicked Captain Hook and his pirate crew. The play’s full title was “Peter Pan, or, The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.”

Peter Pan syndrome can affect both men and women and refers to anyone who does not want to work, take any responsibilities, and wants everyone around them to support their lifestyle. People who develop this syndrome are anxious about growing up and feel unable to face their responsibilities.

Just as Peter Pan is flying around from land to land, someone with Peter Pan syndrome flits around from non-commitment to non-commitment. They don’t want to grow up and mature, and they never get past the egocentric, narcissistic, immature phase of childhood.

The concept of Peter Pan syndrome was developed by the American psychiatrist Dan Kiley in 1983. He also used the term ‘Wendy Syndrome’ to describe women who act like mothers with their partners or people close to them.

In his book The Peter Pan Syndrome, Kiley describes seven main warning signs that characterize those affected.

  1. The inability to express emotions
  2. Procrastination
  3. Difficulty forming genuine friendships
  4. The refusal to assume personal or professional responsibility
  5. Unwillingess to motivate oneself or stay motivated
  6. Refusal or trouble with commitment
  7. A sense of anger and of guilt towards one parent, a desire to be closer to the other parent
  8. Sexual disorders

Why does it matter? Well, we can’t remain perpetual adolescents but with fewer job opportunities and with more people being financially dependent on their parents for longer, we see a lot of Peter Pans, especially men. It’s even produced its own noun – ‘manolescent’ which is a man of any age who shirks adult responsibilities.

Peter Pan syndrome is also highly visible on reality TV shows like Love Island where emotionally and socially immature adults sit around openly avoiding responsibility but are quite happy to degrade each other. That’s just not a good way of being.

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