In psychology, Peter Pan syndrome refers to a person, mostly a man, who is unable or doesn’t want to grow up mentally and be an adult.
Although this can be observed in both men and women, more men than women are affected by this condition. People with this syndrome have the mind of a child in the body of an adult human being. Currently, this syndrome is not medically accepted or approved.
What is Peter Pan syndrome?
Created by novelist J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan refers to a fictional character who never grows up. Similarly, a person with Peter Pan syndrome is someone who doesn’t want to act and behave mature and take responsibilities appropriate for their age. The term describes someone, usually a man, who refuses to work, make commitments in life or act their age. Moreover, they expect their friends and family to support their behavior, attitude and lifestyle. However, it can be often difficult to determine who is actually suffering from it. Just because someone acts childish or acts immature doesn’t necessarily mean they have this syndrome, explains an article in BetterHelp.
This behavior was first mentioned in the book, “Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up” published in 1983 by psychoanalyst Dr. Dan Kiley. Often known as Peter Panners, people who suffer from the syndrome are very immature compared to their age. However, this is not associated with intelligence, rather with emotional maturity.
Read also: How Your Childhood Shapes Your Adult Life
Humbelina Robles Ortega, professor of the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment of the University of Granada believes the syndrome is caused by a lack of life skills and overprotective parents. She explains “It usually affects dependent people who have been overprotected by their families and haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront life.” Humbelina adds that today’s Peter Panners “see the adult world as very problematic and glorify adolescence, which is why they want to stay in that state of privilege.”
Although it is not a medically recognized condition, experts believe that this syndrome can negatively influence your quality of life and relationships.
Best-selling author Kristen Houghton, who calls this condition “manolescent”, explains “Responsibility is a bad word to them and denotes the dreaded territory known as adulthood. They live to have fun.”
She adds “Becoming an adult is a frightening prospect. After all, we become our parents in a way (no matter how much we don’t want to) by becoming responsible. With responsibility comes some sort of personal sacrifice; we do have to have a job, we do have to make car and credit card payments. We pay rent and we buy food. That’s adulthood and that’s being a responsible human being. The manolescent wants none of this to be placed in his lap. It scares him witless.”
The Wendy syndrome
Although men are most likely to experience this particular syndrome, women are more likely to “mother” their partners and enable such men to avoid all responsibilities. This phenomenon, usually experienced by women, is known as the Wendy syndrome. ‘The Wendy’ refers to someone who desperately needs to please and satisfy another person, especially her partner or children.
The Wendys often unknowingly encourage their Peter Pans to avoid responsibilities and remain immature. These women may offer unending emotional support, take decisions for the irresponsible men and clean up their messes.
In fact, according to a study, the Peter Pan and Wendy Syndrome is a type of marital dynamic. The study explains “A marital system is described which features an unfaithful and narcissistic husband, Peter Pan, and a long suffering and depressed wife, Wendy.” But that’s not all. Different characters from the fictional story may also appear in their real life relationships. The study adds “Other characters take their parts -Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Little Lost Boys. Peter’s infidelities belie a firm attachment to his Wendy/mother whilst she depends upon him for protection from forbidden impulses.”
What Peter Pan syndrome looks like
Have you ever felt that ‘adulting’ is too hard? When you just wanted to let go of all responsibilities and do whatever you feel like without worrying about your responsibilities or the consequences and repercussions. This is what life is like for Peter Panners every single day.
Here are a few common characteristics of this syndrome according to GoodTherapy:
1. Failure to launch
Someone suffering from this condition will have difficulty leaving home. They are likely to live with their parents and avoid all opportunities like having higher education or career, to move out and be their own person.