Peter Pan syndrome is characterized by the refusal to grow up and the desire to remain a child. It is not considered a mental illness, but rather a set of symptoms related to the anxiety of becoming an adult.
What is Peter Pan Syndrome?
The meaning of Peter Pan syndrome refers to J.M. Barrie's famous story of the little boy who never wants to grow up. Peter Pan syndrome usually appears around the age of 20 to 25 when the person is facing his or her first responsibilities.
Those who develop this syndrome are anxious about growing up and feel unable to face their responsibilities. One could say that these people, most often men, are somehow children in an adult body. Peter Pan syndrome, however, has nothing to do with intelligence, but refers to emotional maturity.
As the intellect continues to grow and mature, emotions often remain in the childhood stage. People with Peter Pan syndrome fear the transition into adulthood and cannot come to terms with what comes next - as a result, they remain with what is most familiar and comfortable to them.
1. Symptoms: The concept of Peter Pan syndrome was developed by the American psychiatrist Dan Kiley in 1983. In his book The Peter Pan Syndrome, he describes seven main warning signs that characterize those affected.
- The inability to express emotions
- Difficulty forming genuine friendships
- The refusal to assume personal or professional responsibility
- Unwillingess to motivate oneself or stay motivated
- Refusal or trouble with commitment
- A sense of anger and of guilt towards one parent, a desire to be closer to the other parent
- Sexual disorders
2. Causes: Whilst the causes aren't always concrete or clear, people with Peter Pan syndrome go directly from childhood to adulthood without feeling as though they've gone through adolescence. This is often due to early childhood trauma, such as having an absent or hard-to-please father. It is also sometimes children who have had to assume very early heavy responsibilities such as taking the role of the father in the family.
On the flipside, those who were over-nurtured throughout childhood and adolescence can also develop this syndrome. This can often lead to basic skills that are essential in continuing to adulthood not being taught or simply having been overlooked. These skills can include anything from doing laundry, to handling finances. More complex skills can include being able to recognise and communicate one's emotions or taking responsibility when a mistake has been made.
Economic hopelessness can also be a deciding factor as to whether a person suffers with Peter Pan syndrome. In this day and age, the world of economy and professionalism can be a rough road for millenials with longer hours for little pay, ever-increasing prices and vast societal changes. As a result, those with Peter Pan syndrome fall into the trap of escapism and refuse to face the real world.
3. Treatment: Peter Pan syndrome does not always cause problems or interfere too much with family or social life. In some cases, though, the Peter Pan complex can lead to relationship, social or professional problems, and can even lead to depression. Whilst the Peter Pan complex can be difficult to snap out of when a person is hard-wired by it, psychotherapy or simply counselling can be an excellent option to take the first steps in recognisng and dealing with the problem at its core.
If you're a parent or spouse of someone who is affected by this complex, you can help ease them into adulthood too. First and foremost, stop enabling their behaviour further by avoiding hand-outs and support unless they offer it to you too.
Getting rid of distractions and encouraging persistance can help your loved one improve focus and motivation, turning it into a habit in the long run. This is also where it's important to gently familiarise them with adulthood concepts and responsibility, such as applying for a job or ensuring regular household responsibilities are maintained.
Like any other complex mindset or lifestyle, it is possible to kick Peter Pan syndrome to the curb once and for all.