What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Peter Pan Syndrome: When Adults Refuse to Grow Up — GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog

What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?

In Peter Pan, the eponymous protagonist occupies a mythical placed called Never-Never Land, where children never grow up. While people with Peter Pan syndrome can and do become adults, they are stubbornly resistant to taking on the responsibilities of adulthood and adopting social norms associated with growing older.

Peter Pan syndrome, which is sometimes called failure to launch, is not a clinical diagnosis. Indeed, it may apply to a wide range of people and symptoms, from the 40-year-old woman who chooses not to work and instead lives with her mother, to the 30-year-old man who keeps having children for whom he provides little support.

Therapy can help people who feel uncomfortable growing up understand the root of their difficulties. With patience and hard work, they can transition toward happy adulthood and establish lasting relationships.

What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Psychologist Dan Kiley coined the term Peter Pan syndrome in his 1983 book, Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. Kiley worked with troubled teenage boys. He found that many grew into adult men who struggled to accept adult responsibilities.

Some characteristics of Peter Pan syndrome might include:

  • Chronic unemployment or underemployment. An otherwise capable person may refuse to look for jobs. They may be constantly kicked jobs due to absenteeism or misbehavior.
  • Not doing one’s fair share at home. A person might get married and have children, but spend most of their days playing video games while their partner works, cleans, and tends to the children.
  • Relying on someone else to take care of financial responsibilities. A person with Peter Pan syndrome might rely on others to take care of money issues (without contributing something of value in return such as childcare).
  • Failure to launch. A person may remain at home with their parents in spite of opportunities to earn money, get a job, or move out.

Kiley claimed the refusal to grow up is a primarily male affliction. He also believed women who “mother” their male partners—a complex he dubbed the Wendy dilemma—may enable these men to continue avoiding adult responsibilities. While both men and women can refuse to grow up, most literature on Peter Pan syndrome continues to focus on men.

What Causes Peter Pan Syndrome?

Peter Pan syndrome is not a clinically recognized diagnosis, and it is a newly identified syndrome. For these reasons, little research has explored the phenomenon. Some factors that may play a role in Peter Pan syndrome include:

  • Gender roles: Women are often socialized to take on household responsibilities, do emotional labor, and care for children. This may make it easier for their male partners to abandon these duties and avoid adulthood.
  • Anxiety: Adulthood can be challenging. It’s common to feel anxious about one’s ability to get a job, earn a living, or achieve other measures of success. When a viable path to escape these responsibilities is available—such as a responsible spouse or a parent who will tend to daily chores—some people may refuse to grow up.
  • Loneliness: Psychologist Humbelina Robles Ortega suggests people with Peter Pan syndrome may fear loneliness. Thus, they continuously seek out people to care for them—usually romantic partners.
  • Fear of commitment: People with Peter Pan syndrome often have a pattern of unstable relationships. They may form relationships with progressively younger partners, who they assume will have less plans for the future and require less investment.
  • Helicopter Parenting: Ortega says overprotective parents can make their children excessively dependent. These children may fail to develop basic skills necessary for adulthood, which causes them to develop Peter Pan syndrome.
  • Mental health diagnoses: Some research suggests men with Peter Pan syndrome may have personality disorders. For example, a 1982 study argued Peter Pan syndrome is often part of a complex family system in which the male partner has a narcissistic personality and the female partner is depressed.

Having “childish” interests—such as dolls or comic books—does not cause Peter Pan syndrome. Instead, this syndrome is about a refusal to take on responsibility and form reciprocal relationships.

What Maturity Means in a Cultural Context

The meaning of adulthood and maturity varies significantly across cultures. In some cultures, people live with their families for a lifetime and show their adulthood by marrying or having children.

 In others, the hallmark of adulthood is the ability to live independently and away from one’s parents. Yet other cultures would consider living separately from one’s parents a sign of abandoning one’s duties to their family.

In other words, the hallmark of this syndrome is not necessarily any single symptom, but instead a failure to adopt common norms of adulthood.

Some young people who appear to have Peter Pan syndrome may simply be taking longer to grow up due to forces outside their control.

That said, the inability to leave home or find a spouse is not always proof that someone has Peter Pan syndrome. A person with a serious mobility impairment may need help from a caregiver to tend to daily tasks.

The same level of help for someone who is not disabled would be inappropriate.

Complex sociological and economic factors can also delay when an individual reaches certain milestones.

A 2013 people found young Americans are becoming financially independent at later ages than previous generations did.

This is due in part to a shifting job market, increasing costs of education, rising rent prices, and many other factors. Financial dependency can in turn affect other milestones such as finding a spouse.

Some young people who appear to have Peter Pan syndrome may simply be taking longer to grow up due to forces outside their control.

Financial status alone does not determine one’s maturity. Rather, adulthood is shown through a person’s willingness to work toward milestones and take responsibility for their actions.

Therapy for Peter Pan Syndrome

In many cases, an individual’s failure to grow up harms the people around them. The individual’s partner may feel overwhelmed and exhausted by taking on all household responsibilities. The person’s parents may take money from their retirement savings to continue providing material support.

Individuals with Peter Pan syndrome may not see their symptoms as problematic. Many only seek help when they lose a source of support or when their symptoms endanger their relationship. Loved ones struggling with someone else’s Peter Pan syndrome should know that drawing clear boundaries may encourage their loved one to seek help.

Family therapy or couples counseling can help an entire family understand their current dynamic. In therapy, they can address their own contributions and work toward healthier, more balanced relationships.

In individual counseling, a therapist can help a person understand their reluctance to grow up, tackle underlying factors such as trauma, and make a plan for transitioning to adulthood. Getting a job, forming a relationship, and becoming independent can feel monumental tasks. The right therapist can break these tasks down into manageable steps, helping a person steadily improve their life.


  1. Arnett, J. J., & Galambos, N. L. (2003). Culture and conceptions of adulthood. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 100, 91-98. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1dd8/8dfff10bb9d61fdfa5aef2997a6c7fabbbe8.pdf
  2. Carnevale, A. P., Hanson, A. R., & Gulish, A. (2013). Failure to launch: Structural shift and the new lost generation. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED558185
  3. Overprotecting parents can lead children to develop ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’. (2007, May 03). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070501112023.htm
  4. Quadrio, C. (1982). The Peter Pan and Wendy syndrome: A marital dynamic. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 16(2), 23-28. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00048678209161187?journalCode=ianp20
  5. Thomas, R. M., Jr. (1996, February 27). Dan Kiley, 54, dies; wrote ‘Peter Pan syndrome’. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/27/us/dan-kiley-54-dies-wrote-peter-pan-syndrome.html

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Источник: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/peter-pan-syndrome-when-adults-refuse-to-grow-up-113018

What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Peter Pan Syndrome was coined in 1983 by Dr. Dan Kiley, in his book, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who have Never Grown Up. This “syndrome” is not a recognized disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM 5, but rather is a collection of symptoms recognized by Dr. Kiley.

Dr. Kiley refers to the “victim” of this syndrome as a man-child. He states, “The man wants your love; the child wants your pity. The man yearns to be close; the child is afraid to be touched. If you look past his pride, you’ll see his vulnerability. If you defy his boldness, you’ll feel his fear.” (Kiley, 1983).

Peter Pan Syndrome has origins in Greek mythology and is referred to as the archetype of the eternal child by Carl Jung.

Though Dr. Dan Kiley was the first to popularize this phenomenon in 1983, Carl Jung and other post-Jungian psychologists had written about the puer aeternus (Latin for “eternal child”) as an archetype—a recurrent symbol or motif in mythology—prior to J.M. Barrie and Dr. Kiley. The name puer aeternus was first written of in Metamorphoses, the epic work by Ovid.

Examples of the puer in Greek mythology include the gods Dionysus, Eros, and Adonis.

The puer aeternus is characterized as having two poles: the positive side embodies newness, potential for growth, and hope for the future, while the negative side (what we typically think of as Peter Pan Syndrome) consists of the aforementioned man-child who refuses to grow up and meet the challenges of life head on, instead waiting for his problems to be solved for him.

There tends to be a disparity between the person’s age and their level of maturity

The term usually refers to a man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level.

This “man-child” is not incapable of functioning in society, but often is unhappy and camouflages his sadness with fun and cheerfulness, much J.M. Barrie’s character, Peter Pan. The individual has symptoms of irresponsibility, anxiety, loneliness, and immaturity in social and relational roles.

Who is most affected by Peter Pan Syndrome?

The Peter Pan Syndrome is found more often in men than women. The men who characterize these symptoms are usually single, rarely finish college or are dissatisfied with their lives though they have made some achievements. They typically come from a traditional family, where the parents have stayed together and are middle to upper class.

They were often sensitive children who received covert messages from parents over marital frustration.

Rather than clearing the air with private conversations, the parents kept their frustration bottled up until it leaked out onto the child. The child then finds themselves in the middle of marital discord.

According to Kiley (1983), the types of messages they received as children from parents include the mother/son theme of “Don’t be close to your father” and the father/son theme of “You’re mother is a weakling and you’re hurting her.” This can lead to thoughts as a child of:

“I hurt my mom because I’m my dad, who can’t stand to have me hurt Mom. Dad doesn’t love us his work because he doesn’t have feelings. Mom can’t understand me, and I make her pick on Dad. I’m supposed to protect her, but that means I have to use my feelings to do what Dad doesn’t do. To protect my dad, I have to shape up and not be him.” (Kiley, 1983)

The individual’s negative self-image becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

He believes he has the ability to hurt and/or protect his parents and to save them from emotional grief and condemns himself when he fails to do so. They are unable to realize the vicious cycle created by their negative self-image. They try to escape their emotional pain, which results in relational problems with both their mother and father (see below).

The individual’s relationship with their parents never matures and many people with this “syndrome” spend their lives trying to get close to their father without feeling panic and to pull away from their mother without feeling guilty.

They believe they have the power to save their parents from pain, but this power doesn’t exist.

Individuals with this “syndrome” are rarely self-supporting in their twenties, depending on parents or other resources. Older individuals may be financially secure, but often do not feel as though they are and tend to spend their money on their own indulgences.

What are some signs that someone has Peter Pan Syndrome?

The puer aeternus leads a provisional life due to the fear of finding themselves caught in a situation from which it might be impossible to escape.

They protect their independence and freedom, oppose boundaries and limits, and tend to find restriction intolerable. Someone with “Peter Pan Syndrome” as defined by Dr.

Dan Kiley (1983) has seven psychological traits that dominate their lives:

  1. Emotional paralysis (difficulty expressing emotions): Their emotions are not expressed in the same way they are experienced. For example, anger may present as rage, disappointment as self-pity, sadness as nervous laughter or forced cheerfulness. They may say they love or care for you, but can’t seem to express their love. It would seem that they have lost touch with their emotions and don’t know what they feel.
  2. Procrastination: These individuals tend to put things off until they are forced to do them. Their life goals are somewhat unclear or poorly defined. “I don’t know” and “I don’t care” are often the defense against criticism.
  3. Social impotence (difficulty in social situations): They cannot seem to make true friends. Seeking friends and being friendly are of more importance than deeper connections as these individuals desperately need to belong and are often lonely and afraid of being alone.
  4. Magical thinking: They tend to think things “If I don’t think about it, it will go away” or “If I think it will be different, then it will be.” This tends to be easier than admitting mistakes or taking responsibility. Individuals who fit the Peter Pan motif often blame others for their problems and try to escape their reality to make their problems disappear.
  5. Mother hang-up (problems with maternal relationship): People with this “syndrome” feel ambivalence toward their mother, vacillating between anger and guilt. They want to be free of her influence, but also tend to elicit pity from their mother to get their needs met.
  6. Father hang-up (problems with paternal relationship): These individuals tend to be estranged or distant from their fathers. They long to be close, but have decided that they can never receive their father’s love and approval. This tends to lead to problems with authority figures in general.
  7. Sexual hang-up (problems in romantic relationships): These people search desperately for a partner, however their immaturity tends to drive most people away. They tend to have a fear of rejection, which causes them to hide their sensitivity behind a persona of self-confidence.

Overcoming Peter Pan Syndrome

Individuals who experience “Peter Pan Syndrome” or issues related to the puer aeternus archetype need to develop awareness around the issue to begin the work of overcoming their problems. These people tend to enter individual therapy due to anxiety, loneliness, or other symptoms of the Peter Pan Syndrome.

It is important to focus on integrating parts of the senex (Latin for “old man”) archetype into the individual’s daily life. These types of things include discipline, control, rationality, and responsibility for one’s actions. This helps to balance the opposites of the two archetypes and create a more sustainable lifestyle.

Focusing on mundane tasks with mindfulness, working toward becoming more responsible, and following through with commitments are key to becoming more aware of the problems associated with being stuck in the puer archetype.

It is beneficial for the individual to work toward distancing him- or herself from their thoughts and feelings, instead of identifying with them. In this way, one can start to ask questions such as “Is this what I really feel?” “Is this what I want?” “What are the consequences and can I live with them?” “How does what I do affect others?”

When working with finding the balance between puer and senex it is important to realize that swinging too far in one direction or the other can both have detrimental effects on one’s life.

The goal is to integrate the positive aspects of both archetypes so that the individual can live a responsible and aware life with a sense of child- wonder, rather than silencing the inner child with the inner old man (as Captain Hook would have it in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan). The truth is Peter Pan and Captain Hook need each other for their lives to be meaningful.

How should I approach this subject with someone I’m dating?

There is hope for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. It is a sensitive subject to approach with a partner. It is important to have compassion for someone who is dealing with the symptoms of “Peter Pan Syndrome” while being able to confront the issues in the relationship that are impacting them.

Remember that what you do is not as important as what you don’t do.

One should not try to “fix” their partner or tell them what they should do, but rather help lead them to possible sources of help for symptoms such as anxiety, loneliness, and social/relational problems such as a psychotherapist who specializes in these types of problems so the person can begin to take responsibility for themselves.

Want to learn more?

Here’s a great article about Peter Pan Syndrome, which I was recently quoted in.

Источник: https://drnathanbrandon.com/what-is-peter-pan-syndrome/

Know Someone Who Refuses To Grow Up? 6 Signs They Might Have Peter Pan Syndrome

What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?

You may be familiar with the story of Peter Pan, the boy who lives in a magical place called Neverland so he never has to grow up.

Despite how glorious it'd be to never have to pay a bill or schedule a doctor's appointment, these are very real things that you do as an adult.

Peter Pan avoided the responsibilities of adulthood with everything he had, and people with Peter Pan syndrome tend to do the same. 

Where the term «Peter Pan syndrome» comes from.

Named after the boy who never grew up, the term «Peter Pan syndrome» was first seen in psychoanalyst Dan Kiley's 1983 book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. The term describes the phenomenon of adults who age physically but not emotionally.

Adults with Peter Pan syndrome, also sometimes called failure-to-launch syndrome, avoid the personal and professional responsibilities of adulthood. «They just are the individuals who really don't want to grow up,» psychotherapist and relationship expert Babita Spinelli, L.P., tells mbg. «And they find adult responsibilities truly challenging.» 

Kiley may have focused on men in his research, but Peter Pan syndrome can apply to any gender. «In today's day and age, we don't have those kinds of gender stereotypes, so we really want to be more open in how we apply it,» confirms Spinelli.

Peter Pan syndrome is not an official diagnosis or mental health condition recognized by the World Health Organization or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Still, it helps to put a name to the Peter Pan warning signs we may see in the people around us or in ourselves.

It's tough to tell if you or someone you know has Peter Pan syndrome since there aren't any official symptoms of it. But there are some common and, perhaps, familiar-to-you ways it shows up in life. Below are just a few of the ways Peter Pan syndrome shows up in life, and not every person who has it displays it in the same way:

1. Trouble with long-term plans.

Someone with Peter Pan syndrome may find it difficult to be in a long-term relationship, romantic or platonic. Their attachment style is anything but secure, and they may not be able to emotionally commit to someone else.

This doesn't mean that everyone who doesn't want a long-term relationship has this syndrome.

But if the fear of taking on the responsibility of a healthy relationship or not wanting to grow is the reason for a breakup, then maybe.

2. Relying on other people to take care of them.

It can be second nature for someone with Peter Pan syndrome to depend on their parents or family. «They are unable to do anything that would help themselves in a meaningful way or to truly separate from their families of origin,» says child and adult psychiatrist Gauri Khurana, M.D. They enjoy other people taking care of them.

3. No interest in personal growth.

There's a general understanding that as you get older, you grow as a person. The growth can be minimal, but it's growth. But when you have Peter Pan syndrome, there's no reason to grow: You enjoy living life the way you always have and don't see anything wrong with it.

4. Difficult time making decisions.

The average person makes an estimated more than 35,000 decisions each day. You could say it's a major part of being an adult. Someone with Peter Pan syndrome may avoid this by having someone else take the lead. «Oftentimes they fear they'll be looked at negatively, and so they're in a paralysis about their decisions,» Spinelli says.

5. Tough relationship with money.

Not everyone is savvy with their money. You may only think about your finances when you're spending money or checking your accounts, but you're still thinking about it. For someone with Peter Pan syndrome, though, tracking personal finances isn't a priority. It may even be something they avoid altogether—until there is a negative balance in their account, that is. 

6. Avoiding conflict and confrontation.

Someone with Peter Pan syndrome may still have the emotional maturity of a child. So when it comes to conflict and confrontation, they avoid it as best they can, sometimes escaping into their own realities and other times storming away and locking themselves in the bedroom.

Where these traits come from.

«As a psychoanalyst, we're always sort of looking for the connection to our childhoods,» Spinelli says. «A bit of a snapshot is, of course, we go back to what was modeled by our parents.»

Say you had helicopter parents who were always around and super involved in your life. They took care of everything and tended to be a little overprotective.

They may have cheered you on and kept you safe, but they were also creating a shaky foundation for your adult self—one where you felt unsure or anxious when it came time to make a decision or do something for yourself.

(This could also be the case for those with controlling parents or snowplow parents.)

On the other end of the spectrum, say you grew up in an abusive or neglectful household where you were always shut down. «Again, you never really learned how to be an adult,» says Spinelli. The fear and insecurity you grew up with manifests into an adult who isn't sure of themselves and is afraid of doing the wrong thing. So they avoid doing anything.

And if you came from a place of economic or emotional hardship, where you never learned how to handle money or relationships, the idea of staying in a state where that stuff didn't matter so much can be appealing.

In the end, all it all comes down to is what you learned as a kid, and what your parents or guardians modeled for you. 

Most of what we see of Peter Pan syndrome on reality TV are extreme, bordering narcissistic examples. It's important to understand that these two things are not the same. They also don't always present themselves within the same person. Spinelli shares some commonalities between narcissism and Peter Pan syndrome below:

  • Failure to accept accountability
  • Blaming others
  • Prioritizing their perspectives
  • Prioritizing their desires
  • Fear of criticism

She notes that «with narcissism, there is a lack of empathy that accompanies these behaviors, which is not always the case with Peter Pan syndrome.»

How to deal with Peter Pan syndrome.

Having a child air to the way you live is a good way to relieve stress and embrace your curiosity. There are definitely upsides— living with a cheerful spontaneity and calming disposition. There's also a good chance you don't know you have Peter Pan syndrome. 

«I don't think that patients suffering from Peter Pan syndrome have the capacity to recognize that they are suffering,» Khurana tells mbg. «They have been in this situation/mindset for most of their life and don't know any different.» 

If you're aware that you have a Peter Pan thing going on:

If you've noticed your carefree lifestyle seeping into other areas of your life, causing serious issues in your relationship, work life, or general well-being, Spinelli suggests starting therapy or life coaching.

If you're with someone who has a Peter Pan thing going on:

If any of what you've read sounds someone you're in a relationship with, take a second and consider your next move. Communication can be a relationship saver: Make sure you're on the same page about how you see the relationship, where it's going, and what kind of dynamic you want between you as partners.

What you don't want to do is combat their Peter Pan tendencies, says Khurana. Being the adult to their Peter Pan may only push them further into their child disposition.

Peter Pan syndrome isn't an official diagnosis. It's more a pattern of behaviors, ideologies, and traits shared among a group of humans not yet ready to make that inevitable step into adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it. 

If you feel your relationship has a Peter Pan in it, then it may be time for a talk. Make space for curiosity and figure out about the life they've lived before you. It's better to be on the same page about your relationship than coast through it with no idea where you see it going or if your partner is capable of giving you what you want in a relationship.

Источник: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/peter-pan-syndrome

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