Peter Pan Syndrome

We all have to find a way to grow up.  People who have Peter Pan syndrome haven’t worked out how to.  Something in the process of the development of their personality and psychology has stalled or hasn’t been triggered, and the consequence is that there is a failure to develop and mature. 

Instead, the person’s development stops, and this is sometimes described as Peter Pan syndrome after JM Barrie’s story of the boy who would not grow up.

What does Peter Pan Syndrome look like?

The first impression when you meet someone with Peter Pan syndrome might be of their energy, youth, and vitality. 

They can come across as attractive, cutting through the sense of convention with their unusual charm.  It is easy to become caught up by them. 

Someone who has Peter Pan syndrome will likely be very engaging, you may quickly feel yourself swept up into an exciting love affair.  Or caught up in behaviour that isn’t typical of you.  This will likely involve breaking of rules, pushing boundaries, taking risks in ways that you would not normally do. 

You need to be careful around people with Peter Pan syndrome, they might be great company in the short-term but longer-term there will likely be problems.

Peter Pan syndrome – charming and magnetising

People who have these characteristics will have a real magnetism to them, the problem is that beyond the surface charm and promise is an emptiness. This may also be coupled with economic hopelessness and a lack of basic skills.

Peter Pan syndrome isn’t a recognised psychological condition

Peter Pan syndrome isn’t listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), it is a term that was coined by psychologist Dan Kiley. Kiley also wrote about Wendy syndrome to describe women who act like mother’s to their partners. 

Women who deal with the things that their Peter Pans can’t deal with.  In this way we are talking about an unhealthy codependent way of relating.

Are you dating someone with Peter Pan syndrome?

If you are dating someone who fits this Peter Pan description, once the initial honeymoon has worn off you will find yourself wondering what you have been caught up in?

  • procrastinating
  • failures to plan
  • lack of follow-through and getting things done
  • problems with ordinary adult responsibilities
  • someone who refuses to work
  • all of the dreams you bought into will stay tantalisingly out of reach

Peter Pan syndrome describes people who (just like in JM Barry’s story) do not know how to grow up, they refuse to grow.  They are caught up in, and suffering from, a prolonged state of adolescence.  

Leaving Neverland, Michael Jackson and Peter Pan syndrome

Leaving Neverland’ Dan Reed’s extraordinary documentary about Michael Jackson (2019), put the spotlight on sexual abuse and the grooming of young children. Jackson brought a particular grotesque twist to the idea of the lost boys who became seduced by his overpowering celebrity, charm, and devotion, and then found themselves caught in the dark sexual world of Jackson’s Neverland ranch with Peter Pan’s deadly alter ego.

The film portrays an extremely perverse meeting of Peter Pan syndrome and sexual abuse.

  • The term Manolescent is sometimes used to describe dating someone who is boyishly charming, but not an adult

People who are in the grip of Peter Pan syndrome don’t know how to develop, they become stressed and have an avoidant style of relating.

Rather than work out how to mature, they avoid conflict, they withdraw and escape into their own worlds and daydreams.  They may have problems dealing with and managing money.

They have the body of an adult but the mind of an adolescent. They simply don’t know how to grow up.

Before Dan Kiley, Carl Jung had studied this type of personality. Jung wrote about this character type under the heading puer aeternus, a name Jung took from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Jung used the term to describe a man who is identified with adolescent psychology, characteristics that are ordinary in a youth of eighteen but not in an adult.

  • Never growing up
  • Problems engaging with work
  • Commitment issues
  • Drugs, gambling, addictive behaviours

Drawing on Jung’s work we can link Peter Pan syndrome with the denial of the shadow.

There is a one-sided quality that goes with Peter Pan syndrome which can be understood as a failure to integrate the shadow.  In the Disney film Peter Pan’s shadow is detached from Peter, and Wendy sows it back on.  The challenge for real life Peter Pan’s is how to realise and integrate the shadow part of the personality.

We might all be tempted to see only the parts of ourselves that we want to see.  The shadow represents our more inferior aspects.  The part of us that is hard to see, less defined and hence; shadowy.

  • But, and this is crucial, when we are prepared to engage with these shadow parts of ourselves we are richer for it.  We develop and mature and emerge from Peter Pan syndrome to become adults. 

Psychotherapy and dealing with Peter Pan syndrome

Psychotherapy offers a unique place in which you can work on integrating these shadowy aspects of your personality that you might otherwise fail to engage with.  Psychotherapy offers a professional and confidential relationship in which these more unconscious parts of the self can be integrated.

Recognising that you may have Peter Pan syndrome can become the start of working on yourself, and establishing an ongoing and mature relationship with yourself.

Contact me

I have twenty years experience of working with people who, for whatever reason, may have become stuck and had problems developing and maturing.

Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting is helpful, it may be the beginning of starting to develop greater insight into yourself and your situation. 

  • It may provide you with the chance to free yourself from the stage of development you have become stuck in.
  • It may help you to develop and to create better and more satisfying emotional relationships.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.