Peter Pan Syndrome is a disorder in which individuals are unable to grow into maturity. While they physically grow up, they continue to hold onto childhood tendencies instead of taking on adult responsibilities.
People with this syndrome are essentially stuck in their childlike ways and refuse to grow up. A psychologist Dan Kiley, who published a book in 1983 called “The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up,” first popularized this term.
Peter Pan Syndrome, also known as “Peter Pan Complex” or “Failure to Launch Syndrome,” is not clinically diagnosable in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5); however, published evidence supports this condition that people struggle with. It is often exhibited by males but is not exclusive to men.
Forte Strong is a nation life coaching, therapy, and independent living program dedicated to treating men with Peter Pan Syndrome and a variety of other challenges that contribute to it. Coaches and therapists in the program have also treated men for social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, depression impulsivity, defiance, ADHD, low self-esteem, video game addiction, and other dependency issues that hold them back.
Labeling someone as “Peter Pan”
You may know someone who exhibits signs of not having a desire to grow up. You may notice it with a co-worker, a friend or a loved one. You should first understand what you mean when you describe someone with Peter Pan Syndrome. The following are a few example questions that may resonate with you if you have someone in your life who you believe has the disorder.
Are you frustrated by his lack of emotional, social and mental development?
Do you feel that the attribute that you initially found attractive in your partner is now causing you to feel like he’s not responsible enough, such as a laid-back and fun-loving personality?
Do you feel like sometimes you are talking to a teenager rather than a grown-up when you having a conversation with them about their feelings or future?
Do you find their behavior to be immature, irresponsible and unreliable?
Do they have child-like reactions to things you say about their behavior, and you feel like you have to work extra hard to then comfort them?
Signs and symptoms of Peter Pan Syndrome
Symptoms of the disorder include behaviors you may expect from a child, and when confronted, the individual may be resistant and deny the behavior.
Due to the fact that it’s not clinically defined as a disorder, it may be hard to define someone with this disorder. Not everyone who exhibits one or a few of these behaviors will have Peter Pan Syndrome. It’s important to seek professional help if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone you love to determine the root of the behaviors you note.
The following are potential symptoms of Peter Pan Syndrome:
Low motivation/lack of interest in work
Substance abuse (drugs or alcohol)
Lack of accountability and blaming others
The expectation for others to take care of them
Refuses to take constructive criticism
Struggles to get or keep jobs
Cannot manage finances on their own
Refuses to leave their childhood home
Prioritizes fun activities over adult responsibilities
Befriending children instead of individuals their age
The following are possible causes of the disorder:
Parents who allow their children to do whatever they choose to with minimal consequences are known as a permissive parenting style. It involves a lack of boundaries, expectations and rules. It leads to children yielding an entitled and unrealistic mentality when entering adulthood.
On the other end of the spectrum is being too overprotective of your children. “Helicopter parenting,” as it is more popularly known, implies to children that the outside world is dangerous and they shouldn’t venture it alone. Children who grow up in a household like this may become overly attached and insecure; they may not develop the mentality or skills they need for a successful transition into adulthood.
Individuals who struggle with anxiety can have a more difficult time transitioning to adulthood. They may feel like they are left to fend for themselves to tackle life decisions, support themselves and others, and commit to employment. It can be more difficult for a person who struggles with anxiety to venture adulthood on their own, especially if the individual starts exhibiting these feelings near the end of adolescence.
Individuals who feel lonely by being forced into adulthood can lead them to regress into an earlier stage of life (childhood) in an effort to feel supported and loved again. It can be similar to feelings of anxiety that makes the individual want to avoid adult responsibilities and remain in their childlike ways for longer.
Fear of commitment
It is common for individuals with Peter Pan Syndrome to fear commitment, whether it be in a romantic relationship, at work or buying a home. Rather than taking chances, they choose the safe option of not committing to anything.
Individuals demonstrating narcissistic behavior believe they are entitled to “royal” treatment by others. In their minds, they are the only thing that matters, and they will manipulate others to get what they believe they deserve.
Peter Pan Syndrome only continues if another person, most likely loved ones, enable the behavior of the individual. By allowing their irresponsible and childish behavior to continue, the individual gets stuck in their ways.
Mental health diagnosis
The legal age for becoming an adult and leaving on your own is 18 years old. If someone is not independent by then and ready to move out of their childhood home, it creates a feeling of shame. If this is gone untreated, the feeling can result in a mental health condition, possibly leading to Peter Pan Syndrome or other issues like substance abuse and addiction.
Lack of direction
Not everyone knows what they want to do when they turn 18 and are expected to leave the house and gain an education. People who feel unclear about the direction they should take may find themselves stuck in a childlike state.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has Peter Pan Syndrome, you may notice your partner will:
Neglect household chores and childcare responsibilities
Let you plan the activities and make big decisions
Show little interest in planning for the future
Show signs of emotional instability, such as not wanting to label the relationship and make a commitment
Spend money irresponsibly and have trouble with their finances
People with Peter Pan Syndrome may also struggle with work responsibilities. You may notice they:
Have a pattern of job loss due to lack of effort, tardiness, or skipping work
Make little effort to find a job
Leave jobs frequently when they feel bored, challenged, or stressed
Only take part-time jobs and have no interest in pursuing promotion opportunities
Move between fields of work instead of spending time developing a skill in one area
How to treat Peter Pan Syndrome
If you notice you or someone you love is showing signs of Peter Pan Syndrome, you should first determine the leading cause. Once you have determined this, you can decide whether to continue by yourself, seek help from loved ones, or find a therapist who can help you overcome the disorder.
An individual can overcome this disorder by learning the necessary life skills they need to take care of themselves. Forte Strong is a program that can help with this.
The coaches teach the men both hard and soft skills necessary to live the rest of their lives. The men learn how to cook, clean, and do basic maintenance. They will also learn how to care for themselves by planning and cooking healthy meals, following a hygiene routine, and learning about the importance of physical fitness. The men will learn how to budget their money, find and keep jobs, and set goals.
The men learn social skills, such as how to resolve conflict and effectively communicate, and emotional skills, such as how to manage their anger and stress and regulate their emotions.
The therapists and coaches work closely with the men to discover what skills will be most helpful for them to develop.
Fort Strong uses a 5-step approach in assisting men with Peter Pan Syndrome which goes as follows:
Connects with them to encourage trust, respect, and transparency
Discover their strong behaviors and uncover the motive that drives those behaviors
Coaches them the necessary skills to be successful
Challenges them to commit and gain the experience
Repeat the steps until they gain the skills and confidence to achieve independency
If you decide to pursue a solution as a family, it is crucial to stop allowing the behavior to continue and work toward a healthier and more balanced relationship. If a parent continues to allow their grown child to live at home with them for free, with no job, no motivation to find a job, and possibly struggling with an addiction, they are enabling the behavior, and it will be more difficult to put an end to.