What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?
First, it should be stated that the so-called ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ is not an official psychiatric term and will not be found in the DSM (diagnostic statistical manual). However, many psychologists find it a useful concept and I include reference to it on this site as it shares many elements in common with borderline personality disorder, or BPD (click here to read my article on BPD and its relationship to childhood trauma), and both conditions are linked to adverse childhood experiences.
The Jungian Concept Of ‘Puer Aeternus’
One of the Jungian personality archetypes (basic personality types that the psychologist Carl Jung described in his theories) was the PUER AETERNUS (Latin for ‘eternal boy’) and this idea is closely linked to the concept of the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome.’ However, the term ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ was first made popular when it was used in the title of a book on psychology by Dr Dan Kiley : ‘The Peter Pan Syndrome – Men Who Never Grow Up.’
Perhaps the best known person in modern popular culture who was frequently described as suffering from a ‘Peter Pan Complex’ was Michael Jackson, the details of whose life are too well known to warrant repeating here.
The main features commonly described as being associated with individuals with the complex are as follows:
– avoidance of adult responsibilities as far as possible
– a preference for living in a fantasy world/in own head, rather than in reality (another famous person who says he prefers doing this and who has also been described as something of a perpetual adolescent is the American writer/director/actor Woody Allen)
Above : Woody Allen, who has said he much prefers fantasy to reality, next to his statue.
– possessing an attitude of ‘entitlement ‘(ie the belief that ‘the world owes them a living.’)
– tendency to lack any real direction in life
– tendency to put in the minimum of effort in order to get by
– prone to tantrums/tendency to employ negative behaviour to get attention/own way
– hedonistic/will tend to prioritize gaining pleasure and instant gratification over behaving responsibly and achieving long-term goals (a sort of ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ attitude)
– tendency to live in the past/romanticize and idealize the past rather than look to the future
– tendency to have employment problems/difficulties in staying in jobs for long due to lack of responsibility/lack of long-term planning/resentment of having to actually work for a living etc
– tendency to seek pleasure irrespective (up to a point) of moral considerations
– emotionally stunted/trapped in an adolescent mentality (click here to read my article on ARRESTED EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND AGE REGRESSION)
– tendency to deal with problems by what has been termed ‘PRIMITIVE DENIAL’, a kind of ‘if I don’t think about it, the problem doesn’t exist’ attitude, and/or to blot out problems with drink and/or drugs (psychologists refer to this as ‘DISSOCIATION’; click here to read my article on this)
– a tendency to perpetually blame others for own problems
– a strong need to ‘belong’
– high sensitivity to rejection
– high level of emotional vulnerability/lacks the necessary skills to protect own feelings – therefore easily hurt
– tends to have fragile self-esteem and is prone to react with rage when feels it is under threat
INDIVIDUALS WITH ‘PETER PAN SYNDROME’ IN LATER LIFE :
In later life, often around middle-age, such individuals may suddenly change when hit by the reality that it is not usually possible to just sail through life and have everything go your way. As a result, these individuals may suddenly feel overcome by a sense of guilt due to having wasted their talents, and, consequently, become DRIVEN TO ACHIEVE AS A FORM OF OVER-COMPENSATION FOR THEIR EARLIER LACK OF APPLICATION – this can , for some, lead to a dramatic kind of social/vocational ‘come-back,’ although, for others, it can, sadly, be too late.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).