You probably know the fantastical tale of Peter Pan, Neverland, and his Lost Boys. Neverland is an indisputably magical place where Peter Pan can hang out and never worry about growing up. While it might seem like a dream to never have to pay a bill or concern yourself with any other adult responsibilities, the reality of Peter Pan Syndrome can be a true nightmare.
Dr. Dan Kiley coined the term with his 1983 book on the subject, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. [Read: Emotional immaturity – how to recognize it & help them grow up]
Essentially, Peter Pan Syndrome is used to describe the problem that some people have with adult responsibilities. They have difficulty “growing up,” so to speak.
Peter Pan Syndrome isn’t a formal diagnosis but a term used widely by mental health professionals to characterize a specific set of behaviors, some of which lean toward narcissism. These include being unable to maintain a steady job, make meaningful relationships, and accept responsibility.
Because it’s not recognized as an official disease or disorder, there isn’t a ton of definitive research about Peter Pan Syndrome.
However, mental health professionals tend to believe that the seeds for Peter Pan Syndrome are sewn during childhood, and the way that a person is parented can be the largest contributing factor.
Having parents that lean toward either the extreme side of being overprotective or permissive is a recipe for disaster when it comes to Peter Pan Syndrome. [Read: Overprotective parents – 28 signs, psychological effects, & how to deal]
Having overprotective parents can cause a general fear of the outside world, which can contribute to severe dependency issues.
Unhealthy attachments to your parents can leave you with the inability to do practically anything without their help. The insecurities brought on by that attachment will likely leave you ill-equipped to be a successful adult on your own.
On the other hand, if your parents leave you to do as you please, you’re just as at risk! Having to face almost no consequences gives a child an unrealistic basis for how they can behave outside their home. They believe that they can get away with just about anything, which causes significant issues with work and relationships later on.
Other factors believed to be linked to Peter Pan Syndrome are narcissism, high anxiety, abandonment or loneliness, and commitment issues.
Driven by a man’s incessant need not to grow up and take responsibility for both his life and his actions, the proverbial flying around from land to land is more like flying around from noncommitment to noncommitment. [Read: Fear of commitment – 47 signs, whys, & ways to get over your phobia]
If you’re concerned that your guy potentially has some Peter Pan tendencies, here are some signs to watch out for.
Peter Pan Syndrome isn’t just about not wanting to grow up. It’s about not being able to let go of the past and finding too much comfort in the things that we turned to in our youths.
Sometimes, moms are great, and it’s perfectly fine to consult them about certain things every once in a while. For the guy with the Peter Pan complex, however, mommy’s ego stroking is all he needs. She’s a safe space where he can never do any wrong. [Read: The types of guys you should stop dating if you want real love]
The man with Peter Pan Syndrome doesn’t always practice the art of paying bills. Credit scores are lost on him. Accountability almost doesn’t happen, and consequences often aren’t even real to him.
If you have a guy in your life with debt collectors calling day and night, he isn’t going to treat you any differently. He ignores all of his supposed commitments in the same manner. He takes until he can’t anymore and has no issue pretending that things don’t exist. [Read: The 15 signs of immature men so you can avoid them]
His parents’ digs are totally okay. He gets to live at home, have his meals made and his laundry folded just like he likes it, and doesn’t have to do anything for himself.
Living with your parents is completely okay under certain circumstances and to a certain extent, but if your guy is as happy as a clam being done for and doted on by mom, there might be a problem.
If he isn’t working toward being able to move out or doesn’t even contribute to household responsibilities, you might want to run.
A man with Peter Pan Syndrome can’t be bothered to settle down. Whether he’s twenty or seventy makes no difference. He lives out his wild fantasy, and there isn’t a soul that can take him away from it.
If you think that things will change when he finds the right girl, think again. It isn’t about anyone but him.
Commitment is a huge issue for any man with Peter Pan Syndrome. This stems from several things ranging from mother issues to feeling trapped. [Read: Clues a guy is just using you to play you]
He always “forgets” his wallet at home or has magically lost his debit card. He’ll use whatever excuse he can pull out of his pocket if it means you’ll foot the bill.
The odds are slim that he’ll ever pay you back, and if he does, it’ll probably be with his mom’s money!
Peter Pan’s idea of a job was hanging out with the Lost Boys and exercising his imagination when and where he wanted. Sadly, a man with Peter Pan Syndrome doesn’t stray far from that.
If you’re wondering if your guy might have Peter Pan Syndrome, look at his job history. Does he bounce from place to place because he gets bored or finds conflict with everything? Are his stints super short-lived, or can he only manage part-time work? Does he have unrealistic ambitions and absolutely no interest in doing the work to get there?
Sometimes he’s there, and sometimes he’s not. He’s inconsistent to an absolute fault and will likely never change his ways.
A man with Peter Pan Syndrome is terrified, if not incapable, of commitment. He has issues indulging in anyone’s needs but his own, and emotional maturity is off the table. [Read: 20 ways to tell if he is a commitment phobe]
He can do no wrong or say no wrong and has a tendency to believe that he can get away with anything without consequence – all of this he accredits to his “charm.”
Sadly, he’s not entirely wrong. Often, a man with Peter Pan Syndrome is boyish and playful in ways that women aren’t used to with men. This lends him an almost wonderous quality that’s close to captivating… until it pisses you off.
Even if he’s the leader, he’s the leader of the idiots. One of the worst parts about dating a man with Peter Pan Syndrome lies with his group of followers.
The thing about his followers is that they never leave their headmaster alone. He’s the compass by which they’re led. Good luck shooing them from your life to try and convert Peter into a real man. [Read: What to do when your guy’s friends are a bad influence]
The Peter Pan Syndrome man likes a fight he can win. In his mind, this is all of them.
He thinks he’s untouchable and will remain unscathed, no matter the nemesis! At the cost of getting what he wants, there isn’t a limit he won’t touch. He’s an expert at shifting responsibility, too, so trying to pin something on him simply won’t work. He’ll pass the blame to whoever walks by first if he thinks he can get away with it.
If you’re thinking that you have a fella who’s inflicted with this inability to grow the heck up, but you’re still unsure, there are some definite signs that you can look for within your own relationship. [Read: How to stop being a manchild – 15 must-know steps to man up & grow up]
Peter Pan has some seriously debilitating qualms with decisions and commitments. He’ll leave you to do the heavy lifting in that department, mostly because he doesn’t want to have to take responsibility for it. Plus, he can avoid being looked at negatively in the event that he makes the “wrong” decision.
The odds are that he won’t participate anyway.
A man with Peter Pan Syndrome can’t be counted on for most things, especially if it means that he’s taking care of something or someone instead of being taken care of.
That’s out of the question.
He’s a taker, not a giver, after all. A lot of this can be attributed to the way he was raised. Maybe he was constantly doted on and taken care of by his mom, or maybe he saw that she did everything while dear old Dad was hanging out in his favorite chair with a beer. Either way, this is what he expects. You do the work. He has the fun. [Read: Lazy boyfriend – 20 signs & how to help him change]
As we’ve mentioned, committing isn’t a talent of his.
Be it because of anxiety or thinking that something better might come along, he just can’t do it! This has a tendency to have negative effects on everything in his life, from relationships to work.
He doesn’t like to set goals, plan ahead for the future, or settle on anything outside of today.
Emotions are difficult for a guy with Peter Pan Syndrome.
He’s not a fan. He doesn’t want to attach a label to your relationship or do anything that might insinuate that he’s too involved. He could be afraid of rejection, and it’s likely that he wants to feel that you’re dependent on him instead of the other way around. [Read: Fear of rejection – 56 signs, causes, & ways to overcome it]
His emotions are often dulled or seemingly nonexistent, and he doesn’t handle yours in the best way, especially if he’s the cause of your feelings.
A Peter Pan Syndrome man has a complicated and unhealthy relationship with money. Maybe he’s just been taken care of his whole life and has never really had to account for serious financial responsibility. Maybe it’s that whole thing where he has to get what he wants at any cost.
Regardless, this guy spends without care. He frivolously lets go of more than he brings in and is a big proponent of instant gratification.
He doesn’t like commitment. He doesn’t like emotions.
How do you think he feels about discussing relationship problems? It’s probably not on his list of things to do to have a good time. [Read: Communication exercises for couples – easy games to be a better lover]
He might have the emotional maturity of a child and prefer to storm off. A man with Peter Pan Syndrome will avoid conflict at all costs but will absolutely reroute the conversation if he’s unable to just drop out of participating. As we said, he’s an expert at misplacing blame.
Peter Pan Syndrome can leave a guy heartbreakingly helpless. As light-hearted and carefree as they can be, they just can’t seem to get it together. And they’re not interested in getting it together.
While some of the behavioral challenges that identify Peter Pan Syndrome can mirror narcissism, it’s important to note that not all of these really indicate that your guy is a narcissist.
This goes hand in hand with his commitment issues. As we’ve said, he just doesn’t care to grasp the concept. He doesn’t really care if you’re bothered or not as long as he’s getting what he needs and wants. He cares about himself above all else. [Read: Selfish boyfriend – 23 signs he’s totally self-centered & how to deal with it]
It’s common for these types to frequently skip out on dates, not show up for work, or constantly “forget” to do something they’ve been asked to do.
Because they don’t handle conflict or stress well, they’re very prone to emotional outbursts. This might come from childhood when an easy tantrum yielded the desired results, and they were just out a few tears and some temporarily tired lungs.
If your guy has Peter Pan Syndrome, you’re likely always in a state of feeling crazy.
There’s nobody better at concocting excuses or blaming somebody else for something than these types of guys. Being able to make excuses or blame another person might mean that they get to avoid the conflict they despise, so why not try it? [Read: How to stop being toxic – 19 steps to not be bitter or blame others]
These guys have no interest in changing.
No matter how dismal their situation looks from the outside, they’re content to keep it as is. They don’t want to grow up. If they set goals, change their mindsets, and attempt to better themselves, the responsibility will be all on them. That’s just something they can’t have.
If he isn’t managing his finances, household, and other responsibilities, somebody has to do it.
A man with Peter Pan Syndrome relishes having things done for him so that he doesn’t have to. They’re almost wired to accept other people doing everything for them because they’re probably not even equipped to do most things for themselves. [Read: Being taken for granted? 71 BIG signs, why it happens, & ways to stop them]
A sufferer of Peter Pan Syndrome does NOT want anything negative said about them. They’re the good time! The party! The easy-going, lovable dude.
They become combative and make more excuses when they’re being presented as anything other than that.
Unfortunately, a lot of these guys often suffer from substance abuse issues. This is often just a side effect of their erratic and impulsive behavior, but it can also help them to escape the emotions that they have such a hard time coping with.
In case we haven’t driven the point home, committing is a cardinal sin.
They can’t handle the possible rejection, the idea that something better might come along, or the thought that they might have to change, even just a little. [Read: He won’t commit, but he won’t let go – what should you do now?]
First and foremost, you can’t change anyone. It’s a fruitless effort, so don’t waste your time.
However, you can definitely try to push them in the right direction. This is such a tough one to deal with because this didn’t happen overnight. These behaviors and thoughts have been growing since childhood.
Changed behaviors change behaviors.
This is to say that if you STOP doing all of the things that he expects you to do to make his life easier, he might have to pick up and do them himself. [Read: How to be mature – 25 ways to grow up & face life like an adult]
Stop enabling him by making sure that his precious laundry is always sorted, washed, folded, and put away. Don’t schedule his doctor appointments, and don’t pay his bills. When you’re going out on a date that he’s agreed to pay for, make sure he has his wallet before you leave so that he has to follow through.
Since it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be remedied overnight. It’s also important to avoid giving your guy a reason to feel overwhelmed and shut down by trying to change everything about him at once.
Start slow. Make him responsible for as many of the household chores as you are. If you cook, he can do the dishes. If you sweep, he takes out the trash. When you can master smaller things like that, you can move on to conquering keeping schedules.
Because of the fact that he’s set in his ways and isn’t exactly looking to change, he’ll look for ways to become sidetracked. [Read: Lazy people – 50 wily ways they manipulate others to work for them]
Even though you’re trying to help him be responsible for himself, you might still have to walk him through a lot of it, and the best way to do that is to remove any hindrances.
Therapy is the greatest thing in the world.
Present it as though it’s an uninterrupted hour of him talking about himself and whatever gripes he has. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to start, and you’re mastering your own self with your therapist before you know it.
Therapists are excellent at suggesting coping skills and slight mindset changes that feel like they’re catered to the specific individual, which means that he’ll get exactly what he needs.
If you’re reading this feature and think that you might be dealing with Peter Pan Syndrome, pat yourself on the back! [Read: 20 signs of emotional maturity & traits that reveal a mature mind]
Admitting that you might need help is the biggest and hardest step of any difficult process. Don’t worry! You don’t have to deal with these behaviors forever. If you want to change, there are plenty of ways for you to do so!
Being honest with yourself about the difficulties you’re facing is absolutely not easy. It sucks to face how you might be handling things wrong or making things harder on others.
But if you’ve gotten this far, you can go farther.
There’s not a single thing that can cause a setback faster than stress. Learn some healthy coping skills for when you start to feel distressed or overwhelmed. Know how to identify those feelings and build your tolerance for them.
Dealing with the hurdles is half the battle. [Read: How to reduce stress – 17 ways to a calmer life]
Having a good support system is key. Whether that’s your parents, your partner, a few friends, or just your therapist, you need somebody.
Build a small collection of people you trust and can go to if you feel like you’re having some struggles or if you just need help recognizing your progress so far. A good support system can help keep you accountable and keep you moving forward.
[Read: The 16 types of guys you need to avoid and definitely don’t date]
If you find that you’re dating a guy who seems to live in Neverland, know that you can get away! If you recognize these signs and he doesn’t want to get help, fly away, Wendy!
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