Author: Georgia Kiziridou
Evolutionary-School Psychologist-MSc-Adults’ Trainer
Translator: Myrto Gkoka
Peter Pan tale has known great success, so much as a book, but also as an animated movie. Fast alternations, endless fantasy, the sense of absolute freedom are some of the positive elements that aroused not only children’, but adults’ interest, too. But what happens when some people forget to grow up in real life? What are the consequences when an adult confuses fantasy with reality and has the illusion that a person can slip out at any time to Neverland? Can such an individual co-exist with other adults or does he desperately long for his own Wendy to look after him?
Peter Pan syndrome was first mentioned by Dan Kiley in 1983 in order to describe the class of men who (basically) claim to be unrepentant singles, while in fact they are people with obvious Narcissism elements, established emotionally during adolescence, independently of their age. Their basic characteristics are the following: to begin with, they are extremely friendly and attract people because of their attitude towards life. They advocate for eternal youth and unconcern, as they seem to be unconventional and dynamic. They might give somebody the impression of high self-respect and comfort with the other sex. Problems appear when somebody doubts or approaches them emotionally. Then, the mask of confidence and slack falls and is replaced by the one of irony, insult, in need of extreme care from other people and fatalistic procrastination. Who are really these people? And why are such personalities created?
In fact, they are individuals who try in every possible way to cover the endless sadness and anger they feel. In most of the cases there is unrecognized and untreated grief, after a traumatic life event that stigmatized them at a younger age. They may seem like they live a happy and satisfactory life, but this is just an illusion, because of the intense fear of loneliness, doubt and lack of pleasure lurking. They are basically trapped children, though they haven’t got children’ expected sensitiveness. Usually, they are emotionally unstable and excessive which results into lack of self-discipline. They do not have much tolerance to critique and they avoid adult commitment. Most of the times they give the impression of eccentricity and peculiarity, but at the core they are emotionally detached, almost disordered, when they have to undertake adults’ responsibilities. Especially when it comes to paternal roles, they have negative attitude giving excuses that seem logical. At this point the rising question is: are individuals with those characteristics capable of stable personal relationships?
Actually, it has been shown that they even present difficulties when involving with psychotherapeutic relationship. While the therapy is evolving and they are about to take responsibility, they are most likely going to interrupt under the justification that the therapist is excessive. The most typical excuse in the question why they have started the therapy in the first place for they just wanted to ascertain that there is no problem or that some person in their close environment forced them to, because they were really worried. Thus, if somebody goes deeper in their profile, he can see that them being surrounded by friends is something virtual, because they are emotionally attached to persons of their patriarchal family and they have never really been independent. In the past their parents created illusions to them due to the excessive protection from whatever they thought would be harmful. In other cases they come from repressive families and they created their own Neverland for defensive reasons, to avoid cruel reality. Such cases usually talk little about their mothers and in a guilty way for the reasons mentioned above.
They generally prefer the companion of younger people, who have no demands from ‘Peter Pan’. They very often select a ‘Wendy’ who takes care of them, and even takes almost entirely the responsibilities of their lives; just like their mothers. By undertaking their parents’ role, that other person in fact does not protect them, but confirms -just like their mother- that ‘Peter Pan’ is unable to grow up. By entering in such an uneven relationship, believing they complete each other, the problem is covered, but not dealt with. In any case, the ‘Peter Pan’ individual does not learn to be or act like an adult and their partner ends up feeling deprived. It has been observed that in the rare occasion they eventually decide to get married they maintain ‘friendly’ relationships with their companion, since they neither take any serious responsibility in concern with their marriage, nor do they change their routine.
If you realize elements of the syndrome about yourself or any close person, psychotherapy is ideally suggested, in order for the ‘patient’ to properly cope with the conditions of his life. At the early start of the adult life it is possibly attractive for somebody to behave like Peter Pan, however the desirable is for one to behave according to their age and undertake responsibilities. It would also be necessary for the social environment that overprotects these people to be supported by an expert in mental health, so as for the problem not to be perpetuated through the margins of option and responsibility that they would offer to people close to them.
Barrie, J. M. (1987). Peter Pan or the child who refused to grow up. Transl. V. Vasigioglou. Athens: Edit. Agra.
Kathlin, K. L. (2005). Peter Pan or the sad child. Transl. V. Hatzaki. Athens: Agra.
Kiley, N. (1986). Peter Pan syndrome. Athens: Thyme.