The Peter Pan Syndrome 

Peter Pan Syndrome got you down? If you're in a relationship with a modern Peter Pan, you may be headed for frustration and disappointment. The relationship may not last long and you'll be scratching your head, wondering what went wrong.

What is the Peter Pan Syndrome? A popular concept in psychology in the 1980's that was introduced in a book by Dan Kiley, called, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, it refers to the eternal adolescent male who wants to play at  life and relationships. While not a diagnosable condition in the DSM, it remains a relevant concept today. You could argue that some men just don't want to grow up, preferring to live in La La Land, just like Peter Pan. But, you could argue it's more a problem of their being afraid to grow up and their fear of facing the hard realities of serious, committed love relationships.

A couple taking it easy on the steps of a city buildingEveryone likes to chill, but those who have the Peter Pan Syndrome always seem to be taking it easy -- perhaps a little too easy.

Symptoms and Traits of the Peter Pan Syndrome

Common symptoms of the Peter Pan syndrome include:

  • Working only when they feel like it
  • Dabbling in this or that
  • Avoiding deep connections with people
  • Making outlandish plans or dreams
  • Blaming others for their failures
  • Job-and relationship-hopping
  • Anger problems
  • Difficulty expressing emotion
  • Chronic feelings of guilt, continual frustration and difficulty relaxing
  • Blunted affect
  • Struggling to find a suitable career and long-term career success. 

In other words, you could say these men tend to behave like adolescents, long into their mature years. They tend to panic easily and flee from their problems. Such problems often persist into middle age and beyond, frustrating relationship partners and spouses. The relationship will feel like it never quite becomes a mature one. Women can be affected by the syndrome, but it is usually men. They tend to idealize their partners, but find fault when something goes wrong.

What is the cure for the Pater Pan Syndrome? Well, sadly, there is no easy solution to a complicated problem like this. How can you help someone feel better about himself, become more mature and emotionally intelligent?

No easy tasks here! Especially considering the link between narcissism and this syndrome, and the likelihood of unresolved family-of-origin issues, resolution would be an ongoing process. Considering, there is a tendency to abuse alcohol or drugs, possibly as an escape from reality, or as a badly needed stress management technique, Peter Pan would face some tall obstacles.  

Tips On How to Cope with the Peter Pan Syndrome 

Here are a few tips and suggestions for anyone in a relationship with someone who has the Peter Pan complex. 

If the guy is fortunate and somehow experiences a "wake-up-call," it would help him to see his problems clearly, and he could begin to rebuild his life by learning to focus on keeping a good job, developing healthy and sustainable relationships and increasing personal responsibility. He could potentially change his life. Of course, he might try to get someone else to do it for him. I've seen many women in my practice who thought they could cure a man of his problems, whether it was a drinking problem or a tendency toward womanizing, but found out the hard way that love wasn't enough. 

1. Therapy may be the best choice for helping a Peter Pan, if he wants help. A good counselor could help him to find himself and to become more responsible (and to stop blaming others for his/her perceived unhappiness). The Reality Therapy of William Glasser is especially good at helping people become more responsible. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be helpful, as well.

Counseling would be a positive process for him, and would help him to deal with relationship problems, which are usually quite serious for someone with the Peter Pan complex.

  • Communication problems
  • Trouble dealing with conflict
  • Fear of commitment
  • Inability to get over disagreements
  • Fights that seem to go on and on
  • Giving up or walking out as soon as there are problems       
  • You can find expert help for a wide variety of relationship problems in my eBook, Relationship Gold, which addresses the most common relationship mistakes, and offers clear-cut, clinical tips and techniques for resolving relationship problems quickly and effectively. The strategies I outline in the book were gleaned from my decades  of experience in the mental health field, working with couples, families and individuals. 

2. Helping the person to become aware of his issues in a non-threatening way may help some individuals, while honestly and directly explaining how his behaviors are affecting you. Be clear about the changes you want him to make. 

3. Believe it or not, a course in relaxation, yoga or meditation may help. I have used these methods with acting-out adolescents, who were surprised to learn how good it feels to enter a state of deep relaxation.  In one of my cases, after his first hypnotherapy session, one of my young clients quipped, "Man, that's better than drugs!" I pointed out there were no side effects, either. Ultimately, he gave up recreational drugs and learned to use relaxation techniques to manage his stress.

4. Treatment for addiction, such as a 12-Step program, is often in order for some. 

5. If you're in a relationship with a man, young or old, who has the Peter Pan Syndrome, you may want to consider couples therapy. Addressing the problems in the context of the relationship with both partners in the room might prove quite helpful. 

6. It's always wise to curb your expectations and to be realistic when you're dealing with a proverbial adolescent, who doesn't want or know how to grow up.

Be honest with yourself about whether you feel you can continue to handle the relationship, if your Peter Pan refuses, or doesn't want to change. For help in dealing with some of the most troublesome relationship problems, remember to look into the eBook, Relationship Gold, the resource I refer many of my patients to, a simple, but powerful relationship guide.

You can find other unique e-Books I've written in my online bookstore. All are based on many years of experiences as a professional therapist, relationship coach, mentor and guide.