Peter Pan syndrome

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Peter Pan syndrome
Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes, by F. D. Bedford from Peter and Wendy
Coined byDan Kiley

Peter Pan Syndrome is a pop psychology term used to describe an adult who is socially immature.[1] It refers to “never-growing” adults who have reached an adult age, but cannot face their adult sensations and responsibilities. It is a metaphor, based on the concept of not growing up and being trapped in childhood.[2] Individuals with Peter Pan Syndrome display behaviours associated with immaturity and a reluctance to grow up. They have difficulties in social and professional relationships because of their irresponsible behaviours and narcissistic properties. While it has often only been associated with males in the past, it can affect anyone, regardless of sex or gender.

The term has been used informally by both laypeople and some psychology professionals since the 1983 publication of The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, by Dr. Dan Kiley.[3] While Peter Pan Syndrome is not recognised by the World Health Organization and is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it has a significant overlap with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).[4] Individuals with NPD exhibit a similar pattern of selfishness; however, they also tend to hold a much higher degree of self-importance and entitlement.[5]


The concept gained popularity through psychoanalyst Dr. Dan Kiley in his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up first published in 1983.[3] His book became an international best seller and led to a wave of copycat pop-psychology books. Dr. Kiley got the idea for "The Peter Pan Syndrome" after noticing that, like the famous character in the J. M. Barrie play, many of the troubled teenage boys he treated had problems growing up and accepting adult responsibilities. This trouble continued into adulthood.

In his 1997 book, Men Who Never Grow Up, Kiley lists seven key markers of Peter Pan Syndrome:

  1. Emotional paralysis: People may have dulled emotions or express their feelings in inappropriate ways.
  2. Slowness: They may be apathetic, procrastinate tasks, and frequently late.
  3. Social challenges: They may feel anxious and have difficulty forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, both romantic and platonic. Their fear of commitment and reluctance to take on adult responsibilities can hinder their ability to connect with others on a deeper level.
  4. Avoidance of responsibility: Individuals with Peter Pan syndrome may resist or avoid taking on adult roles and responsibilities, such as pursuing a career, managing finances, or maintaining a stable long-term relationship. They may prefer to live in the moment and avoid making commitments that require long-term planning or sacrifice. They may avoid taking accountability for their mistakes and may blame others.
  5. Female relationships: According to Kiley, people can have difficulty with maternal relationships and treat future romantic partners as “mother figures.”
  6. Male relationships: They may feel distant from their father and have trouble with male authority figures.
  7. Sexual relationships: They may be afraid of rejection from romantic partners and desire a partner who is dependent on them.

Critics have highlighted that these criteria are outdated, reflect patriarchal ideas of gender and sexuality, and are therefore not often used in a modern view of Peter Pan Syndrome. While earlier texts limit the diagnosis of the syndrome to only males, these characteristics can affect anyone, regardless of sex or gender.[5]


Peter Pan Syndrome is a psychological term for individuals who find it difficult to grow up.[6] They have challenges maintaining adult relationships and managing adult responsibilities and may exhibit traits such as avoiding responsibilities, resisting commitment, seeking constant fun and excitement, and displaying a lack of ambition or direction in life. They may prefer to engage in activities associated with childhood rather than taking on the responsibilities and challenges of adulthood.

The causes for this behaviour likely vary for each individual and underlying mechanisms remain unexplained; however, the issue seems to be rooted in childhood experiences, such as neglect or overprotective parenting.[6][7]

Since Peter Pan Syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, experts have not determined an official list of symptoms. However, in recent publications the following characteristics are mentioned commonly.[8]

Signs in relationships[edit]

Individuals might have difficulties maintaining healthy romantic relationships. This includes struggling to express their emotions, listen to their partner, and play an equal role in the relationship. Individuals may place an unfair burden on their partner, avoiding every-day adult responsibilities and decision-making.[9]

While Peter Pan Syndrome is characterised with issues maintaining long-term relationships, individuals also experience a strong fear of loneliness and rely heavily on their parents and family.[1]

Work-related signs[edit]

People with Peter Pan Syndrome tend to struggle with job and career goals. This is because of difficulties with responsibilities and commitment. They may make little real effort to find a job and have a pattern of job loss due to lack of effort, tardiness, or skipping work or leaving jobs frequently when they feel bored, challenged, or stressed, trying to avoid criticism.[10]

Signs in attitude, mood, and behaviour[edit]

Individuals show a pattern of unreliability and narcissistic tendencies characterised by preoccupation with self-image and prioritisation of personal needs and desires. They have no interest in personal growth and often blame others for their mistakes, avoiding negative evaluation.

They are easily irritated, having difficulties controlling impulsive behaviour, especially when facing stressful situations. To escape difficult feelings or responsibilities they might turn to substance abuse.

Similarities with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)[edit]

Peter Pan Syndrome and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are two distinct psychological concepts, but there is some overlap in certain traits and behaviours.[4] Both Peter Pan Syndrome and NPD involve difficulties in forming and maintaining mature, adult relationships due to struggles with commitment and empathy.[11] Additionally, both involve a self-centred focus, though in Peter Pan Syndrome, this may stem more from a desire to maintain personal freedom and avoid responsibility, whereas in NPD, it arises from a need for admiration and validation.[12][13] Individuals with either condition may struggle with accepting criticism or feedback that challenges their self-image or worldview.

While individuals with the Peter Pan Syndrome often exhibit narcissistic traits, NPD is especially characterised by devaluation and manipulation of others, which are not usually traits of the Peter Pan Syndrome.

Treatment and management[edit]

Since Peter Pan Syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, there is no set guidelines of how to manage the behavior and feelings of the individual. It is likely that the patients are not aware of how this is affecting them and others.[14]

Treatment for Peter Pan Syndrome depends on the underlying causes. Therapy would be an essential component in addressing this phenomenon, as it offers a safe space for individuals to explore their past experiences and emotional patterns. By delving into childhood experiences, therapists can help patients gain insight into how these factors have influenced their development and contributed to their avoidance of adult responsibilities. Therapy might assist individuals in developing coping strategies, and ultimately fostering a healthier sense of self and autonomy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kalkan, Melek; Batık, Meryem Vural; Kaya, Leyla; Turan, Merve (June 2021). "Peter Pan Syndrome "Men Who Don't Grow": Developing a Scale". Men and Masculinities. 24 (2): 245–257. doi:10.1177/1097184X19874854. ISSN 1097-184X. S2CID 203437422.
  2. ^ Groh, Lucille Sider; Lane, Bethann (March 1988). "Overcoming the Peter Pan Syndrome: Grieving in Psychotherapy". Journal of Pastoral Care. 42 (1): 39–44. doi:10.1177/002234098804200105. ISSN 0022-3409. S2CID 149286306.
  3. ^ a b Kiley, Dan (June 1, 1983). The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. Avon Books. ISBN 978-0-380-68890-6.
  4. ^ a b Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Washington: American psychiatric association. 2013. ISBN 978-0-89042-554-1.
  5. ^ a b "Peter Pan Syndrome May Have You Saying, 'I Don't Want To Grow Up'". Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved 2024-03-12.
  6. ^ a b Dalla, Rochelle L.; Marchetti, Alexandria M.; Sechrest, Elizabeth A.; White, Jennifer L. (July 2010). ""All the Men Here Have the Peter Pan Syndrome- They Don't Want to Grow Up": Navajo Adolescent Mothers' Intimate Partner Relationships-A 15-Year Perspective". Violence Against Women. 16 (7): 743–763. doi:10.1177/1077801210374866. ISSN 1077-8012. PMID 20558768. S2CID 2402474.
  7. ^ "Overprotecting parents can lead children to develop the so-called 'Peter Pan Syndrome'". Canal UGR (in Spanish). 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2024-03-12.
  8. ^ Magnuson, Cale D.; Barnett, Lynn A. (March 2013). "The Playful Advantage: How Playfulness Enhances Coping with Stress". Leisure Sciences. 35 (2): 129–144. doi:10.1080/01490400.2013.761905. hdl:2142/29611. ISSN 0149-0400. S2CID 143097182.
  9. ^ Biringen, Zeynep; Easterbrooks, M. Ann (February 2012). "Emotional availability: Concept, research, and window on developmental psychopathology". Development and Psychopathology. 24 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1017/S0954579411000617. ISSN 0954-5794. PMID 22292989.
  10. ^ "Cheatham Psychology Services, LLC". Cheatham Psychology Services, LLC. Retrieved 2024-03-12.
  11. ^ Koch, Sabine L. (2021). Narzissmus verstehen - Narzisstischen Missbrauch erkennen. Books on Demand GmbH (6. Auflage ed.). Norderstedt: Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-7392-2959-1.
  12. ^ Miller, Joshua D.; Lynam, Donald R.; Vize, Colin; Crowe, Michael; Sleep, Chelsea; Maples-Keller, Jessica L.; Few, Lauren R.; Campbell, W. Keith (April 2018). "Vulnerable Narcissism Is (Mostly) a Disorder of Neuroticism". Journal of Personality. 86 (2): 186–199. doi:10.1111/jopy.12303. ISSN 0022-3506. PMID 28170100.
  13. ^ Baumeister, Roy F.; Bushman, Brad J.; Campbell, W. Keith (February 2000). "Self-Esteem, Narcissism, and Aggression: Does Violence Result From Low Self-Esteem or From Threatened Egotism?". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 9 (1): 26–29. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00053. ISSN 0963-7214. S2CID 29914472.
  14. ^ Kozma, Jan (1997). "Grow Up! Grazia Deledda's Adult-Adolescent Males of Arrested Maturation". Annali d'Italianistica. 15: 329–340. ISSN 0741-7527. JSTOR 24006798.

External links[edit]

Media related to Peter Pan syndrome at Wikimedia Commons