Peter Pan syndrome, when your partner doesn't want to grow up

Growing up and maturing is a natural process of growth and development. Peter Pan syndrome is a term to describe people who show an inability to grow up or to engage in behaviour usually associated with adulthood. Are you one of them?

Maturing is a natural process of growth and development in humans, but this doesn't mean that it's easy. Some young people "never grow up", and refuse to accept adult responsibilities. These young people suffer from what is commonly known as Peter Pan syndrome.

What is Peter Pan syndrome?

It is a syndrome that describes adults lacking emotional maturity, who behave like children or adolescents, who avoid commitment and refuse to accept the responsibilities that being an adult entails.

How do I know if my partner is a Peter Pan?

  • Someone who acts like a child/adolescent despite being over thirty.
  • Always needs to be the centre of attention.
  • Socially, they can be a leader, given their ability to have fun and to lighten the room. But in private, they display a demanding, intolerant and suspicious side to their character, "a leader outdoors and a tyrant at home".
  • Their enormous "I" does not allow them space to put themselves in someone else's shoes.
  • They are selfish and can be close to narcissistic.
  • Their attitude is receiving, asking and criticising, and they never give or help others.
  • They are vain and arrogant, they feel physically and intellectually superior to others.
  • They lose their temper easily when they don't get their own way, when something doesn't work out or they are criticised.
  • They are only interested in themselves, with no concern of those around him.
  • They are always dissatisfied with their lot. They want everything but aren't prepared to make an effort.
  • They see commitment as an obstacle to freedom.
  • They don't take responsibility for their actions and expect others to do so.
  • They blame others when something goes wrong.
  • They hide behind excuses orlies to conceal their inability to be responsible.
  • They idealise youth and are very attracted to the youth culture.
  • They can't commit, and aren't interested in evolving as a couple.
  • They can't hold a job.
  • They form superficial affective relationships.
  • They couldn't or can't become independent from their parents.

What's the science behind it?

  • Fear of suffering: they associate the responsibilities of adult life with suffering.
  • Low tolerance to frustration: they believe they deserve everything "by divine right".
  • Baja autoestima: they have a very fragile ego that can't be touched or questioned. If you criticise them, they lose their temper.
  • They are worried about what people will say: they strive to earn admiration and recognition from the people around them to boost their self-esteem. They fear not being loved or accepted.
  • Feelings of loneliness: they may seem carefree and happy, as their motto is Carpe Diem, but in fact they suffer from a deep fear of loneliness.
  • Emotional dependence: they appear to be independent and autonomous because of their emotional distance with those around them, but in fact, they need someone else to satisfy their needs and make them feel safe. They usually look to their parents, older siblings or partner for security.
  • Difficulty accepting roles: they ignore the demands of the real world by hiding in a fantasy world, in their Never Never Land. Trapped inside it, they can't develop adulthood roles: a father, partner or professional.
  • They feel misunderstood: they find it difficult to accept their problem, and they ignore it until a critical situation occurs when they realise that their behaviour is ineffective or is unusual compared with the rest of their peers.

What are its causes?

  • Young people who have had an easy life, who are happy and carefree, spoiled by their parents, with no limits to their education and who haven't been expected to make an effort for themselves. They feel nostalgia for the past, and live in a permanent childhood with a fear of the future.
  • People who had an unhappy, loveless childhood, raised by parents who didn't reward them for their achievements, who have not felt satisfied with their lives, who have not been able to build a safe place, who were never taught what is right or not right. The syndrome helps them relive their stolen childhood, but from the freedom of an adult.

What impact does it have?

  • Mental disorders: high anxiety and sadness, which can lead to depression.
  • Difficulties with relationships: due to their inability to commit and their high demands on others, they may end up being alone and isolated socially.
  • Low self-esteem: : by not taking responsibility for their actions, they don't consider their achievements to be theirs, and they feel their lives to be unfulfilled.

Did you know....

Is there a Wendy Syndrome, which is also often experienced by the partners of a "Peter Pan"? The Wendy Syndrome refers to people who always try to satisfy the needs of their partner, and who take on all the responsibilities that the other does not accept. They disregard themselves in favour of the other person.


Mireia Galán

Article by Mireia Galán


Specialist in Clinical Psychology. Family and Couples Therapist - Consultant psychologist at Advance Medical

More about Mireia >

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