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From a fictional character to a Psychological term: What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

In a recent case of sexually assaulting a minor in Mumbai, the accused was set free because he was suffering from “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Mumbai court granted him bail in a case of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. According to the report of The Hindu, appearing for the accused, advocate Sunil Pandey stated that his client is suffering from the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ an inability to grow up or a person who has the body of an adult but the mind of a child. Special judge S C Jadhav granted bail to the 23-year-old accused on a bond of Rs 25,000 and a few other conditions.

 However, no documents were provided to prove the accused man’s condition. 

Now, not everyone is aware of the Peter Pan Syndrome which led to the bail of the 23-year old youth. Is it a mental illness or just a personality trait?

WHAT IS PETER PAN SYNDROME?

All of us are prone to childish behavior from time to time and while we may display these behavior patterns, it’s only a slight detour from our normal behavior. A person eventually comes back to their normal responsible self sooner or later. However, if this irresponsible behavior is not just an occasional burst, but is rather a set personality, no matter how much older a person gets then its called Peter Pan Syndrome

 Created by Scottish novelist James Matthew Barrie in the early 1990s, Peter Pan is a fictional character of a carefree young boy who never grows up. The comics, books, plays, films, and television series in which Peter Pan was included describe stories of Peter and his friend Wendy travelling to Neverland, which is the mythical island where they meet fictional creatures like fairies, mermaids, etc. In the novel “Peter and Wendy,” author J. M. Barrie wrote “All children, except one, grow up” and he was speaking of Peter Pan who wouldn’t grow up.

Now, Peter Pan is a psychological term used to describe an adult who is socially immature and “never grows up”. People who develop the same behavior of living carefree and find responsibilities challenging in adulthood suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome. 

While this syndrome can affect a person’s quality of life, the World Health Organization does not state Peter Pan Syndrome as a disorder.

In the book authored by Dr Dan Kiley titled ‘Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up’ published in 1983, he described the syndrome as a “social-psychological phenomenon”. Since then the term ‘Peter Pan Syndrome is used to describe individuals who are socially immature and mentally never grow up.

IS PETER PAN SYNDROME IS ONLY ASSOCIATED WITH MALES?

Kailey focused on this behaviour in men, but this syndrome can affect people of any gender or culture.

Peter Pan syndrome is highly associated with males as it has been from the start. However, most of Dan Kiley’s research was done in the 1970s and 80s so it does not confirm anything. There is a lack of research examining how these behaviours show up in different genders and the studies that exist are small or just not worth it. Still,  information from the University of Granada suggested it’s mostly but not always males who experience this syndrome.

WHAT IS WENDY SYNDROME ASSOCIATED WITH FEMALES?  

While Kiley focused his research on males, he identified a part in the role of females as well which is known as Wendy syndrome, about Peter Pan’s female companion. This syndrome describes women who act like mothers with their partners or people close to them. Women suffering from Wendy syndrome are often insecure and scared of abandonment from their partners and aim to be appreciated based on what they constantly offer their partners to fight their fear of rejection. 

It is said that women with Wendy syndrome are often led to Peter Pan syndrome in men as they take all the responsibility of their partner and men to become more irresponsible and immature day by day. You can find people with Wendy syndrome even within the immediate family for example the overprotective mothers and it can lead children to develop Peter Pan Syndrome as well.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PETER PAN SYNDROME?

As Peter Pan syndrome is not an official diagnosis, experts have not determined official symptoms but here are some signs that a person might have Peter Pan Syndrome:

RELATIONSHIP SIGNS: Patrick Cheathem, a psychologist in Portland, Oregon said “In relationships, I think this shows up clearly in divergent levels of ambition, expectation, life goals, and ability to make commitments”. If one’s partner has this syndrome, they might have a hard time making it in the world alone.

WORK RELATED ISSUES: People suffering from this syndrome often mess up their official work or have a hard time doing it.

BEHAVIORAL SIGNS: A person suffering from this syndrome may seem helpless and might give the impression that they can’t “get it together”. Symptoms like fear of evaluation, emotional outbursts, or no personal growth may show.

Patrick Cheathem also said “While the narcissistic dilemma reflects some of the downsides of Peter Pan Syndrome, I hesitate to say they are directly related”

WHAT CAUSES THE PETER PAN SYNDROME?

 Humbelina Robles Ortega, professor of the Department of the personality of the University of Granada said “it usually affects dependent people who have been overprotected by their families and haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront life”. Later she stated that the ‘Peter Pans’ of present society “see the adult world as very problematic and glorify adolescence, which is why they want to stay in the state of privilege”.

 However, there is no single cause for the syndrome but it’s likely the result of few circumstances like:

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES: Those with very overprotective or over permissive parenting can develop Peter Pan Syndrome. Parents who are overprotective during their youth may also avoid discussing adult concepts with their child, meanwhile, overly permissive parents take care of everything for their children and when they grow up they may not understand why they need to work now or believe that it’s ok to do whatever they want.

ECONOMIC FACTORS: Economic hardship and stagnation can contribute to Peter Pan syndrome in youth as “adulting” might be a bit harder than it used to be.

Someone with Peter Pan syndrome may encourage you to enjoy small things in life but the problem occurs when this mindset occurs in other aspects of life. Peter Pan is more of a behavior than a mental illness and can apply to anyone even if it is more common in males. To recover from it therapy is a key for a successful exploration as therapists can offer full support by helping a person to examine their behaviors and how it affects their life.

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