Health & Fitness


Eternal adolescents: gender differences in Peter Pan syndrome

The premise is that Peter Pan syndrome is not clinically recognized by the DSM, it is one of the emerging disorders of our time, and that is why there is not yet an extensive scientific literature on it.

Most of the time it is extremely difficult to recognize a person with Peter Pan syndrome as many features may be present while others may not. For this reason it would be more correct to speak of personality functioning of the Peter Pan type (FPP for short).

This expression leads us to the identification of differences not only between individuals but also between the sexes. Which ones are they?

FPP women are able to free themselves from family, work and take care of children than men. However, they may have trouble having long relationships with men or conversely, due to emotional immaturity they are perpetually looking for someone to take care of them. They devote themselves assiduously to a life of vanity and frivolity. In relationships with other women, FPP women tend to be competitive and instrumental. Their conversations are always very laconic, prone to gossip, not very virtuous. Towards authoritative people they have a propensity for servility and flattery (just like little girls do with their dads). They frequently leave their children in their parents’ custody so that they can have fun with friends.

For their part, FPP men find it more difficult to take on the responsibilities typical of adulthood, including working, earning money, respecting commitments, establishing a serious relationship with a woman. However, many of them manage to marry and have children but their minds remain trapped in certain childish or adolescent habits: video games, delegation of commitments, lack of future planning, alcohol and drug use.

Eternal adolescents: manifestations of Peter Pan Syndrome in professional life

Maturity and being an adult take on different meanings depending on the reference culture. In some cultures, people live with their families throughout their lives and express the transition from youth to adulthood by marrying or forming a family. In other cultures, being an adult means being independent, with your own job and home. In still other cultures, living separated from the family is seen as a gesture of abandonment towards family ties. In short, the distinctive feature of eternal adolescents (Peter Pan Syndrome) is not found in the individual symptoms but in a failure to adopt the socio-cultural rules that prescribe the typical behaviors of being an adult.

In the case of Western and individualistic cultures, being an adult is not just a matter of age but requires a certain amount of economic independence, emotional and socio-relational maturity and also conscientious and healthy behaviors. Economic independence requires the individual to have a job and earn money. Although some Peter Pan have a job, there are manifestations of eternal childhood, which we can trace both in women and in men, among which:

  • lack of interest and motivation for professional growth and career, due to the inability to make long-term commitments and the lack of will to actively seek opportunities;
  • low emotional maturity, means that the individual is unable to manage their emotions and is guided more by impulse than by reasoning in making decisions;
  • difficulty in keeping a job. In this case, the individual is often late and absent, regardless of the consequences. Reacts to communications and changes inappropriately;
  • procrastination, forgetfulness of commitments and deadlines, manifestations of an apathetic approach to duties. He behaves as if there is always someone else who can think of him for him;
  • not down to earth, easily distracted and fantasize about ideal jobs rather than focusing on real situations. In a sense, it is as if work were more of a pastime and not an activity through which to earn a living;
  • inability to manage stress and psychological pressures, when challenging situations become heavy, he prefers to leave, at the cost of being without a job;
  • poor emotional intelligence and lack of self-awareness of their reactions and behaviors.

Eternal Teenagers: Can You Change?

First of all, it is necessary for the individual to become aware of the symptoms of peter Pan syndrome. Once these symptoms have been recognized, it is important to commit to avoiding immature behaviors that block emancipation.

Through a gradual construction of self-confidence and courage, one could begin by writing down a plan of “smart goals” and challenging aspirations. Step by step the goals will become achievable, as long as there is commitment and hard work.

Parents (and other authoritative adult figures such as teachers) should prepare the very young for the transition to adulthood through the infusion of self-confidence and self-esteem. This is the key to being able to face a world full of opportunities but also of challenges and difficulties.

In all cases, the help of a professional could provide support in inner change and in overcoming socio-emotional blocks that refer to more remote situations of the individual’s childhood. For example, a systemic family therapy could prove to be of great use. In recent years, the motivational interview with adolescents has also proved extremely useful, where the young person, more than “cured”, is stimulated, through a Socratic dialogue, to become aware of their strengths and to reflect on themselves and on consequences of their behavior. Not only that, even the society in which we live could benefit from the responsible behavior of a person who knows what he wants and who proves productive both towards himself and the world in which he lives.

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