Signs you're dating someone with Peter Pan Syndrome (and how to deal with it)

They say you never really know someone until you move in together. And boy, oh boy, are they right.

I knew my ex had some growing up to do, but I didn’t realise just how much until I moved into his flat.

He’d never had a job, and was re-sitting his first year at uni – for the third year in a row. His lifestyle was funded solely by his parents, apartment and bills included.
Any time he needed cash, all it took was one quick phone call to his mother.

Being a self-confessed co-dependent, I saw our relationship as a bit of a project at first. I sprang into action, wanting to teach him the basics of adulting.

I spruced up the flat, cooked his meals, ironed his clothes, and even introduced shower gel, shampoo – and the absolute luxury item that is deodorant – to his daily routine. Extra points to me.

I soon felt more like his replacement mum than his girlfriend.

The ridiculousness of the whole situation started to make sense when I came across something called Peter Pan Syndrome.

I chatted to Dr Tony Ortega – clinical psychologist and author of #AreYouHereYet: How to STFU & Show Up For Yourself – to get the lowdown on this often misunderstood behavioural pattern.

What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

‘It’s a pattern of behaviour in which the person has big dreams yet does little or nothing about them, expecting everything to fall in their laps,’ Dr Ortega tells us. ‘These big dreams are firmly rooted in reality, yet the effort needed to do it is non-existent.

‘At its root, you’ll find feelings of fear and entitlement. I would go so far as to say that it’s a distant cousin of narcissism. They have a drive to succeed, but they were never taught the skills to do these things for themselves. There’s an unspoken expectation that others will be the ones to do it for them.

‘In my experience, I’ve seen younger males in their twenties and thirties having more of these traits than females and older men.’

What are the signs to look out for?

‘Look out for someone with big dreams, but little actions to back these dreams up,’ Dr Ortega explains. ‘They’ll blame other people or factors for their failures.

‘They’re usually quite selfindulgent, wanting to celebrate and party all the time.’

According to BetterHelp, these are also some tell-tale signs of Peter Pan Syndrome:

  • A lack of career interest
  • Can’t handle adult situations
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Trouble with commitment
  • Unreliable and breaks promises
  • Always blames someone else
  • Uninterested in self-improvement

How someone with Peter Pan Syndrome behaves in a relationship

Dr Ortega says: ‘It can be hard to navigate a relationship with them, as their pattern of thinking and feeling is well ingrained in them.

‘They’re basically takers and not givers. They may give the basics or the bare minimum. If they fear losing their partner, they might go out of their way to make an effort, but this behaviour doesn’t stick around for very long.

‘Telling them they have Peter Pan Syndrome will do nothing but create defensiveness in them, because they don’t – and probably never will – see they have a problem.

‘This is how they were raised, so what’s wrong with what they’re doing?’

What causes this behaviour?

According to Dr Ortega, a dysfunctional parent/child relationship is usually the triggering point for someone developing Peter Pan Syndrome in the future.

‘A person that comes from a well-to-do family and not having had to work for anything in their lives, expect things to just happen for them and wants to prove to a disapproving parental figure that they can be successful,’ he explains.

‘A person who was overly saturated with unrealistic expectations, hopes and dreams by a parental figure – without teaching them the skills to follow through with them – would also be prone to PPS.

‘Helicopter parents also cause the creation of this personality style. They’ll provide so much indulgence to the child that it prevents them from developing the necessary resilience needed to basically grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

‘At an early age, the child is taught that they don’t need to fend for themselves.

‘This then moves over to the person’s life partner or social support system.’

Well that explains that, then. I’ll be sure to look out for more of a Prince Eric type in the future.

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