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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The biggest mistake you’re making when washing your face masks

Face masks have become a regular sight these days, particularly since the CDC made its recommendation on the use of face masks during the coronavirus. And if you’ve been good about staying home during shelter-in-place guidelines, you might not have thought about cleaning your face mask on the rare occasions when you’ve gone out, since you probably didn’t leave your house for too long anyway. 

But doctors like Shoshana Ungerleider, who specializes in internal medicine, say not only should you be wearing masks when you have to leave your home, you should also be washing cloth masks in a washing machine after every use (via CBS). Washing your mask regularly means you’re not only getting rid of anything contagious that might have gotten tangled up in the mask’s fibers, but you’re also cleaning out the mask on the inside, where there is a buildup of gunk that includes moisture from your breath, sweat, oils, and makeup — all of which create the perfect breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria (via Better Homes and Gardens).

Why you shouldn't wash your mask in cold water

When you remove your cloth face mask, the Mayo Clinic says you should exercise care and not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, then wash your hands thoroughly as soon as your mask is off. You can wash your mask with your clothes, but doctors advise that you do that load of laundry with very hot water — on your machine those would be temperatures that are as high as 150 to 165 F, or the sanitize cycle. Because the World Health Organization says that a temperature of 132.8 F or 56C is hot enough to kill the COVID-19 virus, you could just get away with your washing machine’s highest temperature. If you want to handwash your mask, you can also use warm water and scrub that for at least 20 seconds before using the dryer to finish.

Microbiologist Rachel Noble tells Popular Science that boiling your masks is also an option, but doing that could hurt not just your mask’s breathability, but it can actually make cloth masks deteriorate more quickly. To make sure the masks have survived their time in the cauldron, you’ll need to hold the mask up to a strong light to see if it has any thin areas. And if you really want to play it safe, you need to remember that a cloth mask can only be boiled 10 times or so before it should be discarded.

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If you're having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, know that you're not alone

As we reach week five of lockdown, if you don’t know who Joe Tracini is: you need to stay in more.

Joe is a performer (some of you may recognise from Hollyoaks) who has been posting hysterical, parodical dance tutorials all over social media, in an attempt to cheer us all up amidst the doom and gloom of self-isolation. Showcasing moves such as ‘groin-junction into gubbins’, ‘squeeze the ferret’ and the hip-hop classic ‘Ted Baker’s real name is Ray’, he films his gesticular capers in his back garden, dressed in a stunning red velvet leotard. 

Joe is an utter joy to behold, and his dance videos have been watched and enjoyed by millions across the globe, but it was another of Joe’s Twitter videos that gave me the most comfort of late – one where he talks openly about suicide.

I first became aware of Joe when I ‘came out’ on Twitter last year about having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. He had also received the BPD diagnosis, and his videos explaining how he copes with the illness were a great source of empathy, in a world that greatly misunderstands the condition. 

In his most recent video, Tracini spoke about suicidal thoughts. He explained that one of the symptoms he experiences from BPD is his brain continuously telling him to kill himself: ‘My brain tells me to kill myself because I’ve run out of melon.’

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Like many of us suffering from mental illness, Joe is an expert in using humour to take the edge off describing symptoms that take a devastating toll on our lives.

‘But the longer this stuff goes on, the harder it is to not kill myself,’ he said in the video. ‘Some days recently have been exclusively me trying not to kill myself and I’m quite good at not killing myself.’

Each mind is completely unique, therefore I can only speak about my own experience, but my constant thoughts about self-harm and suicide were as exhausting as they were relentless.

Most people have experienced the fleeting temptation to push a button they have been told expressly not to push. I felt like that about my own existence.

Standing on a train platform, holding a knife, walking across a road were all opportunities for my brain to tell me how s**t I was and that the world would be a better place without me in it. Living became the biggest threat to my life.

I had made several suicide attempts years ago, in the throes of what I now understand to be a BPD episode. I had a recurring compulsion to kill myself, despite desperately wanting to live.

Representation of suicide on film and TV often show it to be this long, drawn out, premeditated decision, and for many people I’m sure it can be. But for me, it was instant and often unexpected.

The power it had and the speed at which it would come on terrified me as I worried I wouldn’t have enough time to beat it. That it would just come on in a second and I would fall victim to it.

I was depressed, I had low self-esteem, my brain told me to end my life while I so desperately wanted to live. My brain ached from the thoughts I hadn’t chosen to think.

Trying to silence the harmful thoughts infecting my mind was an impossible task. As Joe explained in his video: ‘I don’t try and fight [suicidal thoughts]. I’m s**t at fighting things. If I fight something, I will lose.’

I, too, was losing the fight against my thoughts. So I just allowed them to exist, then decided to talk about it.

On occasions where I felt helpless and a burden to my friends and family, calling the Samaritans was a choice that saved my life

Telling someone what was going on in my head disarmed the power of the voice. It stopped being a shameful secret, an ignominious taboo and it gave me back some of my power. It was a colossal ‘f**k you’ to the harmful thoughts inside my head.

The voice didn’t necessarily go away, but I felt safer in the knowledge that someone else knew; I wasn’t alone with the thoughts anymore. 

Telling someone you’re feeling suicidal can be a terrifying prospect. I feared that I would be rejected, judged, not believed. I wish I could tell you that none of these things happened and that I was immediately understood, but that wasn’t the case.

It was a case of trial and error. Some people just don’t take suicidal thoughts seriously. Some take them so seriously that they act as if your thoughts of killing yourself are now actually their burden to carry. Neither is helpful.

Finding someone in your life whom you can talk openly to about your mental health can be a long and often painful process, but people are beginning to show far more empathy for those of us who are struggling.

Don’t feel hopeless if the first person you confide in can’t support you in the way you need. Don’t give up if the 10th person doesn’t get it either. I can just promise that there are people out there who will understand, even if they haven’t thought the same thoughts as you.

On occasions where I felt helpless and a burden to my friends and family, calling the Samaritans was a choice that saved my life. 

Suicidal thinking is a second invisible enemy we are fighting at present and severe changes in lifestyle can lead to people feeling uncertain about their future.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please know that you are not alone. Reach out to someone.

As meaningless as these words may seem if you’re under the influence of suicidal thoughts: you matter, and there are people out there who care and can help.

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