Men Who Never Grow Up: Understanding Peter Pan Syndrome

Last Update on April 10, 2023 : Published on April 10, 2023

As far as young children’s tales are concerned, I’ve always found Peter Pan to be fascinating. A boy who never wants to grow old, who resides in Neverland, fights Captain Hook, and has Tinkerbell as a friend – the story has everything a child may find inspiring. Even though the characters are fictional, the implications of it aren’t.

Peter Pan might have been every child’s favorite hero while growing up, but in recent culture, the name “Peter Pan” has become a pop-psychology term that is used to describe a person who refuses to grow up; no, I’m not talking about their physical growth.

Peter Pan Syndrome or Peter Pan Complex – as it has come to be known – might not be a recognized diagnosis in the DSM-5, but it is a term that many psychologists prefer to use for adults – specifically males – who refuse to accept their adult responsibilities and everything that comes with being an adult including relationships, career, and even food preferences!

In this article, we’re exploring the Peter Pan syndrome, its traits, what causes it, how it impacts an adult’s life, and how you can help someone with a Peter Pan complex.

What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Peter Pan syndrome is a pop psychology term that is not an official diagnosis but informally refers to an adult who does not want to mature and take on adult responsibilities. This syndrome can manifest in each person differently, but a typical trait of this syndrome describes a person who does not want to become an adult.

An adult with Peter Pan syndrome faces difficulty in moving forward in life and continues to carry childlike feelings such as curiosity, humor, and affection for things that are considered childlike. However, this is not true in every case. Some adults may naturally have the above tendencies but not Peter Pan syndrome.

Here are some traits and symptoms that can help you understand who has Peter Pan syndrome and who is naturally child-like.

The Traits of Peter Pan Syndrome

Because it is not an official diagnosis, there are no criteria listed. However, here are some common traits of peter pan syndrome that can help you identify it in certain adults;

An adult may have Peter Pan syndrome if they have;

  • Difficulty taking on adult responsibilities and commitment
  • Issues related to work and career
  • Vain and self-centered behavior
  • Fear of loneliness
  • Difficulty controlling their impulses
  • A strong reliance on others
  • A tendency to avoid criticism

An adult with Peter Pan syndrome may also face trouble building and maintaining romantic and social relationships. They may change partners frequently, seek emotionally immature partners, and even end relationships when commitment enters the conversation.

What Causes Peter Pan Syndrome?

It is not easy to say what causes the peter pan complex, but some theories may help explain why someone may want to avoid adult responsibilities and commitment. Some of the common factors or theories can include:

1. Having a spoiled childhood:

If a person has grown up in a spoiled household where they were rarely told “no,” it can affect their life skills and make it harder for them to accept adulthood. These people grow up coddled and become reliable to their parents. They don’t have boundaries and responsibilities, and a sudden expectation of stepping into adulthood alone may make them develop peter pan syndrome.

2. Having an abusive childhood:

If a person has had an abusive childhood, it can also impact their inability to commit to adulthood. A person with an abusive past may have this need to “catch up” on their childhood that they missed as soon as they become an adult. This can also cause a person to develop peter pan syndrome.

Is There a Link Between Childhood Trauma And OCD? | What Studies Say…

3. Feeling nostalgic:

Who doesn’t want to feel nostalgic as they grow up? It’s fun to reminisce about our childhood. But there’s a difference between reminiscing and wanting to step into childhood again. If a person becomes nearly obsessed with wanting to recreate their childhood, then it could also contribute to the peter pan complex.

4. Economic factors:

Economic hardships in recent years also seem to have taken a toll on us. Long working hours, less pay, and little to no work-life balance can also make it harder to deal with adulthood. If a person is not progressing in life, they may start regressing. They may want to escape their life and hardships, causing a peter pan complex to develop.

5. Not having adult skills:

Adulting is not easy, and as we age, things become more challenging for us. And let’s be real; no one teaches us skills that may help us as we enter adulthood. Some people can adjust to adulting easily, with some barriers along the way, but some people may find the same quite challenging. If a person does not have enough adulting skills, then it may also cause them to develop Peter Pan syndrome, wanting to refuse to take on adult responsibilities.

The Impact of Peter Pan Syndrome

One of the most common impacts having Peter Pan syndrome can have on one’s life is trouble maintaining a romantic relationship. A person with Peter Pan syndrome may find it hard to express their emotions, listen to their partner, and stay on equal footing with their partner in the relationship. This may also make them put all the burden of their responsibilities on their partner’s shoulders.

A person with peter pan syndrome may have a supporting partner that psychologists refer to as “Wendy” – the fictional character from Peter Pan. This partner becomes the one responsible for decision-making, paying the bills, making the meals, and all the things that the person with Peter Pan syndrome refuses to take on.

There are some instances where the partner does not even realize that they are taking up the role of “Wendy” in the relationship. Eventually, this kind of imbalance can affect the relationship and negatively affect the partners’ mental and emotional health.

Other areas where having Peter Pan syndrome can impact our work and career. An adult with Peter Pan syndrome may show a lack of interest in work, refuse to take on work commitments, and communicate effectively with others.

How to Help Someone With Peter Pan Syndrome?

If a person has peter pan syndrome, you need to understand that it’s difficult for them to grow up – emotionally and mentally. If there is such a person in your life, then here’s how you can help them;

1. Avoid enabling them:

Do not enable them and offer unnecessary support. You can assist them whenever needed but avoid doing all the work for them. It’s important to understand that a healthy relationship is a two-way street, and if they are not reciprocating your efforts, then you need to stop as well.

2. Slowly introduce them to adulthood:

Introduce them to adult concepts slowly but firmly. If you want them to have a job, then have them apply for an easy job and slowly start from there. Once they get used to adulthood, you can bring other things like decision-making, etc., into their life.

3. Avoid losing them to distractions:

Distractions are good, but not always and not too much. Avoid indulging them in their plays, and make sure they don’t spend too much time on social media or continue playing video games all day. Try to get them to accept some adult responsibilities if not all.

Adulthood is not easy. There are many things to worry about – parenting, relationships, careers, jobs, loan payments, and more. So I get it when someone says, “Childhood was bliss; wish I could go back to those care-free days…” Alas! We are adults with adult responsibilities that won’t do us any good if we continue to ignore them.

If you notice that you avoid taking on adult responsibilities and adulthood, then it’s important to understand the cause of it. Once you know what causes you to act like this, you can take into account other factors and see how you can break free of them.

Once you do that, it’s recommended that you speak to a therapist. Therapy can help you discover a lot about yourself – past, present, and everything else that comes in between. Therapists can provide you with a safe and non-judgmental environment to explore why it’s difficult for you to grow up.


Great for a large network of licensed therapists

  • $60 to $90/week, billed every 4 weeks

  • Therapy via messaging, phone, or live video chat

  • Flexible cancellation at any time

20% off your first month


Great for CBT Based therapists

  • $40/week, billed every 4 weeks

  • Therapy via messaging, phone, or live video chat

  • Specialization for CBT based Therapy

20% off your first month


Best for Treatment Plants

  • $60 to $90/week, billed every 4 weeks

  • Therapy via messaging, phone, or live video chat

  • Flexible cancellation at any time

$100 off your first month with code SPACE

You can also explore other issues that you face as an adult, such as emotional immaturity, economic worries, anxiety, loneliness, and more in therapy.


Peter Pan syndrome is a pop psychology term that refers to an adult who refuses to take on adult responsibilities and accept adult commitments. While this term has been specifically used to describe adult males, it can still apply to anyone with the traits.

If you or your loved one has Peter Pan syndrome, then you can speak to a healthcare professional to learn its causes, impact, and how to treat Peter Pan syndrome.

I hope this blog helped you. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts about Peter Pan syndrome in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

As Seen On