Your Peter Pan Syndrome - Making It Work for You
I want to help you address a growing problem in America I keep reading about. To determine if you’re at risk, answer the following:
- Have you learned to say “no,” although someone may disagree, even be disappointed?
- Do you believe you deserve what you want?
- Do you keep the prospect of fun as a high priority?
- Do you often not know what to do next?
- Do you sometimes ignore problems or put off solving them, because you’ve seen that often they go away on their own or work themselves out without your intervention?
- Does your enthusiasm for “stupid stuff” (like the science behind why shoelaces get untied) make people think you might be a little crazy?
- Do you work toward long-term big dreams, even though you know they may outlive you, or in spite of how unrealistic those dreams might be? Do you agree with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said; Dream no small dreams for they stir not the hearts of men."
- Do you prefer to live in your head more than in the “reality” especially as defined by news outlets?
- Are you more intrigued by the journey (the process) rather than the destination (the outcome)? Do you do some things just because you never have never done them before, without a real goal or expectation of a particular outcome. In fact, you’re pretty sure you’ll fail?
- Do you lash out (eloquently of course) at insouciant customer service people, self-serving elected officials and cultural barbarians?
- Do you work hard by your own definition of the term rather than by that of other people’s?
I’ve got some bad news for you. If you have answered yes to these questions, you have Peter Pan Syndrome.
Some months ago, my former boss of 10 years whom I admire more than anyone I know personally, posted online that I had a Peter Pan complex.
Rather shocked (since it was my ex-husband, not I, who always chose Halloween costumes with tights), I looked up the characteristics. People with the syndrome
- Avoid responsibility
- Believe they deserve whatever they want
- Think fun is a very important thing in life
- Focus on fantasy more than reality
- Never know what to do next
- Tend to ignore or put off problems
- Some people think they are crazy
- Bet on long-shot dreams
- Live in their head rather than the real world (whatever that means)
- Don’t feel there’s any reason to accomplish anything
- Get attention through negative behavior
- Are lazy slackers
I am fully confident that laziness wasn’t my ex-boss’ implication in his post, given that I joyfully worked my ass off for him and the company (and was compensated accordingly) for over 10 years. The rest, well, I think he got me. I’d just never framed it that way.
For the record, in spite of this list and all the articles by self-anointed experts, the Peter Pan Syndrome is not currently considered a psychopathology, since the World Health Organization has not recognized it as a psychological disorder.
The “condition” is usually dished out by people with conventional lifestyles who can’t really hold any other lifestyle as real.
Those few studies that exist by actual mental health experts define the Peter Pan Syndrome as largely a "man’s disease” which should set off anyone’s misogynist alarms in the same way the word “hysteria” does in me.
The nature of articles on the subject makes the condition look suspiciously more like a theory based on societal constricts (particularly the ideals women and professionals who "fix" men) of how a man should behave, without any adjustment for how the world has changed for men in the last twenty years, especially economically.
Now those conventional expectations are bleeding into what society expects from “grown-up” women as we gain economic parity: mortgages, motherhood, material wealth, stress and career status.
My favorite bullet item is the slacker characteristic.
Many people think any work that you admit you love doing must not be work.
I have built this website, written a weekly blog that involves actual research for years, authored two books (planning two more), learned a second language to true conversational level, stayed up late many a night and week-end reading excruciating materials about SEO and fixing broken links.
Most my friends still remark that it must be nice not to have worked in four years.
Slacker. Guilty as charged.
At least I don’t have to behave badly to get attention in Mexico (to keep true to the mission of this site, I always feel I have to answer the question, “What’s this got to do with Mexico?”)
As a woman living in Mexico, I have found the culture quite enabling to my addictive need for attention.
In Mexico, whether it’s their mother, grandmother, a foreigner or an attractive woman that Mexicans are seeing in you (you never know), a woman’s presence is politely acknowledged here in Mexico no matter how old you are. I would guess men have the same experience. I need to pose that to my friend Mexico Mike.
Mexicans tend to see, as in take-in, whomever they are looking at. Maybe they just have more time to notice their surroundings. Even bus drivers typically look at those who board square in the eyes when they can.
Until you can move to Mexico, my suggestion to you as a Peter Pan is that you re-frame the definition, since writers on the subject assign definitions anecdotally rather than through any actual science anyway.
As an example of more positive re-framing, my ex-husband had all of the conventional characteristics of a “grown-up;” the stress, the career, the mortgage. I viewed him as a Peter Pan both because he wore tights on Halloween and lived by what I thought the Peter Pan Syndrome was:
Keep adventuring and stay not a grown-up “ - M.J. Barrie, “Peter Pan.”
M.J. Barrie is the original source on Peter Pan, and maybe the one we should ask first.
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Next up: If you've read it once, you've read it a dozen times. The key clichés in Expat interviews and what they are really trying to tell you.
Kerry Baker is the author of this blog and two books, the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, a curation of the best free Spanish language tools on the web, curated into lesson plans by level, and "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico for less.