Peter Pan and Wendy: a syndrome of a couple

By Rafael San Román Rodríguez
Published October 17, 2017

I’m sure you’ve heard of Peter Pan syndrome, and it’s likely that you’ll also hear something called Wendy’s syndrome. They are not officially accepted clinical labels, but rather expressions that are gradually permeating the colloquial language of people and also of psychology.

Many of us have grown up dreaming of a delirious, colorful world full of exciting adventures free of obligation: Neverland. The island where Wendy and her little brothers landed in the wake of fairy dust of an enigmatic lost child named Peter Pan. The truth is that Disney has done a lot for the world of psychology; you only need to see how their stories are distorted when they pass from the movie screen to real people.

Peter Pan exists no longer as a drawing but instead as the inspiration for a syndrome. Surely you know him, maybe you’ve even thought that you yourself are a little Peter. The Peter Pan character is immature, refuses to grow up, and struggles to prolong his youth or even adolescence against the inexorable passage of time. People of a certain age who refuse to take responsibility for themselves – and others – would fall under the category of having Peter Pan syndrome.

Peter Pan syndrome is not to be confused with a lack of motivation or focus. It doesn’t refer to ignorance, but rather it refers to those who are unable to assume responsibilities under the excuse of rebellion, freedom, or independence. Sometimes a Peter Pan implies a tender and benevolent image, but if a Peter Pan reaches a certain age, that usually means we are facing a person whose habits include a lack of responsibility, an excessive amount of carefreeness, and over-dependency. Yes, Disney taught us that “magic never grows”, but people, we are not a cartoon! We must integrate that magic with the passage of time in a healthy way if we do not want to become a grotesque set of signs and symptoms .

Peter usually has Wendy by his side; someone whose needs are met by meeting the needs of others. For example, the needs of a immature husband or children who don’t grow or fall because they are constantly under the protection of the Wendy. It’s no coincidence: Peter and Wendy make a great couple, because in the same way that behind every great man there is usually a great woman, next to all Peters there is usually a Wendy fervently determined to postpone his obligation to prioritize others and avoid any effort. She is a person who, by the fear of becoming complacent and caring, forgets herself because it is easier for her to take care of others. This “I already do it for you” is just a distorted way of asking for affection and acceptance. It is a “recompensing” way to control others and a fantastic method to forget yourself while it becomes essential for those around you.

Having fun and living a relaxed life is as noble as taking care of others and helping them with their struggles. The problem appears when we confuse having fun with making a fool out of ourselves, living a relaxed life with negligence and laziness, or taking care of others by doing everything for them and making them useless so that they never stop needing me because “needing me is the same as loving me”.  

The barriers between these things are diffused. If you find it hard to see them or if you see them clearly but you are on the the wrong side of the barrier, remember that psychologists are used to working with it. That is why we can help you modulate your way of functioning so that you can move to the other side. The side where maturing is fun and taking care of someone does not prevent you from growing.