‘Puer aeternus’: Peter pan syndrome


After recently watching legendary Steven Spielberg film ‘HOOK’  I felt compelled by the meaning behind the mythos. Essentially Pan is a misfit-like teenage warrior who rebels against adult pirates in a fictional paradise known as ‘Neverland’. The cornerstone of his legend is he leader of lost boys who all refuses to GROW UP!  From watching this film for 10,000 time I drew a parallel between Pan’s mythology and the crisis of modern day young man.

The amount of young men I met between ages of 18 – 25 on average who are extremely intelligent and are insanely talented yet remain stuck in this juvenile state of purposelessness… Despite being so gifted, they never aspire to go beyond the stereotypical norm of videos games and parties. Not there is anything wrong with downtime, but a lot of these men truly minimise their capabilities and drastically reduce their level of successfulness via lack of healing, disciplined effort, courage and taking responsibility.

‘Puer aeternus’

‘Puer aesternus’ means in Latin ‘eternal boy’ and within Greek mythology is based on the idea of child-god who is forever young. Has a desire to be totally boundaryless, to live without any restriction and viewing any restriction as intolerable, fears commitment in intimate relationships, has poor impulse control, has low levels self-discipline and hates to take responsibility… In Jungian psychology, the term ‘puer’ is used to describe an adult man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. The ‘puer syndrome’ is not an issue in one’s early years, because the symptoms then are age-appropriate, but many psychological crises in later life arise from the inner need to grow out of this stage.

An interesting quote from ‘I Ching, the Chinese book of wisdom:

“Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man; if they existed, his life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man’s life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted. The individual attains significance as a free spirit only by surrounding himself with these limitations and by determining for himself what his duty is.” [Hexagram 60, ‘Limitation,’ in Richard Wilhelm, trans., The I Ching or Book of Changes]

An interesting parallel I noticed between this mental condition is it produces fears further restriction and unhealthy obsession with freedom and having no limits at all is the association with ‘toxic shame’.

Healthy shame allows for sense of having healthy limits + origins of toxic shame 

When reading about toxic shame recently over the last 3 years there is always a discussion of how healthy shame produces the feelings of healthy limits. Toxic shame arises from early abandonment trauma and typically in the form of parental betrayal (this could any form of neglect, abuse & using a child for the parents desire for narcissistic supply at an age when the child is so young and oblivious to notice this family dynamic and raises the child to be codependent).

Shame is a healthy social emotion. It lets us know where our boundaries are, lets us where other peoples boundaries are, lets us know when we need to get help, lets us when we make a mistake to learn from the experience, lets us know our knowledge is limited and need to keep learning and search for new intel. When we are toxically shamed we can’t ask for help as it triggers the feeling of being ‘ashamed’ (as we shamed for asking for help when we young)  rather than ‘healthy shame’ (which is not as intense). Toxic shame can result in poor self-discipline as we try and self-medicate to numb out constant pain and get addicted to pleasure more easily, and then sets us to have poor impulse control.

One of the many ego defences is ‘extreme perfectionism’ or ‘maladaptive perfectionism’, which people use to avoid mistakes which can trigger feelings of shame and ultimately becomes an ‘anti-shame defence’. Healthy shame gives us permission to be human. It allows us to make mistakes and takes the pressure off ourselves to be god-like and totally flawless. Allows us to ask for help, continuously learn, except making mistakes is an inevitable part of the human experience and we don’t need to attach how little mistakes we make to our self-worth.

Not being there for a child needs in the form both love & protection in childhood causes the child to become under-developed in adulthood. The child then develops at age inappropriate rate and installs sense of worthlessness in a child which carries through into their adulthood. Toxic shame produces a feelings of pervasive defectiveness and inadequacy…

Often times when we’re toxically shamed we have our true self shamed, our needs were shamed, drives shamed, communication shamed, passions shamed and essentially we gain a ‘shamed based personality’ or ‘pain orientated identity’. This ever-present feeling of pain feels omnipresent (everywhere wherever we go) and because it is so painful a person must develop ego defences to keep pain at bay and avoid it becoming more triggered, this gives birth to a ‘false self’. This could be in the form of nice person persona, super-achiever, a hyper-perfectionist, a big bully, ultra quiet or being excessively innocent or a rebel.

When we’re toxically shamed part of our true identity is buried amongst unconscious pain. Toxic shame feels so paralysing IT CAN PRODUCES THE FEELING OF TOTAL RESTRICTION and that nothing about you can authentically be expressed out a fear of being more shamed (as someone was growing up). What I call ‘the core primal emotional wounds’ (which I have done a whole post on) are a by product of toxic shame and early childhood abandonment trauma.

Until we heal the wounded / fragmented / shamed parts of us which we damaged when we young, we never truly form as whole mature adult .. Part of us keeps repeating similar tendencies & relationships of when we younger. My motto is ‘heal the child, empower the adult. Due to the feeling of intense restriction toxic shame produces and the underdeveloped maturity caused by under-functioning early life parenting, this could be a potential cause of ‘Peter Pan syndrome’.

‘Peter Pan syndrome’  

‘Peter Pan syndrome’ has been defined as “affects people who do not want or feel unable to grow up, people with the body of an adult but the mind of a child. The syndrome is not currently considered a psychopathology. However, an increasingly larger number of adults are presenting emotionally immature behaviours in Western society.”  This lack of maturity could be defined as a byproduct of an underdeveloped ego from under-functioning styles of parenting.

The crisis of the modern day young man: Lost boys from broken homes 

From attending university for 4 years and doing multiple courses across 4 colleges, I have the opportunity to meet a lot of young men across multiple fields. There has been a common overlapping themes amongst these men, an obvious theme I have noticed is inability to actualise & live some form of self-inspiring life purpose. Despite a lot of the young men I met being SO HYPER-INTELLIGENT &  EXTREMELY TALENTED they never seem to fully give their gifts to the world and as a result drastically undersell their potential…

Common symptoms of these lost boys include:

  • Low to no self-esteem
  • Very low levels or no self-discipline
  • Poor focus
  • No goals or zero ambition
  • Poor to no empathy or too much empathy
  • Very self-absorbed or have narcissistic personality disorder
  • Preoccupation with video games
  • Preoccupation with partying
  • Preoccupation with addictions
  • No drive to serve people
  • No drive to get a job or work
  • Fear of intimate relationship commitments
  • Fear of transparency


The father deficit: 

“Children have a hole in their soul, and it is normally in the shape of their fathers…” – Anonymous

Although ‘the mother wound’ is extremely damaging and prevalent it is a topic of a separate blog post. I wanted to draw attention to impact of the element fatherlessness and ‘the father wound’ in a modern era can being so damaging for young men. A father is example of the masculine components of a young mans life. Now I understand a father isn’t the ONLY male role model man can have but its the first template / archetype a young has and what it means to be a man. Now there is some fables and truisms regarding fatherless homes but studies do show how young men from fatherless homes are more likely to become addicts, more likely to go to prison and in some cases more likely to become homeless… If dad is passive in his own life in regards to his mental / physical health & life purpose, chances are his son will follow his example often times unconsciously.

‘The self-reparenting process’: a call to action and rite of passage 

“Until you finish the work with your source figures, you’re never truly in another relationship.” – John Bradshaw 

I think a massive rite of passage for young men is to begin internalise their power by healing their core childhood wounds. This is easy once you discover it is hard. This actually the major of theme of the book I am writing at currently. Until we truly separate & dissolve the ‘false self’  / role / social mask & toxic shame we developed from our family of origins, the chances are we will keep reacting this our role to try and get our unmet childhood needs met. Unconsciously ‘acting out’ this role from a very poorly written life script given to us from our wounded parents. Until we heal, will just keep attracting similar types of people to us who could be allowing us to keep us comfortable in this role and could be further wounding us…

Now, nobody heals perfectly, you just manage you better.  The idea with healing is you grieve out the pain you never got to express at certain stages in your life. You begin to be more compassionate with yourself, you protect yourself more, you follow your true life purpose which you’re passionate about and you take care of your physical health better. The idea here is you’re becoming more fully ‘individuated’ and less of an extension of your family system and you begin to dissolve your false self and embrace your true core identity.

Personally refer to all this as ’empowered self-care’. I consider it a spiritual discipline. There are many ways to do this. Here are the main 6:

  • Vocally ventilating your issues and things you’re ashamed of to a counsellor, support group or trusted friend.
  • Begin to behaviour modify your addictions and passive fully feel all your emotions
  • Express your anger (angering) in a self place about a losses in childhood and present day
  • Journal your thoughts when you’re emotionally distressed, anger, sad or lonely
  • Hardest one yet more powerful is to cry out your losses (sorrowing). For most men this will be hard as their sadness has been shamed out of them and plus compared to angering, it is not as easily done on demand. I reccomend watching any movie clips or songs that trigger an emotional response to do this.
  • Begin to challenge your hyper-aggressive inner-critic dialogue with both combative self-talk and compassionate inner-dialogue (recommend reading my article titled ’12# iron rules of strong self-esteem to help you emotional self-regulate yourself and improve your inner-dialogue).


Peter pan’s shadow: 

“The shadow is the parts of you that your persona has rejected.” – Jordan Peterson

Peter Pans shadow always seems to be running away from him. The ‘shadow’ in psychology is a metaphor which refers to the parts of us that have been shamed, exiled from consciousness which we find hard to express because either we made afraid of them by some authority in our life.  The idea with healing for a man is you’re trying to become what Robert Glover  described as(Author of no more mr nice guy) ‘an integrated male’. You’re going to begin to integrate behaviours and emotions your role in your family unit didn’t afford you to have.  This maybe your aggression, anger, sadness, ability to relax without being busy, ability to make mistakes and not always be perfect and your ability to have boundaries and say “no!”.  The idea behind the whole integration process is you’re trying to become a more whole human and honour all your personality, so you can be more at peace with every facet of you.

Live your life purpose 

“There are concentric circles of purpose, so the first mission that most men come upon is the most superficial, such as the notions of success and failure inherited from their father or what society tells them to do–or how their fear directs them. Most people are looking for their mission out of fear, for money, to make their parents happy, or for their spouses–whatever it is to convince themselves they’re worth something. This has nothing to do with your deep mission. 

You are your mission, and if you don’t know it, you are not relaxed in the moment. So you don’t have to find your mission, you need to relax in the moment to discover it. It is being shown to you right now. You are being lived by a force deeper than you. Masculine practice is intuitively feeling and identifying with that force so that when you wake up in the morning, you are lived by your mission.” – David Deida 

Have a think about whats the most meaningful to you. What do you enjoy? Your mission doesn’t necessarily have to this astronomical vision about saving the whole universe from the apocalypse… Pick a small goal, something you’re intrinsically self-fulfilled about accomplishing.  Your life’s purpose needs to be big enough you feel challenged by / inspires you but at the same doesn’t completely overwhelm you and keeps you immobilised…

Start small, think big and move fast. Your core life purpose will be built up overtime, moving from one goal to the next. The most important thing is do something which you’re proud of and you know within self means something to you. Pretend that if it was your last day on Earth, what would you be fulfilled doing for 1 day knowing that was your last day to live the life of your dreams.


Go forth wherever you may roam, and may your power be legendary.

From your friendly neighbourhood coach

Joshua Leo Stuart





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