Little Prince (or Princess) Syndrome, when it occurs in adulthood, is also known as Peter Pan Syndrome. The condition does not figure in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), so it is not considered an official mental disorder. But it is a common condition, one which often results from an overly protective mother (or father)—a helicopter mom, or a parent who gives their son or daughter free range, and too much praise and attention, during childhood and adolescence. Such parental behavior is also sometimes referred to as emotional incest.*
Peter Pan Syndrome is traditionally thought of as a situation in which a grown man is childish and immature, despite his age. But in today's culture, with so much helicopter parenting, it's safe to assume that both men and women can exhibit these behaviors. Little Prince (or Princess) Syndrome is related to, but not identical to, Emperor Syndrome, a term is primarily used to describe Chinese boys with no siblings who behave like little tyrants.
Little Princes and Princesses, as I define them, are grown men or women who act as if they are selfish children, narcissistic teenagers, or irresponsible young adults, and feel entitled to behave as they see fit. Following are 10 traits typical of someone living with Little Prince or Princess Syndrome. (For simplicity's sake, I use the term Little Prince below, and refer to the role of mothers, not father, but the signs are applicable to all genders.)
- He is in touch with his mom almost every day. She is more "in" his life than anyone else. She checks up on him and worries about him, even though he is a grown man. She might buy his clothes and his groceries, and do his laundry for him.
- He acts like a child, a teenager, or a person who is much younger than he is. He might throw temper tantrums or party all night with people 10 years younger than him.
- He acts as if women should serve him. He expects to be taken care of and be pampered on demand. He will happily take but never give.
- He cannot maintain a long-term, stable romantic relationship. Former partners end up becoming his enemies or new playmates.
- He is commitment-phobic in nearly all areas of life—despite having a needy attachment style. It can take him six months to commit to buying a new sofa.
- He has few, if any, close friends. His "friends" consist mostly of his mom and the strangers he meets when out playing or partying.
- He is often passive-aggressive, meaning he has a tendency to engage in an indirect expression of hostility through acts such as subtle insults, sullen behavior, stubbornness, or a deliberate failure to accomplish required tasks.
- He is a narcissist or exhibits a childish selfishness. If something is even mildly inconvenient, he will resist doing it.
- He is financially irresponsible. He spends too much money playing, partying, or chasing after women.
- He rarely thinks anything is his fault. He blames everyone around him for everything that goes wrong in his life—even his mother if he can't find another scapegoat.
It's unusual for a Little Prince to possess every one of these traits, so it can be hard to identify them. Their ability to lure you into their world with their childish innocence and charm makes it even trickier, but their concerned mothers, and their own irresponsibility and selfishness, eventually give them away.
* Note: The term emotional incest is also used to describe cases in which a parent treats his or her child as their partner or spouse.
Berit "Brit" Brogaard is a co-author of The Superhuman Mind