Some people seem to just not want to grow up. They take one look at the prospect of becoming a mature adult and decide… nah, it’s not for them.
Now, we’ve previously touched upon Peter Pan syndrome (aka “manolescents”) and how that kind of behavior manifests in a particular percentage of the population, but we really haven’t yet delved into why this happens.
It’s more than likely that almost all of us know someone who refuses to grow up: it’s not something that’s limited to a particular age range, gender, or ethnic background, but can affect people from all different walks of life.
It’s just… a total abdication of maturity, with people preferring to keep behaving, and even dressing, the way they did in their youth.
What causes this behavior? Why are so many people insisting on behaving like kids and abjectly refusing to mature?
Let’s take a look at a few contributing factors.
1. They’re Afraid Of Autonomy And Aloneness
Making decisions for oneself can be incredibly daunting, and a lot of people balk at that kind of responsibility for themselves by refusing to sever the parent-child bonds they’re comfortable with.
Many people want security, comfort, and the reassurance that they’re making the right choices and doing things well: validation that generally comes from a parent or mentor.
If people don’t take steps toward personal autonomy, they might never have confidence in their ability to live life on their own terms.
2. Growing Up = No More Fun
Some people look at children and envy their carefree attitudes and behavior.
When they’re dancing around on the grass or spending hours drawing pictures, they’re not fretting about their mortgage or tax returns or thinking about their cholesterol levels.
They’re just having fun, and that is an incredibly appealing thing for people to grasp at.
Many assume that once they grow up, they can’t immerse themselves in joyous abandonment like that, but are instead bogged down by the never-ending onslaught of adult responsibility.
Or, even worse, they might only be allowed to have the kind of so-called “fun” that adults are supposed to have, like playing golf on weekends, or having board game parties with neighbors, where everyone complains about their sciatica.
This is utter crap, of course.
A person can have unbridled joy at any age, and can delve into whatever pursuits make their souls shine. They just have to balance that with life responsibilities, and that balance is what many of them balk at.
3. Few Positive Examples Of Happy Adulthood
In popular media, can you think of a few examples in which adulthood is seen in a positive light?
In TV shows and movies, most adults are seen as either haggard shells of their former selves, or laughingstocks, whilst young people are vibrant and having the time of their lives.
People may have experienced trauma watching their parents and/or grandparents deteriorate from disease, or seen supposedly stable marriages fall apart, and are paranoid of experiencing the same thing.
If they can avoid the trappings of those who grew up before them, then they can avoid the hurt and disappointment that they’ve witnessed firsthand.
How many people do you know who are obsessed with maintaining their youthful appearance?
It’s a constant in pretty much every culture on the planet, and one that the beauty industry capitalizes on rather fiercely.
People are constantly inundated with the message that youth and beauty are their only real attributes, and that aging is something to be fought against, lest they succumb to wrinkles, sagging, and all the other things that go along with the natural aging process.
The elderly are vilified rather than revered, and in a culture where one’s sexual attractiveness is considered the be-all and end-all of their existence, to grow old means that they won’t be desired anymore. They’ll be utterly irrelevant.
Shallow people who wholly identify their sense of self-worth with their physical appearance can go absolutely ballistic when they start to realize that their temporary physical shells are starting to show a bit of wear and tear, and many will go to extreme measures in order to cling to that youthfulness.
In a case such as this, it’s less of a refusal to grow up, and more of an inability to do so.
For some people who experienced serious childhood trauma, they’re far more comfortable living in a fantasy world of possibilities as a form of escapism, than they are in living in reality… especially when it comes to dealing with trying circumstances or hard decisions.
When faced with a difficult situation, they’ll disassociate and retreat into a safe, comfortable fantasy realm, rather than actually dealing with things… and attempts to force them into action will just cause them to retreat further.
If these behaviors aren’t addressed when the person is still very young, they’ll carry through into adulthood and hinder them permanently, keeping them from making any decisions or taking any steps toward a life that they want.
Instead, they’re more at ease wallowing in situations they despise, because at least there is security in the known.
If they have to contend with severe anxiety and/or depression, those will exacerbate the feeling of vulnerability, so they find themselves replaying situations in which they’re childlike and helpless, being cared for by others.
6. They’re Trapped In The Glory Days Of Their Youth
This is common for people who had a brief bout of fame or success in their teens or early twenties, and have decided to cling to that temporary shimmer forever.
The person could be a 60-year-old man who still dresses and behaves as he did when he was 22 and had a breakthrough hit with his rock band.
Or a woman in her 40s who won’t stop talking about how amazing life was when she was a teenage model and had a torrid affair with a well-known celebrity.
These people are stuck in time, like ghosts who are trapped at the instant of their death, and will keep re-living that moment over and over forever.
Those moments in which they felt special and adored were cornerstones of their development, and they just keep clinging to them, unable to move on.
7. Personality Disorders
Certain personality disorders, such as cluster B types like borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, can keep a person from properly maturing into adulthood.
Their behavior is so over-dramatic, over-emotional, unpredictable, and self-sabotaging, that they’ll either find themselves in circumstances that cause them distress (thus forcing them to retreat), or they will instigate those very situations so they have an excuse to retreat into stagnant sameness.
In their quest to avoid any kind of pain, discomfort, or abandonment, they choose to remain in places and situations that they can control; in which they feel safe.
For many, this means mom and dad’s house, or the apartment they’ve lived in since they were 18, eating the same foods (because they provide comfort), wearing the same style clothing (because that keeps things constant), etc.
There’s one very common reason why so many people refuse to grow up, and more often than not, it’s this undercurrent that fuels all the aforementioned reasons as well:
8. Death Absolutely Terrifies Them
To grow up means that they’re adults.
Once they’re adults, they have to acknowledge that they’re aging.
Aging means growing old.
Growing old means that they’re going to die.
Although death is part of the natural life cycle for every living thing, death-denying Western culture cherishes youth and beauty, and vilifies old age.
Death is something to be battled against, denied, ignored, not dealt with at all.
People go out of their way to avoid even thinking about death, let alone talking about it, and the sudden awareness that they, too, are going to die one day can be devastating, even paralyzing to a person.
And so they distract themselves with trivialities, whether that’s cultivating a comic book collection, delving into celebrity gossip, or obsessing over the latest health and diet craze – anything to keep their minds from dealing with the reality that all of this will end one day.
Rather than accept this with a measure of grace, they play pretend that they’re young and carefree, forever running away from the reality of their eventual end, instead of embracing and celebrating the time that they have.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.