As a father of four daughters, I have spent many hours watching every version of Cinderella, Princess, Happily-Ever-After animated and non-animated movies that have been made. Now as a man, I must admit I have enjoyed the creative story lines of the originals and the remakes. It struck me the other day while facilitating a support recovery group that behaviors of an intimacy anorexic and sex addict is much like the behaviors of the story in Peter Pan. The women who fall in love and marry these men have many of the same characteristics of Cinderella.
Let’s look at these two different characters in very different stories through the lens of recovery. Ladies first. Now, I know there are different versions of this classic narrative, but we’ll with go with the version where her mother dies. Her father, foolishly for love or convenience, re-marries a woman who has 3 of her own daughters to help him raise his own and take care of the home while he works and provides for his new family. Some time passes, and now Cinderella’s father dies. Cinderella’s step-mother has never really treated her as well as her own daughters. Now that her father is dead, the step-mother takes over and begins to treat her as a servant with daily chores from sunup to sundown.
Here is poor Cinderella, who is truly a victim of circumstance. She is probably suffering from the loss of her mother and father as well as issues of abandonment, anger, anxiety and perhaps depression. Let’s throw in some trauma/abuse that might develop into a personality disorder as well. She has no one to protect her. The people she loves die. She learns how to become a survivor. But like any little girl, as she grows, she begins to imagine what her life would be like meeting her Prince Charming someday. We will call this the Cinderella Syndrome. In fact, this is the very thing that helps her thrive in these harsh conditions.
Peter Pan lives in Neverland. He has magical powers and is able to fly with the help of pixy dust. He loves adventure and exploring new worlds. He loves to have fun and believes he is entitled to have fun for his “day’s work,” which we really don’t know what that is other than perpetually fighting with Captain Hook for some unclear, revengeful reason. Peter Pan meets Wendy and takes her and her siblings back to Neverland for an adventure. Wendy and the siblings want to return home and eventually grow up; whereas, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys want to stay in Neverland where you never have to grow up. Peter Pan is a flirt with the girls, has no parents that we know of, probably has abandonment issues, experienced trauma, and takes no responsibility for much of anything. He may even suffer from anxiety, depression, a conduct disorder, anti-social tendencies or a schizoid personality disorder with a sprinkle of narcissism. We will call this the Peter Pan Syndrome.
Let’s rewrite this fictional story a little bit. Cinderella will still meet her Fairy Godmother and will magically be transformed into a beautiful maiden for one night. She still goes to the ball and meets her Prince Charming. The clock strikes midnight, and she must run out of the castle, as the magical evening comes to an end.
Here is the twist, Peter Pan is out on an adventure that very night in his ship sailing in the sky over a kingdom he has not yet explored. Below him, a full moon lights up the darkness. He notices a ragged maiden running on a forest path. He jumps off the ship and flies down to check out the situation, wondering why a woman would be out so late at night on her own without a chaperone. He meets up with Cinderella. She is startled by such an odd sight of a young man in a green outfit hovering, as she runs and then begins to walk to catch her breath. Peter Pan introduces himself and offers her some help to get her home safely. Cinderella is very grateful for such kindness from a complete stranger. He walks with her through the forest, and they begin to get acquainted. Cinderella feels very comfortable with Peter Pan. He is such a good listener who appears sincere and loving.She begins to share her heart about her life story, the tragedy of the death of her parents, her step-mother and sisters who treat her like a slave, her Fairy Godmother and the abrupt end to her perfect evening. She begins to cry, and Peter Pan holds her, as he quietly allows her to cry on his shoulder.
Throughout this heartfelt encounter, Peter Pan has shared very little of himself, his story or his heart. The sun begins to rise up over the horizon, and Peter Pan must return to Neverland. He gives her a kiss goodbye and promises to return that very evening. He is a young man of his word and trustworthy. He returns that evening and for many more following. Peter Pan is so much fun! Destiny slips away. Cinderella has been so busy with Peter Pan that she missed the servant who sought to find the maiden whose foot fit the glass slipper. Eventually, she falls in love with Peter Pan and forgets about the real Prince of the Kingdom.
They get married in Neverland; but you see, Peter Pan never truly married Cinderella. He is still married to himself. Cinderella and Peter Pan have a small house in the Kingdom, but Peter Pan never stays the night or is intimate with his bride. As time passes, Cinderella wants more of Peter Pan’s time and attention. Peter Pan is not ready to grow up, as he has more adventures to live and maidens to meet. Cinderella is married but very alone. She is not sure what happened. Peter Pan is not at all who he presented himself to be. Once they were married, everything changed.
Years pass and Cinderella’s heart is beginning to die. She does not trust her husband anymore, as he is always busy, away from their home with time and money unaccounted for. When confronted, Peter Pan just gets defensive. He accuses, blames and criticizes Cinderella, trying to make her believe she is the crazy one. (Because this is what little boys do when they don’t want to grow up.)
The Cinderella Syndrome will meet and marry the Peter Pan Syndrome…it’s as if they are drawn to each other. In fiction, it’s true that these characters and stories may have never crossed paths; but in the non-fiction world, we see it every day. These endings are not “happily-ever-after.” If you are a woman who has married a Peter Pan, I want you to know you are not alone and there is hope.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.