I was the most spoiled and entitled kid I knew, way more so than the average child. Not only did I desire life to be exactly as I wanted it to, but I also expected someone else to shape it for me. In childhood, most of us want, and need, to be cared for; we need an individual in power to soothe and help us recall our specialness, falling apart in his absence. We don’t ever relinquish that feeling, regardless of age; but, some, like me, take it too far.
Peter Pan Syndrome, which isn’t an official clinical diagnosis but highly relevant nonetheless, encompasses the inability, or unwillingness, to take responsibility for one’s life, despite being of appropriate age to do so. Support, love, validation, and comfort are existential needs, inherent in the quilt that embodies the human condition. Some people need them less (i.e. psychopaths) and some more. However, Peter Pan doesn’t just want to be loved; he yearns to be saved.
I’ve always found life to be particularly challenging. I never had a father to teach me how to fight, stand up for myself, or even get a date. And, I’m sure, in some significant way, that lack contributed to the immense amount of anxiety I experienced when younger. I didn’t know how to do any of those things, and blamed people around me for my inadequacies. Life was a cycle of self-loathing and lashing out, seeking reasons to find fault with a universe that left me short-changed.
Most of what I learned about being a man stemmed from relationships with mentors and family friends; I had to piece together lessons from wherever I could. So, naturally, seeing all of the other boys going to school with their fathers, who possessed a seemingly endless supply of wisdom to bestow, felt like a gut-punch. Why was I so unworthy of having the essential aspects of life that seemed to have just been gifted to others? Why was the world so unfair to me when I hadn’t yet had a chance to prove whether or not I was capable of being a virtuous person? Those questions consumed me, and I became a bully because I sought out revenge and to feel a sense of control that, at the time, I wasn’t even able to envision. Again, engrossed in the cycle.
Due to black and white thinking, a cognitive distortion in which we believe that one extreme is true, or right, at the expense of another, it was difficult for me to accept that I could empathize with and feel sympathy for myself while moving forward. Sometimes, because of the way our brains operate, we think it has to be one or the other: You’re either a victim of circumstance or responsible for your life. But, in reality, you’re both.
Empathy taught me that I deserved to have a father who’d help me mature and grow into the man he wanted want me to be. Sympathy instilled in me a sense of injustice, affording the space to feel sorrow for my inner lost child. And, responsibility granted the gift of acceptance, teaching me that life was never going to fully capitulate to my wishes, no matter the pitch of my tantrums.
In Rocky Balboa, the film’s namesake, has an honest and revealing interaction with his son, in which he provides him with tough love, reminding him of reality’s cruelness. Initially, his son blames others around him, including Rocky, for his inability to advance in his career. He scolds him for being a celebrity, for having to live in his shadow. And, in response, Rocky gives one of the all-time greatest speeches in film history, passionately revealing that his son’s struggles are compounded by his unwillingness to accept the reality, and inevitability, of failure, choosing instead to cast blame on others for his misfortunes.
The winners, according to Rocky, are the ones who “take the hits and keep moving forward,” the ones who believe in themselves and believe in their values. I could have spent the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself, for raging at the world for not having a father, for being bullied, for being excluded because I looked and behaved unlike the others, but I chose to move the fuck on. There’s no secret formula; you simply decide to focus on your strengths and to make better choices. Like Camus, this was my act of rebellion, against the man who should have been in my life, against those who went to great lengths to make me feel inferior, and against the universe for being deficient.
Accepting reality, and the things I’ll never have, is a constant struggle, because it’s a habit, not a destination; but, it’s one that I can choose to engage in every day, every hour, and each minute I’m breathing. You can spend a lifetime placing the blame, and the power, in the ice cold hands of those whom have hurt you, or you can throw your middle finger up and, instead, choose to merge with the great saboteur, selecting love instead of hate, and kindness for the enemy residing within.