Eternal Children, Fantasy, & the Self-fulfilling Prophecy
The new generation of young adults has brought with them a widespread resistance to working culture, hermitic agoraphobia, and an inexorable spike in anxiety rates. Japan was the first known culture to be hit by a form of severe social withdrawal, called Hikikomori, which is characterized by young adults who recluse in the homes of their caretakers, and are overly dependent and unable/unwilling to work or attend school for indefinite periods of time. However, they’re far from the only culture affected: The United Kingdom calls them Neets (young adults with “No Experience, Education, or Training”), Spain calls them Ninis (“Ni estudia, Ni trabajo”), and Italy calls them Bamboccioni (“big stuffed babies”).
Perhaps the most organized movement spearheading this regression against capitalism is the Tang Ping (literal translation: “laying flat”) in China, who—at face value—vow a personal rejection of societal pressures to overwork and overachieve. Tang Ping adopts a low-desire, indifferent attitude towards life in stark contrast to the existing 996 working hour system (9:00am to 9:00pm, 6 days per week) set in place by the previous generation. According to the Washington Post (2021), the movement have dubbed themselves an “ideological emancipation” from “the rat race” of consumerism. However, the nature of Tang Ping—building off the observationalism principles of Zen—has been perverted into an unapologetically slovenly demeanor toward life, a reluctance to set and pursue lasting satisfaction, and an apathy leading to cognitive dissonance which they inaccurately equate to victimhood. The internet has crafted several quirky neologisms for this involution that minimize its severity, perhaps most notably: goblin mode. Psychologists consider it a "failure to launch" (Lebowitz, 2016).
Marie-Louise von Franz (1981) revived the term Puer Aeternus (literal translation: “eternal child”) to depict the archetype of man who resists individuation and combats his drive toward psychological wholeness, altogether preserving the fantasies of youth and stunting growth. Modern American literature commonly refers to this condition of the psyche as Peter Pan Syndrome. The pathology of the eternal child is to anticipate suffering in an effort to soften the blow of failure and subsequently avoid disappointment. Engaging in this logic ultimately draws the child into a reflective, isolated state of hyperconsciousness where the expectation that they will fail evolves into foreclosure. Thus, the child either manifests failure or doesn’t try at all; why attempt success when the outcome of failure is absolute? Lastly, the child descends into dissonance, and the only way to resolve their inner discord is to place blame. They cannot blame themselves because that defies the narcissistically deflated logic that they’re incapable of achieving success. Instead, they blame others, they blame reality, they blame life, for being so difficult in the first place. The only place left for the child to experience success in any capacity at all and obtain sparse moments of gratification is outside of reality within the provisional realms of fantasy and delusion.
"Fear is a challenge and a task, because only boldness can deliver from fear. And if the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated" (Jung, 1952). The warmth of the child’s nest becomes the perimeter of their prison if they never force themselves to fly. Oedipus Rex never ventured far from home and look how he ended up—the perennial symbol of the mommy complex. If you're struggling to grow up, ask yourself what comforts you're willing to part with in order to try harder; maybe that entails moving a little further from home.
Jung, C. (1952). The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 5, Symbols of Transformation. Princeton University Press.
Lebowitz, E. (2016). "Failure to Launch": Shaping Intervention for Highly Dependent Adult Children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(2), p. 89–90.
Von Franz, M.-L. (1981). Puer Aeternus: A Psychological Study of the Adult Struggle with the Paradise of Childhood. Sigo Press.
"Young Chinese take a stand against pressures of modern life — by lying down". The Washington Post. June 5, 2021.