As the fairy tale goes, the gentle, beautiful Cinderella met her prince and then lived happily after. But in real life, Cinderella is also the name of a psychological complex in which some women expect their life to play out just like a fairy tale.
What is Cinderella Syndrome?
Cinderella Syndrome, also known as Cinderella Complex is a term that was popularized in the 1980s by author Colette Dowling. This syndrome refers to people who always avoid life’s responsibilities, fear living independently, and subconsciously long for someone to care for. Like the fairy tale Cinderella, they always expect “a prince riding a white horse” to come and change their lives.
The chief characteristic of the Cinderella Syndrome is the excessive reliance on someone else. This can be about finances, emotional support or any other aspect. They often feel that they cannot take responsibility for their actions and are convinced that everything will be fine when they meet “Mr. Right”.
There are various reasons for developing this syndrome, of which education plays an essential part. Many women are born and raised in a typical traditional pattern, being dependent on others, often men, for a sense of security and protection, both physically and mentally. They believe they are too frail and need someone to protect them all the time. This subconscious need for protection forces them to believe they will only be happy if they find a perfect mate in the end. On the contrary, we will become miserable if we can’t find one.
The fairy tale Cinderella served her abusive stepmother but was eventually rescued by Prince Charming. People who suffer from this syndrome believe being hard-working and intelligent is not enough. They believe that they need an outside force, someone else to rescue and protect them. Women who have the Cinderella Syndrome can only feel truly comfortable and safe living in the ‘haven’ provided by a man.
Effects of Cinderella Syndrome
This syndrome normally occurs in women, but, in essence, it does not exclude anyone or any gender and tends to be those who put their lives in the hands of others. They subconsciously express the want to be saved from their present life instead of rising by their strength. Because of these unconscious needs, it will lead to many take actions that tend to sabotage their happiness and success.
Fear will grow more entrenched in their minds until they limit themselves to the fanciful world of fairy tales. At some point, these individuals are forced to step out of that fantasy world, experience the real world, are fostered to learn, explore, and strive towards freedom and independence.
Warning Signs of Cinderella Syndrome
Even independent, mature women can experience signs of the Cinderella Syndrome. These signs could include:
The subconscious tends to sabotage its success to perpetuate the feeling of weakness and “can be saved.”
- Forgetting essential tasks such as meetings, deadlines
- Always running into unexpected troubles before taking great strides in life
- Change your mind before you reach your goal
- Having trouble feeding yourself or keeping a job
Develop emotions that depend on the need
- Feeling panic at the thought of your partner/lover leaving you
- Never feeling enough
- Feeling empty, scared of living alone
- Openly or silently expressing a desire to be taken care of by someone
- Enjoy being in a romantic relationship with someone “strong”
Even though you’re already a solid and independent person when you’re single, changes start to happen as soon as you start a relationship.
- Do not want to invest, less focus on your career
- Unable to make decisions on your own and often delaying critical decisions in your life
- Spending more time making your partner happy than taking care of yourself
- Becoming someone who enjoys taking care of others, cooking and cleaning more than usual, preferring the traditional roles of housewife and mother
- Suddenly having a problem with money and need money to take responsibility
- Being sick often, for example, always having colds and flu
- Replacing your hobbies with what makes your partner happy
These symptoms will then develop into ideals of being protected. They are waiting for someone who will come along and solve everything and make life easier. People who feel abused and abandoned by their parents often reinforce their comparison with the fairy tale character.
How to Overcome Cinderella Syndrome
We all react to our own needs, and it can be uncomfortable when we are never in a stable state or sure of ourselves. Things should not be taken to extremes but should be kept in balance. We don’t have to be 100% independent to make ourselves different from a “Cinderella”. Interdependence is the healthiest answer, not total dependence. This dependence does not come from a lack of need or despair.
You can survive and take care of yourself perfectly well, but sometimes you can choose to depend a little on someone and vice versa. Many women enjoy a traditional role in a healthy relationship with their partner but still participate in decision-making on an equal footing with the other.
Try stepping out of your comfort zone, and experimenting with more adventures and discoveries. Accept your flaws and find ways to improve, courageously making new choices. You can also look at the fairy tale differently: What if Cinderella never met the prince? Would she be able to solve her problems and get out of her miserable life on her own? The moral values in fairy tales will change when we also change our perspective. Similarly to life, you will live well if you accept changing your perspective on some issues.
Identifying things that have happened in the past and learning to heal will also help. Be honest with your own needs and find healthy ways to fulfill yourself. No one will praise you for your sacrifice and blind dependence, so don’t be a victim and learn to prioritize yourself. Instead of getting into a power game, you need to realize who you are, what you want, what your values are and make genuine connections, building good core beliefs about yourself.
Don’t let someone control your own life. We can get stuck in many difficult situations, not knowing what to do to solve them. That’s when fear takes over and makes us empower others to make crucial decisions for us. You can ask for advice, discuss or get support but remember, don’t let someone live your life, and no one can be sure they will be with you for the rest of your life. Learn to make decisions and be brave enough to take responsibility for the results.
Cinderella Syndrome comes from a person’s insight into themselves and their world, from unconscious beliefs that have been in place since childhood. It takes time and determination to change this situation.