Cinderella Complex: What is it and turn it into Independence

Do you think you have a Disney Complex? It could very well be the Cinderella Complex. The dependency on others rather than being independent yourself. This article will explore the Cinderella Complex, how it has changed and how you can get rid of it.

What is the Cinderella Complex?

What is the Cinderella Complex?
What is the Cinderella Complex?

The term, “Cinderella Complex” was coined by Colette Dowling who wrote the book “The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence.” The Cinderella Complex is women’s lack of independence and dependency on men if that means financially, emotionally, physically etc. The Cinderella Complex includes waiting for Prince Charming to come and save women from reality and fix all of their problems. The unconscious desire to be taken care of and protected by another because you might be afraid of being independent.

How did the Cinderella Complex come to be?

“We teach girls to shrink themselves to make themselves smaller, w

e say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.'” -“Flawless” by Beyonce

There are many ideas how the Cinderella Complex left fantasy and entered reality. Many believe it stems from childhood development. When you are a child, you are loved for what you do and not for who you are. You are constantly dependent on others to do things for you and give you positive reinforcement. It is more likely for a parent to go over and comfort a girl when she cries than a boy. When a girl begins to walk many parents are happy, but this happiness is tainted by worrisome thoughts and eyes filled with fear. Boys go out exploring more often and when they do they are praised for it. Because society thinks girls are more fragile than boys, many girls receive less physical stimulation and less explorative reinforcement. Many parents show apprehension and focus on girls’ safety and worry if they will get hurt when girls explore.

It is known that adolescence is a very important time during development. During this time girls will slowly be molded into society’s expectations of how they should act further building up the Cinderella Complex.

Girls will subtly be rewarded for their success with boys and ‘gently but firmly they will be pushed in the direction of becoming a heterosexual partner.’ –NYTimes 

This reinforces and perpetuates the Cinderella Complex. Girls are less encouraged to be independent, they depend more and more on others for feedback to build their self-esteem.

Where does the Cinderella Complex stem from?

There are many reasons why women have a Cinderella Complex. Society perpetuates women to think that they need to depend on men. Girls are brought up to think that they need the ideal man to make their life better and without one they should feel afraid and unprotected. For example, there is a spider on the kitchen floor and mom screams and waits for dad to come and save the day. Girls are taught at a young age that men are their protectors and will save them from the scary things that reality holds in store.

The Cinderella Complex is also an escape from responsibilities. Women are taught that men will swoop in and save the day, they can escape all types of responsibilities financially, emotionally and physically. One day a man will take care of all of their needs there will be no reason to work anymore. This is not reality, but a fantasy.

It is also very common that women’s ambitions are undermined by fear. Primary issues when it comes to dealing with achievement are confidence and low self-esteem. There is a lack of confidence in completing tasks. It is less likely for a woman to actively participate when there is someone else who can help. Women are more wary of their actions rather than confident in their decisions.

The lack of independence and low self-image leads women to think they need to depend on men to make them happy and supportive. Unfortunately, the larger issues behind the Cinderella Complex include societal norms and parenting styles. Society teaches women that men’s’ decisions mean more than theirs’ and therefore they have more power. This leads women to constantly underestimate and not feel confident in their own abilities.

The effects of the Cinderella Complex

The Cinderella Complex has the power to infiltrate many different aspects of women’s lives. There is a part of women who are dependent that is buried deep within installed during infancy. This affects how women think, act and speak in all women to some varying degree conscious or otherwise. When the wife asks her husband for money to buy something or the career woman double checking with their male co-worker if their work is correct. It is less common for women to use declarative statements when they speak. Whether it is more likely for women to use modifying phrases such as ‘like’, ‘sort of’, and ‘I guess’ when speaking. This type of language disparity does not only reflect the power differences between men and women but it also can create them as well.

The rising number of women working has been correlated with the increase of deteriorating marriages. Forty-two percent of women who work are the heads of households and almost half of women who ‘don’t have to work’ choose not to. The notion that women have the option not to work leads to women thinking of work as a temporary thing. The Cinderella Complex kicks in the women think that someday they will be supported and will not have to work.

A point of pride for women has become how much money a woman’s husband makes and how well he can take care of his wife. This could be anything from types of cars, a number of vacations, the frequency of going out to eat, and helping with the children. The Cinderella Complex inhibits women to my their own choices and be independent.

How to grow out of the Cinderella Complex?

Do not worry, there is some hope to getting rid of the Cinderella Complex. It starts with parenting. Raising children to believe that women are multifaceted beings that can do anything they want and do not need to depend on others to make them happy. To instill that independence is something that should be valued and when given the opportunity to take initiative. Encouraging girls at a young age to take responsibility and solve their own problems rather than relying on others. Everyone deserves their own happy ending and sometimes that does not include prince charming at all.

The new crisis of the Cinderella Complex.

‘I keep thinking that someone – it could be a man or a woman -will teach me to be like a man, make money like a man, be as confident and resourceful as a man. When that’s accomplished, I’ll become like a woman again. I’ll get pregnant and stay home with the baby for six years or so. Then I’ll go back to being a man.’ -NYTimes

Today more than ever, society is moving towards accepting all and being kind to one another. But there is still a reluctance of women to be fully independent and to portray this independence. Independence is stuck in the belief of feminine identity. What femininity is and what it is not. The fear of being independent largely comes from the fear of the loss of femininity. Women are now trying to find their own balance between dependency and independence.

The Cinderella Complex still lingers and women continue to be unconsciously motivated by old assumptions that they are ‘damsels in distress’ and need to be dependent on a man. It is that friend who acts dumb when a man walks in the room and they pretend that she does not know how to play pool when she is very well capable of doing this on her own. Why can’t women be pretty and smart? Why has it become that women can only be one or another? If a woman is pretty and smart, she is hated by both men and women: women are jealous and men are intimidated. Women continue to devalue themselves to make others feel better. The more successful a woman is the more she feels like she needs to overcompensate to prove her femininity.

What does the Cinderella Complex mean today?

What does the Cinderella Complex mean today
What does the Cinderella Complex mean today?

Society has in many ways have progressed. Gay marriage is legal in the United States, women can vote, etc. But the NY Times establishes that the Cinderella Complex still has the power to hinder women’s thinking and capabilities. Women were once thought to be caregivers and homemakers, but times have changed and more and more women want to have it all; a successful career, a happy marriage, and a fulfilling family. An ideal marriage or relationship is equal where both partners are contributing equally to the relationship. But if one is too dependent on the other it affects both and hinders their abilities to achieve their personal goals.

“Leave me alone, but take care of me.” -NYTimes

Women no longer see themselves as the ‘damsel in distress.’ Even though the Cinderella Complex still exists is has transformed from it once was. It is now about changing women’s thinking that dependency does not equal femininity. 

The reality of the situation is that the true happy endings in fairy tales do not exist. There is no one that is going to sweep you up on their white horse and take you away from all of your problems. Rather, it is up to you to make your own happiness and to be your own Prince Charming. The love for yourself comes from within and not from others’ approval or opinions of you. To stand up on your own two feet and make things happen for yourself. It is up to you to correct your own belief system and find the key to your own autonomy.

Let me know what you think in the comments below! Hope you enjoyed the article.


“Cinderella Syndrome.” InnerPacific. Web. 6 July 2017.

Le, Angela. “Psychology Behind The Cinderella Complex.” EmpowHER. 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 6 July 2017.

“THE CINDERELLA SYNDROME.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Mar. 1981. Web. 6 July 2017.

Wales, Amber. “The Cinderella Complex.” Exploring your mind. Exploring your mind, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 6 July 2017.

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