The Cinderella Syndrome

Prince Charming

We are all aware of our inner child; a natural component of any personality – male or female. But the inner little girl can often undermine the ability of women to assert ourselves in an adult sphere. The Cinderella syndrome coined by the psychotherapist, Colette Dowling in her 1981 book ‘Cinderella Complex’, identified the subconscious fear of independence held by women which sets the valuable qualities of decisiveness and responsibility over our own lives against the pervasive view of pristine, vulnerable femininity. This ultimately has a limiting effect on our potential in a number of ways; tantamount to driving a car with the brakes on.

Playing the martyr

The key element to the Cinderella syndrome has women placing themselves automatically in the position of willing martyr. She consistently puts herself last in the vain hope that others will recognise her patient sacrifice for others, whose interests she has magnanimously prioritised before her own. It is often the case in reality, that her efforts have gone at best unnoticed and at worst, unappreciated.
The habit of surrendering herself to be put upon, in the belief that her stoic compliance will somehow be acknowledged and rewarded can have a deeply corrosive effect on a woman’s psyche, leading to the ‘martyr’ role being deployed as a passive aggressive tool – not conducive to attaining respect from without or within.

The need for external validation

We all require constructive feedback, but the Cinderella syndrome renders a woman in need of a constant flow of nourishment at her most fundamental level of self which determines her very being and self worth. “Am I beautiful?” “Am I intelligent?” “Am I a good mother?” “Am I competent in my role at work?” A little self honesty will give a woman the answer to any of those questions, without the need to apply to external parties for their opinions. The Cinderella syndrome often distorts the view women have of themselves, allowing the opinions of others to dictate her conduct. The subjective perceptions of others, in relation to her, are given precedence, regardless of their relative value.
The effect of this manifests itself in an uneven or even schizophrenic way of expression, bound to the invisible web of judgements she feels that her given audience holds over her.

Waiting to be rescued

This aspect of the Cinderella syndrome is particularly prominent in the areas of a woman’s life determining personal ambitions, work and career; for lurking behind every woman’s career aspirations is at least the implied expectation that her interactions with the world at large have a temporary or secondary basis. Behind this lays the secret or often accepted belief that her current or potential significant other will come along to rescue her and recognise her worth, like the prince in the titular fairytale. This ‘rescue’ will subsequently lead her to rein back or completely abandon her own passions and ambitions, to slot neatly into his scheme of life, which is somehow inherently of a better quality than one she could possibly fashion for herself.
The Cinderella story is a compelling tale but is not a helpful template for a real woman to design her life upon. It is pointless to accept that your place is automatically at the back of some metaphorical queue. That act is purely your choice and will always be, as long as you remain unaware of how this deep-seated set of beliefs impacts upon your everyday actions.

Your life, on your consciously-stated terms, holds far more interest than a two-dimensional fairytale.

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