Glass Slipper

Who Knew Cinderella Was A Princess And A Complex

When writing an article about a child martyr from my home province, a link came up titled Cinderella Complex, which I had never heard of before. I looked into it, and it opened my eyes on me.

My Love For Cinderella Grew Bigger

I never hid who I was or what I had from readers or fellow artists and authors alike. I’m a gothicist and medievalist-enthusiast. I’m a professional artist and author, but with something much darker inside me.

I am a misanthrope, introverted, antisocial and an awkward person. To put it lightly, I have many mental disorders that make me socially handicapped. I have clinical OCD, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, cibophobia, agoraphobia, scopophobia, and body dysmorphia

Broken Glass
Broken Glass

I also went through what is called Cotard Syndrome. Recently, my diagnosis expanded to ADHD and antisocial personality disorder.

Trauma is a big part of my identity but isn’t a reason to hide. Those disorders make me who I am inside and the artist I have become. Nothing in this world would make me ashamed of what I have. 

I use what I have and share it with my characters to make them relatable to readers. But recently realised there was a Cinderella Complex, and I needed to know more.

The Origin Of Cinderella Complex

So, this syndrome’ or ‘complex ‘has different origins depending on the person’s view of this psychological disorder. Note here that despite the name Cinderella in use, it could easily apply to anyone, including men.

The description of the syndrome comes from Colette Dowling. She describes the syndrome as a fundamental fear of independence, meaning it is an unconscious desire to have someone care for the patient. According to her, the syndrome becomes more visible as the person grows older.

Colette Dowling — 1989
Colette Dowling — 1989

Dowling chose the character of Cinderella to explain the syndrome. It was quite relatable. Cinderella is the ideal portrait of femininity. Despite the abuse, she is beautiful, polite, supportive, and incapable of caring for herself. Cinderella also needs help changing her situation despite all of her efforts to do so. She needs an external factor to save her, in this fairy tale case, Prince Charming.

In other words, Colette Dowling studied the impact of society on the education of girls and women. She explains the psychological impact on what they expected of women in society. Even what their place should be according to those rules implemented by those ‘above’ regardless of the civilisation.

But What Would Cinderella Have To Say About It?

I will use Disney‘s 1950s Cinderella names to make this article easier!

Cinderella is not as powerless as Colette Dowling seems to think she is. Cinderella became an orphan when still a child, and her stepmother favoured her two daughters over her. 

Walt Disney's 1950 — Cinderella
Walt Disney’s 1950 — Cinderella

Lady Tremaine was a socialite and went up the ranks of nobility by marrying into affluent families. Cinderella‘s father was a baron or a lord and fell under the charm of Lady Tremaine.

Because she keeps the title of Lady, I assume Cinderella’s father was a lord, as she doesn’t become Baroness Tremaine. 

Cinderella lived with her parents on a large estate with a castle, farm, and livestock and had horses, as any nobility would own in the Middle Ages. However, once orphaned, Lady Tremaine and her daughters didn’t stop going through the fortune left to Cinderella until there was no more.

There’s More About Cinderella And What She Would Say

Deprived of help, Cinderella became the only servant in the house. Until married or considered an adult, Cinderella had no choice but to remain at her estate. That was how it worked in those days. 

Lady Tremaine was most likely aware of the will and kept it from Cinderella, who was about eight years old. For self-preservation and her own survival, Cinderella complied with her stepmother’s demands and became a servant to keep her noble status through her stepdaughter.

Disney — 1950 — Cinderella — Lady Tremaine
Disney — 1950 — Cinderella — Lady Tremaine

Cinderella’s ever-dying work proves she can maintain a castle, a farm, horses, reading, writing, cooking, and more. She can sow, dance, sing, read music, walk with trays on her head and wash clothes. 

Cinderella is a noblewoman raised as part of the nobility ranks. She probably knew more than French, but also English, Latin, Norse, German, Italian, Spanish, and more. She believed whatever her stepmother wanted her to believe. Getting out of her situation was her dream, but challenging in the Middle Ages.

In the story, Cinderella never speaks of marrying the prince. All she wants is a night off and dancing at a ball. Through years of trauma, Cinderella still got to the ball. 

Cinderella Wasn’t Incapable She Was Unknowingly Disabled

When her Fairy Godmother gives her the means and clothing to get to the castle, fate does the rest and Cinderella, an intelligent, capable woman, impresses Prince Charming

Disney — Cinderella III: A Twist In Time

It wasn’t because she was a damsel in distress but because she was charismatic, intelligent, and capable of dancing the waltz and minuet because she was a noblewoman. Cinderella is a Lady.

“It’s not about the slipper but the woman in the slipper, Father.”

Prince Charming, Cinderella III: A Twist In Time

With that said, the will must have named Cinderella the heir to her father’s estate. The fairy tale ends with Cinderella’s permission for Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia to remain at her former estate while they move all animals to the castle.

Back To The Cinderella Complex

Now that you all know how much I respect Cinderella, let’s sort this out syndrome described by Colette Dowling. In 1981, an article called The Cinderella Syndrome made its way into The New York Times, written by Dowling. Her book didn’t have the word syndrome, but The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence.

(Original Caption) Novelist and playwright Agatha Christie seen during celebrations at the Visual Arts Club to mark the runs of her two plays in London, ‘The Mousetrap’, which has completed its fourth year, and ‘Spider’s Web’, which has completed its first year.

I mentioned the Cinderella Complex had many origins because Agatha Christie used it in her detective story, Hickory Dickory Dock, in 1955. 

There was also another case where Colin McNabb, a student in psychology, diagnosed a patient, Celia Austin, with the Cinderella Complex. Additionally, in 1960, a writer named Osbert Sitwell had a comedy called The Cinderella Complex to go into publication.

Fairy Tale Book
Fairy Tale Book

With that said, it is safe to say that the Cinderella Complex might be as old as the tale itself. That might be because people are shallow and don’t see how much Cinderella goes through every day of her life. 

Those tasks and chores make her more than capable of caring for herself. But all that everyone sees is a woman who wants to escape her life as a servant, needing a charming prince to save her. Did they all forget that she’s the one who got to the castle and kept the other shoe?

But What Is This Cinderella Complex?

Cinderella Syndrome, Cinderella Disorder, or Cinderella Complex, revolves around a psychological condition. When the victim of the disorder, the patient suffers from a great fear of independence. 

All they want is someone to care for them, often because of years of trauma or because their rights were taken a long time ago from them.

While the term itself was coined by Agatha Christie and later popularised by Colette Dowling, it remains ‘fictional.’ Despite many people recognising themselves in the condition description, the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognise it. However, it might be elsewhere.

Probable Reasons To Have Cinderella Complex

People raised in strict households, or with an overly demanding parent can sometimes create an indecisive adult. Cinderella had all the skills to make it out on her own, but all she knew was abuse. 

Not unlike Cinderella, who couldn’t make the step to walk away from the estate she lived in. She was a servant, living under psychological torture for so long that she had no more free will.

Walt Disney’s Cinderella — 1950

People with the syndrome often refer to their partner, friend, sibling, or whomever they live with for decisions and earning money. Often, they feel safe within the walls of their home and fear the ‘outside world.’ 

Trauma is often at the core of many mental disorders. I believe the syndrome runs much deeper than Dowling suggests in her book. Cinderella alone has more depth than she portrays.

What Are The Signs Of Cinderella Complex?

Because the disorder is not officialised yet and most likely would demand more study, it is hard to develop a list of symptoms. However, I can confidently say that I suffer from Cinderella Syndrome, and I can offer some tips with some research I found helpful.

* Depending on a partner to make choices and decisions.
* Experiencing anxiety when thinking about living on your own.
* Experiencing anxiety when making important life choices or decisions.
* Going through mental breakdowns or panic when trying to have or keep a job.
* Feeling safer at home and without obligations to leave the house.
* Preferring to live with someone you trust and who understands you.
* Experience anxiety when having to move away from your comfort zone.
* Expressing being anxious or afraid if not taken care of by someone.

    Note that Cinderella Syndrome is not about someone lazy and wanting to live off someone else’s pocket. This results from years of abuse, brainwashing, beating, hiding, and other mental or physical responses. 

    Cinderella Syndrome causes much mental damage and feeds on psychological trauma.

    How Did Cinderella Get Over Her Complex?

    Cinderella found her Prince Charming after she confronted her stepmother and tried on the glass slipper. She proved to the Grand Duke and the royal court that she was the one who danced with Prince Charming. So, she took a big step herself by facing her greatest fear for a short amount of time, her evil stepmother.

    However, Cinderella knew by proving she was the woman with the most petite feet that she had a ticket out of her miserable life. It wasn’t as much the prince that saved her as her tiny feet, but she got out. It was the outcome that saved Cinderella.

    Walt Disney's Cinderella — 1950
    Walt Disney’s Cinderella — 1950

    Once married to Prince Charming, Cinderella would live in a castle, but she would have the support she needed to become a princess and eventually a queen. 

    The surrounding support was solid. Both her father-in-law, the King, and his son, Prince Charming, were of great help. She would feel helpful but also cared for from her scars.

    What Is It Like To Live With Cinderella Syndrome

    Like myself, people living with Cinderella Syndrome need a strong support system. When I realised being surrounded by other people had me physically sick to the point of regurgitating, I knew something was wrong. 

    They diagnosed me with many disorders as an adult: I am socially disabled. From a young age, I knew the outside wasn’t my scene. I am a misanthrope.

    Walt Disney's Cinderella — 1950
    Walt Disney’s Cinderella — 1950

    Do not feel shame for having Cinderella Syndrome. You have a condition named after a wonderful princess who lived through Hell. Also, pushing yourself or someone to heal and get on with their lives doesn’t work. 

    ‘Getting back out there’ isn’t the solution for everyone because we are individuals with different pasts and traumas. Do not judge someone with Cinderella Syndrome. Believe me. We judge ourselves plenty without you adding to the pile.

    I am a full-time artist and author working fourteen-sixteen hours a day at the computer, and I feel lazy because I’m exhausted. Don’t make as much as my partner, and can’t do what he does.

    Being Cinderella Isn’t easy.

    The bottom line is that living with Cinderella Syndrome invokes so much guilt, shame, silence, and awkwardness, and it’s hard. Society constantly judges those who suffer from that syndrome that isn’t official yet. 

    Like Cinderella, we are knowledgeable people with many skills, but like the princess, we see our worth once someone else grabs our glass slipper and wants to share the world.

    Do not judge us. We’re broken enough as it is. All we want is a night off from the pain and trauma because a dream is a wish your heart makes.

    The OCD Vampire

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