A complex is generally described as a psychopathology that brings together a series of symptoms that condition the behavior of affected patients . Consequently, it is striking how these individuals develop a personality that deviates from normality. For this reason, a wide variety of complexes have been identified so far, each of them has particular characteristics.

One of them bears the name of the Cinderella complex, which is usually associated with female patients. It is characterized by a certain pattern of behavior that can be influenced by customs and stereotypes that limit the role of women in society. However, this is a mental condition that has no limits, as to who can develop it. It is really complex to determine exactly what are the causes that have influenced each case or patient.

The behavior of these individuals will be primarily based on dependence on a protective figure. Consequently, their behavior is always docile and adheres to other people’s norms and expectations; in this way they manage to feel safe and accepted. Unfortunately, this situation interferes with the quality of life of these patients, mainly affecting the possibility of living freely and fulfilling personal goals that could really make them happy.

What is the Cinderella complex?

The Cinderella Complex was first mentioned in 1976 by Dr. Peter K. Lewin . Specifically, we can find his work published in the Canadian magazine called Medical Association Journal. This is the first record of this psychological condition. This is a proposal that is based on his studies carried out in some adopted children, false conceptualizations are created from the mistreatment or abandonment by adoptive mothers.

Formally, it would be introduced to the world of psychology by Colette Dowling . Describes a psychopathology that is usually identifiable in women, they face a deep fear of independence. Then, they develop an unconscious desire to be cared for by other people , curiously this is a characteristic that worsens as the person ages.

It is also known by the name of syndrome because it brings together a series of symptoms that considerably modify behavior. These are people whose only motivation is to fulfill their unconscious desire for permanent care and attention. This is the result of the fear of being independent, but also here other motivations of different kinds converge that manifest their conflict with respect to their personal lives.

What is the origin of its name?

The origin of the name of this complex can be found in one of the most popular children’s stories in history. It is classified within the category of folk tales and has been widely taken to film and television, it is also considered to be one of the best-selling literary publications. The authorship of the same is of the Grimm brothers , becoming a part of the most valued European literary culture.

It tells the story of a young woman known by the name of Cinderella, it is taken from her personal appearance which always shows traces of ashes on her skin and clothes. It is about a woman who is subject to the orders and constant mistreatment of her stepmother and stepsisters. When being orphaned of mother, his father later remarries; but the duration of this union is short due to the death of the parent.

Consequently, Cinderella, orphan of both parents, must share her home and life with three people who show no affection or respect for her. She tolerates these circumstances due to the promise made to her father before dying, in addition she believes that she must show obedience due to the family bond that now binds them. His independence is compromised in this situation, from which he can only get out once he is in love and married to the son of the King, crown prince.

The association that exists between this fictional story with the psychological complex of which we speak lies precisely in the way of acting of the protagonist. In both cases, individuals are observed who show the impossibility of becoming independent and will make their own decisions . In addition, for various reasons they will always try to meet the expectations of other people.

What are their characteristics?

The main characteristic of this complex is to have an irrational and even exaggerated codependency to certain people or situations. That is, it is a psychological phenomenon that limits people to feel extreme need to depend on a protective figure . Consequently, these individuals rarely make their own decisions and even experience difficulties in supporting themselves, both financially and also in their health and in other personal aspects.

The main characteristics of this psychopathology are described below Considering that it is not necessary that all of them be presented together. They are as follows:

  • It is a psychological phenomenon that predisposes the patient to value himself and his lives always depending on a protective figure. In the case of women or men in adulthood, they will always depend on the partner.
  • Self-image is defined by the expectation of having the support and help of a person, which will also provide meaning to your life. Consequently, a relationship is created based on a dynamic based entirely on dependency.
  • Unconsciously they experience a certain fear of independence and the possibility of being happy without other people making decisions for them. They relate happiness to an emotional state of absolute obedience.
  • They have an unconscious desire to be cared for and rescued by other people. They feel that they are vulnerable and must be permanently cared for.
  • They are individuals who have low self-esteem , have a considerably low perception of themselves. They really believe that they do not possess virtues or qualities that can be classified as positive.
  • They feel that they will only be accepted and valued according to the person with whom they have created a relationship of constant dependency.
  • They often have difficulty getting out of their comfort zone . This means that they miss important emotional, work, academic opportunities and could even withdraw from society.

Practical examples. How is it identified? 

The most common example of how this complex manifests is in wives and daughters, both of whom develop a dependent relationship with a protective male figure ; which can be the husband or the father. They will show an obedient behavior, which will always be governed by the rules established by their protector. Consequently, this is the only way in which they will feel safe within a confined environment.

Because patients usually belong to the female gender, the people on whom they are dependent usually have a direct connection with them; such as a brother, boyfriend, boss, teacher or any other figure that fulfills an authority role. When they break any rule, they will feel that they are failing their “hero” or “protector”, which is why they are always docile.

Curiously, in the case of men, it is more difficult to identify the condition of this complex. One of the most common examples is found in individuals who occupy ahierarchical role considerably less than that of another person. This is applicable within the family, social or work environment; then they are people who always depend on an authority figure who exerts direct pressure on them.

An example of this type can be children who fear their parents, complying with all their orders in order not to be relegated from the family circle or economically disinherited.

Another way to identify this complex is by observing the difficulty in expressing opinions and even own needs . These individuals learn to prioritize the ideas and needs of others, in this way they stop having a personal life built according to their own ideals and goals.

What are your causes? 

It is generally considered that there is a greater possibility of developing this complex in female patients, however it is not a fixed norm because it is also observed in male individuals. The causes are usually found in the difficulty of coping with adult life and the responsibilities that this entails . This means that there are patients who belong to the sector of the population that are in the transition between adolescence and the first stage of adulthood.

On the other hand, the incidence in women is still preponderant, especially in those cases where they have always occupied a role relegated to caring for the home and family. In other words, these are women who have always adhered to family and social norms that limit their freedom to make their own decisions . This situation has been a constant in the lives of these people, with which they learn to feel safe only in these circumstances.

Unfortunately , ideas and stereotypes related to women have been perpetuated that seriously damage the perception that people have of them. In these fairy tales and other literary formats it has become common to make unfavorable descriptions of the female gender. Consequently, these gender roles favor a conceptualization based on obedience and respect for norms that significantly harm the independence of women.

The more modern generations have managed to overcome these traditionalist ideas, but nevertheless some sectors of global society still adhere to them. Therefore, statistically there is still a higher incidence of this complex in young women. The fear of making personal decisions that do not conform to social , family, religious and even political norms ; they are still decisive for the personal lives of these people.

How is it overcome and what are the most recommended treatments? 

The most advisable thing to do to face this situation is the use of psychological therapy in any of its modalities. The complexity of this psychological condition requires the selection of a treatment that best suits the circumstances of each patient. For example, your focus may be on improving your self-esteem , and you will also need to learn to enjoy the benefits of independence.

With the help of a psychologist trained to treat this type of problem, you can have short-term solutions. Depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms, it is likely that several sessions are required, the treatment could last for several months. The important thing is that you learn to take care of your emotions, emotional independence can only be achieved once the patient has successfully identified what his interests and objectives are.

Treatment should also deepen the theme of loneliness . These in lived have a panic to be alone and to be rejected, for this reason they always avoid living independently in their own home. Eventually they will have to learn to value the moments of solitude, they will associate more positive thoughts and feelings regarding this topic.

It will also be relevant to address the issue of money and the economy at home. The dependence of these individuals is not only emotionally and socially, they must learn to be financially solvent for themselves. Eventually they will stop asking third parties for money and will learn how to pay their personal expenses.

They should develop an interest in adopting new skills that allow them to increase the level of their skills. By acquiring new knowledge they will be able to be autonomous and successfully integrate into the professional field . This is an aspect that provides multiple benefits in self-esteem which is essential. The woman or man who suffers from this condition will eventually feel more empowered, will feel more respect for himself and will be able to relate in a better way with his environment.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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