The Knight in Shining Armour: Cinderella Syndrome


Most women idealize chivalrous men as their Prince Charming and wish they would take care of them. It is a popular belief among many women that once they find their Mr Right, everything will fall into place. We want a man to give everything up for us, even if it means his life, to keep us safe and make us happy. One syndrome that is less known yet is relevant to the above lines is – the Cinderella Syndrome. It is a psychological state where women are subconsciously driven to depend on a dominant figure, usually a male. This leads women to believe that they are ‘damsels in distress’ in need of rescuing by a male suitor.

Cinderella Syndrome was described by Colette Dowling. The contributing major factor to its cause is the upbringing typically observed in Indian families where the women are more sacrificial, tolerant, need physical safety, security and dependency on others. Colette Dowling explained the story of Cinderella stating that she had an abusive stepmother and sisters but was ultimately rescued by her Prince Charming who takes her away. Cinderella syndrome is seen in women who feel safe being homebound with the external affairs taken care of by the man of the house.

What Happens in Cinderella Syndrome?

According to Dowling, the psychological effects of the Cinderella Complex include lack of self-esteem, living in a fantasy, having an unrealistic state, lack of confidence, anxiety, dependency, extremely overprotective parenthood, inability to function in the workplace.

An example has been stated as per Dowling about women who had been living independently for years had settled to live with a man of her choice. Once they were married, the women had to lean upon the man for decisions and life had just got stalled. They couldn’t make any decisions of their own, were homebound, had restrictions and almost non-existent social lives. This leads to depression in women.

Women, from childhood, are taught to be dependent upon men and to be frightful when they don’t have one. Due to such life events, they are always in the process to find the best life partner and believe that life without a partner could be miserable. 

Not every woman who exhibits the signs listed here has Cinderella syndrome. Many women in traditional roles enjoy a healthy partnership with their spouse, in which each person is mutually dependent on the other. Many women participate in equal decision making with their partners, even if it’s not visible to the outside world. 

Symptoms of Cinderella Syndrome

Some common symptoms of Cinderella Syndrome include:

  • Women can feel when their choices and decisions are different and intercepted by their partner 
  • Some kind of anxiety about living alone or fearing it
  • The incapability of making major life decisions 
  • Subconsciously feeling incapable of handling a job and earning for oneself 
  • Having preference to be traditional homemaker and mother 
  • Wanting a romantic and courageous life partner who could be a strong support system for everything 
  • Hardly operating outside her emotional comfort zone
  • Having a secretive feeling of a strong desire to be “taken care of”

Few Cases of Cinderella Syndrome

Many cases have been noted upon by a psychologist about Cinderella syndrome.

Image Source: Ina Hall from Pixabay

One of which is about a women sufferer having indecisiveness, low confidence, the constant need for security and praise. She had a childhood where all her needs were met and had a controlling brother upon her each activity. Her mother and sister were homebound and had to do routine household activities without questioning much. 

She grew up and developed an understanding about how she needed to be constantly praised, needed approval and became indecisive. The girls’ few friends also stated that she became clingy and dependant upon them, also she couldn’t fulfil her ambitions due to psychological barriers.

After the medications and psychological therapy, the patient showed a lot of improvement.


How to Combat Cinderella Syndrome?

Cinderella Syndrome can be treated and the quality of life of women who suffer from it can be improved. Here are some ways to combat the syndrome and its symptoms:

  • Women are encouraged to talk about their feelings to positive people who will encourage and reduce stress or worry. Forming a social group of friends and engaging their mind in some hobbies, creativity, classes, yoga is also beneficial.
  • Psychiatric consultations and counsellors can help women overcome the problems they face.
  • Joining yoga, meditation or regular workouts can help women keep their minds fresh and body healthy. Personal grooming classes can also help improve a woman’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • Women must talk to their partners openly about their problems and try to not let them affect their health. 
  • Women must try to learn assess and assure themselves daily and finding solutions to the problems. 

Men and women are different and have different psychological upbringing, values, and thoughts about marriage and life partner. In the past, women were more dependent on the men in their family and were also homebound, to take care of their home and rear children. But in today’s era, women are ambitious, at the top of their game in their careers and have time and again proved to be great multi-taskers. Women are now financially independent, confident and courageous about their life decisions, at par with the men. With supportive and encouraging men in the form of partners, spouses, fathers, sons and other relations, today’s women need not tend towards syndromes like the Cinderella syndrome.

Featured Image Source: Lisa Che from Pixabay
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About the author

Dr.Nikita Pawar is a General Practitioner by profession and has completed her (MBBS PGDCR). She has previously worked in GMC Hospital Dubai & is currently attached to a hospital, corporate company and Clinics in Mumbai. She is passionate about medical article writing and always strives to maintain commitment towards achieving professional growth as she transitions from one phase of her career to the next.



  • Dr Nitu-Sabharwal March 9, 2021 at 7:42 pm




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