The Cinderella Syndrome at work: what it is and how you can deal with it

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The Cinderella Syndrome can manifest itself both in personal and professional life. It predominantly affects women. This psychological phenomenon is related to valuing oneself based on external factors. What are the characteristics of the Cinderella Syndrome and what are its causes? How can one deal with it?

The Cinderella Syndrome – what is it?

Cinderella syndrome, also known as the Cinderella complex, is an unconscious desire of a woman to find a partner who will take care of her, give her a sense of security so that she can achieve (as it seems to her) absolute happiness.

Unfortunately, at the same time, such a woman neglects her own ambitions, giving up on pursuing her goals, plans, and interests. She avoids all kinds of responsibilities, both emotional, financial, and physical. She seeks someone who will take care of these aspects for her and rescue her from the burden of daily duties. However, Cinderella is not lazy and entitled, but simply lacks belief in herself and her abilities.

The syndrome is based on the idea of femininity presented in the fairy tale of Cinderella, hence its name. It was first described by psychotherapist Colette Dowling, who published a book about women’s fear of independence.

Cinderella Syndrome at work

Subconscious resignation from independence can significantly impact one’s career.

Cinderella Syndrome at work manifests as adopting a passive attitude during team tasks, lack of initiative, and avoiding responsibility. Such individuals do not set goals for themselves; they carry out the instructions of others but do not contribute anything substantial because they do not want to stand out and attract attention, thus gaining a sense of security. Unfortunately, this behavior also means they miss out on opportunities for promotions and higher wages.

People with Cinderella Syndrome lack self-confidence, which is why they will never ask their boss for a raise, but they can quit their job at any moment. They often remain in professions and positions that do not bring them satisfaction and, moreover, they do not strive to improve their circumstances. Women with Cinderella Syndrome often believe that they can only become valuable when partnered with men, and that only a partner can provide them with decent living conditions.

Individuals with the Cinderella complex exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Helplessness
  • Dependence on others
  • Fear of responsibility
  • Fear of criticism
  • Fear of leaving their comfort zone
  • Idealizing a partner.

Causes of the Cinderella complex

The Cinderella complex can cause significant troubles both in personal and professional life. According to psychologists, the roots of this problem can be traced back to childhood when children, especially girls, were often required to meet specific parental expectations and societal roles. Children who were loved in their childhood not for who they are but for being obedient may struggle with various psychological issues in adulthood.

If a woman was criticized, treated as helpless, delicate, and dependent during her childhood, with her right to express her own opinions and feelings being taken away, it is likely that she will also exhibit a lack of independence in her adult life. Instead of believing in herself and living by her own principles, she will be focused on finding a fairy tale prince who will take care of her. Rather than pursuing professional growth and striving for promotion, she will remain in a safe but unsatisfying position.

Can one feel incompetent to make decisions about their own life? It turns out that it is possible. However, regardless of the upbringing received from parents, as adults, we are responsible for ourselves and can make positive changes in our lives. The first step is self-awareness, which involves recognizing the existence of the problem.

Cinderella Syndrome – how to deal with it?

The most important aspect when dealing with the Cinderella Syndrome is to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

Reflect on where and why such thoughts arise in your mind, and then start taking action. The journey may not be easy, but it will bring tangible benefits in both your professional and personal life.

First and foremost, you need to understand that your worth is not dependent on anyone else. Ultimately, it is up to you to pursue what you love and choose your relationships. Building a successful career and maintaining a healthy partnership both require dedication.

You can start by carving out a special space where you can be an active individual. Treat it as a challenge and a means of self-improvement. Take the initiative in a chosen area of your life. Engage in interesting training or courses, start speaking up in meetings at work, don’t be afraid to share your ideas, and cultivate your interests.

Small successes will help build your self-confidence. You can find a wealth of knowledge on building self-worth in self-help guides, popular science books, or consider seeking assistance from a therapist who can help you delve deeper within yourself and find many answers.


  • Cinderella Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon characterized by the subconscious resignation from independence in favor of a sense of security.
  • This mindset can have a negative impact on both personal and professional life.
  • Individuals struggling with Cinderella Syndrome tend to remain passive, avoid responsibilities, and often give up on their own plans, goals, and ambitions.
  • Among the causes of Cinderella Syndrome, factors such as lack of self-confidence, helplessness, fear of change, and fear of criticism can be mentioned.
  • How to deal with Cinderella Syndrome? First and foremost, one needs to take action and work on personal development.

Owen Mantz

Owen Mantz is a freelance copywriter and the COO of Content Writer USA. He has worked with both startups and Fortune 500 companies, helping them increase leads, sales, and customer retention rates.

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