The Cinderella complex, when forgetting becomes the norm

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A golden cage preferable to an uncertain freedom, as Simone de Beauvoir already said: “women accept their submission to avoid the tension of an authentic life”.

WOMEN – Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. This traditional tale, made famous by Charles Perrault then by the Grimm brothers, in which a young girl, orphan of a kind and gentle mother, finds herself almost a slave to her stepmother and her daughters. This young girl is nicknamed Cinderella because she spends all day maintaining the hearth and is therefore covered in ashes. Despite the bullying and teasing of her new family (the father, absent, never intervenes to protect his daughter), Cinderella refrains from mean thoughts towards her and continues to put all her heart into the work.

Are you beginning to see what the Cinderella Complex is? The modern version of Cinderella could be called Sylvie or Nathalie, who struggles at work during the day and goes on returning home: laundry, cooking, cleaning, children’s homework and more. “chore” while waiting for an external element to come to free her or at least gratify her and enhance her… In the tale, he is a prince charming, in real life a boss? A husband ? That’s it, the pattern of interdependence is in place.

Daily dedication and sacrifices

In this syndrome, there is only one winner. Nathalie gives it her all at work, damaging herself with repeated symptoms, and never receives any recognition from her boss who allows himself, in addition, comments to which she never responds. As for Sylvie, it’s at home that she set up this plan: she takes extreme care of her husband and his older teenagers, even anticipating their wishes without ever a compliment or even a thank you… She no longer has time to go to the gym, to the hairdresser or even have a coffee with her friends. In short, they accept all this grumbling and being frustrated without seeking to emancipate themselves. A golden cage preferable to an uncertain freedom, as Simone de Beauvoir already said: “women accept their submission to avoid the tension of an authentic life”.

It was Colette Dowling who, in 1981, gave this name to “Cinderella Complex” starting from the observation of his own life. Even though her new companion asks nothing of her, from an independent woman writer raising her three children alone, she transforms, by her own will, into a housewife cooking good meals, keeping the house spotless, no longer investing his career and ends up no longer recognizing himself. It was after discussions with her companion that she wrote an article that resonated with a multitude of women who recognized themselves in this pattern.

What are the origins of Cinderella Syndrome?

So what ? What is going on in the minds of these women for whom forgetting themselves seems the norm? Does the starting point come from an external imposition or from a self-injunction to put oneself on hold for the benefit of others? Is it a lack of recognition in childhood that makes a little girl want to do twice as much to be looked at and valued? Is it a reproduction of family, societal patterns that want us women to receive the injunction to do everything to feel legitimate? Is it a badly overcome childhood trauma (Cinderella is in mourning for her mother) that prevents her from reacting to orders, to devaluations?

What if it wasn’t just a gendered story of a girl waiting for her release by a prince charming? And if it was multifactorial precisely? Because since 1981, forty years have passed and Saverio Tomasella, in his latest book, shows us that men also show signs of this Cinderella complex. And yes, waiting for external recognition, and certainly illusory, or rushing headlong to work until exhaustion is unfortunately not only a female specialty. The Franco-Swiss psychoanalyst gives us a different reading of the tale which allows us not to feel only the poor little victim. It highlights the creativity of the unconscious embodied by the good fairy, her godmother, which allows Cinderella’s desires not only to express themselves but to finally come true. What to be optimistic to hear his needs, his desires and especially to concretize them.

How to get out of this syndrome?

Of course, this will inevitably go through a transformation of the education of girls but also of boys, by listening to their wishes and above all by making them responsible for their realization. Because the fairy tales of yesterday have turned into series for teenagers where the norms of the young-girl-who-stops-her-studies-to-follow-a-rich-fool (as in the Twilight series for example) are still very present. Fortunately, in children’s cartoons, this tends to change gradually: the princesses Mulan or Fiona in Shreck are (admittedly, at the end of the cartoon) the equals of princes. It is high time to change female role models.

  • Step 1: Recognize this functioning at home

Identify actions that can show that we are possibly in this pattern of behavior. Because awareness is the starting point for all change.

  • Step 2: Take responsibility

Come back to yourself, to your own needs and desires, and above all, to your story. Because yes, psychological or physical violence suffered in childhood can lead to the appearance of this syndrome, as well as an education without affect or with restrained emotions. Getting in touch with your past and accepting it without guilt will therefore be the second step. It will then be a matter of accepting that this scheme only exists if everyone is a stakeholder in the system… Not so easy, but essential.

  • Step 3: Get help

Getting out of a system is never easy and being accompanied by a professional is essential support, especially in cases of traumatic childhood.

Getting out of a system is never easy and being accompanied by a professional is essential support, especially in cases of traumatic childhood.

See also on The HuffPost: The mental load in the couple, a problem that she tried to solve by filming her daily life

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