Cinderella complex: why some girls are doomed to a life of depression

What does a modern day Cinderella look like? I know the answer because I have met several such maidens recently. What they don’t need is a diagnosis like ‘Cinderella complex’, but more support so that they aren’t doomed to a life of depression, resentment and despair. The names have been changed for the following girl’s stories.

                A princess in the making

Molly’s older sister Kate has had frequent meltdowns for years, causing intense disruption in the family. Everyone walks around on eggshells for fear of setting Kate off, and Molly has responded by being the “good kid” of the family. She does the chores her sister blows off, is involved in too many activities at school, and pushes herself to get straight A’s. She is aware that her busyness is an attempt to make up for her sister’s deficiencies. She has learned to put everyone’s needs before her own, including her parents, siblings, and friends. At age 16 she feels exhausted and resentful, and the thought that keeps popping up in her head is, “What about me?” “When will it be my turn?”  

Ashley, 18, experienced a divorce at five years of age, and both of her parents started using her as a confidant for their troubles. On the one hand, this made her feel grown up and valuable, but on the other hand she gets overwhelmed with their adult problems. She worries about her father’s depression and recent panic attacks, and feels bad because she can’t seem to help him. Ashley is already worried about leaving her parents when she goes to college next year. The thought that she can’t let go of is, “I am responsible for my parent’s happiness.”

Tessa has four younger siblings, one of which is an eight-year-old brother with autism. Her single mother works two jobs, and so the responsibility for cooking meals, doing everyone’s laundry, babysitting, and keeping the house in order falls to Tessa. Her mom comes home tired and crabby, and gets on Tessa for any little thing that hasn’t been done. She feels bad for her mom and wants to help out, but gets overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities at home, much less her homework and friendships. Her most frequent thought is, “Life isn’t fair, and I shouldn’t have needs.”

 Like Cinderella, a prince won’t be the agent of change in these girl’s lives; it will be a huge shot of personal growth and awareness. What is always most important is not what happens to us, but what we make of it. These three girls have made some unhealthy decisions about themselves that, if not changed, will cause them to create a life that reflects their beliefs. I also find that many girls without these stories of hardship still embrace the same beliefs that other people’s needs are more important than their own and that they are responsible for other’s feelings and happiness.

I teach girls that sometimes they have to decide that their parents or their family’s craziness is not THEIR craziness. They must consciously decide that THEY are okay, deserving of the best, not responsible for other’s feelings or actions, and that they must start taking care of themselves and asking for what they need. Sometimes they have to find the love, attention, and guidance they deserve from adults other than their parents, i.e. grandparents, teachers, coaches, bosses, counselors, or mentors. Many times their transformation starts with baby steps; exercising muscles like asking for what you want or saying no to people.

Cinderella had to go through a period of servitude and pain in order to become strong, confident, and self-reliant, and she had to shed her old perceptions of herself as the “ash-girl” before she could transform into a princess. Girls like Molly, Ashley, and Kate are incredible princesses-in-the-making, and they need our support to rise above their adversity.



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