The Cinderella Complex was first described by Colette Dowling, who wrote a book on women's fear of independence, as an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others, based primarily on a fear of being independent. The complex is said to become more apparent as a person grows older. Colette Dowling attempts to define women as being motivated by an unconscious desire to be taken care of as a fear of independence termed "Cinderella Complex". Careful examination of this work reveals many flawed or vague concepts. In fact, the importance of book is not the theory of independence that she sets forth. The importance of the work can be defined as identifying an aspect of a larger phenomenon as to why woman chose to stay in dysfunctional relationships. This phenomenon can be defined as a syndrome characterized by a series of specific motivations or causes Dowling identifies only one motivation. Where as the syndrome is a combination of many motivations which are in themselves characteristics which are in essence a complex. The term syndrome has been largely used to define conditions apparent in medicine. However, In recent decades the term has been used outside of medicine to refer to a combination of phenomena seen in association.
This complex is named after the fairy tale character Cinderella, popularized by the Disney movie of the same name. It is based on the idea of women that the story portrays, as being beautiful, graceful and polite but who cannot be strong independent characters themselves (although Cinderella does exhibit independence based on her skills and determination), and who must be rescued by an outside force, usually a man (e.g. the Prince). Any strong female characters who do have power are seen as wicked and nefarious (e.g. a weak example is the stepmother, who is manipulative and deceitful throughout the story).
Fairy-tale-like simplifications in interpreting themes in Cinderella may also artificially dichotomize complex psychological phenomena under the exclusive guise of binary gendered oppositions. Beyond this single interpretative lens the narrative may also reveal multi-faceted and interweaving psychological themes of: 'the reality principle' vs 'creative imagination', 'determined and willful perseverance' vs 'trusting in the power of grace','autonomy' vs 'interdependence', 'resourcefulness' vs 'deviousness', 'abundance' vs 'deprivation', 'envy' vs 'gratitude and generosity'. Such psychological realities may be universally present and make repeated and alternating appearances throughout the lives of both men and women.