What is Cinderella Syndrome?

[fa icon="calendar"] Feb 15, 2023 8:00:00 AM / by Maj Donovan

Cinderella (1)Cinderella Syndrome goes by many names.  Some call it wishful thinking.  Some refer to it as wish fulfillment.  Still others refer to it as fantastical or magical thinking. The late, great psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis described it as an irrational thought characterized by the idea that “One must be quite dependent on others and need them...”   

What are the key components of Cinderella Syndrome?   

The key components of Cinderella Syndrome are as follows:  1) Some person will make me happy. 2) This person will come into my life and whisk me away from my misery.  3) After I find this person, or they find me, I’ll live happily ever after.   

This story is popular in children’s literature, romance novels and Rom-Com movies, but it is far removed from reality.  Moreover, this thought, attitude and behavior is detrimental to long-term recovery.    

How is Cinderella Syndrome related to Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?   

First, when we substitute the word “person” with the word alcohol, we get the following.:  1) Alcohol will make me happy. 2) Drinking will whisk me away from my misery. 3) Now that I’ve found alcohol, I’ll live happily ever after.   

The above statements may sound ridiculous.  But to anyone in recovery from alcohol or drug use, we know them to be true.  We deluded ourselves with these irrational thoughts.  In the height of our substance use disorder, we believed alcohol was the answer to our problems.  We believed this to the depths of our very souls.  We thought alcohol, weed, pills, or needles were the solution to our problems. In reality, our relationship to mood-altering chemicals was of a symbiotic nature that biologists would describe as “parasitism”.  This is where the parasitic organism benefits at the expense of the host. We thought our use was keeping us alive when it was really killing us physically, spiritually, and mentally.   

In recovery, we learn alcohol use only exacerbated our problems. We thought drugs were helping us when they were really destroying us. Deeper into recovery, we learned that our problems were of our own making. “After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol.” ­– (Page 103, Alcoholics Anonymous). 

One of the problems prior to our substance use disorder was “magical thinking” or Cinderella Syndrome. Many of us, prior to recovery had this irrational belief that something external to us was going to make our lives better forever. Therefore, when we picked up that first drink, joint, or pill, it was an epiphanous moment. Our minds and hearts said, “voila” instant happinessIt was love at first sight – our prince had finally arrived.   

In recovery, we’ve come to understand that our own happiness comes from our own thoughts and behaviors. Abraham Lincoln put it thusly, “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”   

In recovery, we’ve come to understand the importance of hard work, diligence, and the need to delay immediate gratification.  We’ve come to understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day and it may take weeks, months, or even years to clean up the wreckage from our past.  We’ve come to understand that recovery isn’t a sprint, but more like a marathon which we do One Day at a Time.  We’ve come to understand that the Cinderella story makes for great children’s entertainment, but in recovery, happiness comes from working in a program that involves unity, recovery, and service.   


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Topics: alcohol addiction, 12 step program, alcohol abuse, Cinderella Syndrome

Maj Donovan

Written by Maj Donovan

Maj Donovan is a person in long-term recovery with over four decades of sobriety. He is an author, blogger, lecturer and teaches a monthly workshop at “The Retreat” on the 12 Steps and Sponsorship.

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