The Cinderella complex was first described by Colette Dowling, who wrote a book on women's fear of independence – an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others. The complex is said to become more apparent as a person grows older.
The complex is named after the fairy tale character Cinderella. It is based on the idea of femininity portrayed in that story, where a woman is beautiful, graceful, polite, supportive, hardworking, independent, and maligned by the females of her society, but she is not capable of changing her situations with her own actions and must be helped by an outside force, usually a male (i.e., the Prince).
Feminist women can be taken aback to find that, after taking steps to extend their own autonomous presence in the world, they may still find themselves hankering for rescue/support from some external force – still tempted into dependency. This phenomenon or syndrome becomes particularly significant with regard to the question of why women may choose to stay in dysfunctional relationships.
Others point to Ronald Fairbairn's concept of mature dependency, to challenge cultural disparagement of dependency in favor of an ideal of isolated independence. Carol Gilligan's championship of a web of connections as a feminist goal, rather than the solitary male hero, is also invoked to defend the Cinderella complex's tendency to define the self in terms of a mate/settled relationship.
In the movie Tootsie, Teri Garr tells Dustin Hoffman during their break-up at the end of the movie, "I read the Cinderella Complex, I know I'm responsible for my own orgasm! I don't care, I just don't like being lied to!" 
In the TV series Police Squad! episode 3 "The Butler Did It" a therapist gets advice from the shoe shine man Johnny about how to treat the Cinderella Complex: "Tell them to get in touch with their unconscious feelings and to share in the growth process with their partner"
- Colette Dowling (1981). The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-73334-6.
- Y. Inoue-Smith (2012) A Shadow of Mist. University Press of America. ISBN 0761859063. p. 26
- Judith Viorst (2010) Necessary Losses. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1439134863. p. 119
- Judith Viorst (2010) Necessary Losses. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1439134863. p. 120
- Adam Phillips (1994) On Flirtation. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674634403. p. 53
- R. J. Corsini (1999) A Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. ISBN 158391028X. p. 166
- Sydney Pollack (Director) (Dec 1, 1982). Tootsie (Motion picture). Manhattan, NY: Warner Bros, Columbia Pictures.