The Disney Princess Syndrome and how to break free of it

Disney Princess what-now?

Disney Princess Syndrome. Often seen as a comorbidity of Peter Pan Syndrome, the Disney Princess Syndrome often appears as the inability to help oneself when presented with a new task or when faced with an unexpected problem. Instead of trying to figure something out, the sufferer will instead wait for someone else to come and fix whatever needs fixing or show them step by step how to do it (also known as Prince Charming).

Now, don’t take me wrong, the Disney Princess Syndrome affects all genders equally, and we’re obviously talking about the traditional Disney Princesses, not the most recent ones.Disney Princess Syndrome.

There's no judgment in this article; let them who have never asked a question to a colleague because it was easier than googling the answer cast the first stone. I just wanted to share a self-growth exercise for work, that has been in large part inspired by Mayim Bialik's video: How I survive living alone.

How can I spot Disney Princess Syndrome?

Obviously, it’s a lot easier to spot on other people than on yourself, so try to reflect on the following to see if it applies to you.

“I have a problem with the sink”.

  • Have you defined the problem: the tap is broken, the sink is leaking, the sink is clogged, there’s no hot or cold water, there’s no water altogether.
  • Have you googled “how to fix {insert relevant issue}”?


  • Have you tried the easiest fix that you found on Google?
  • Is the person that you’re telling about the sink, the most qualified to help you?

If the answer to all of the above is “no” or “I don’t know”, you suffer from Disney Princess Syndrome.

Another more work-related example:

Employee: I want to grow my career.

Manager: That’s great, what do you want to do and how do you plan on getting there?

Employee: I don’t know, but I don’t want to stay in this job forever, I want to grow my skills.

Manager: What support do you need?

Employee: I need training.

We’ve hit the nail on the head: the employee has a lofty goal, has no clear idea of what they want, no idea how to get there and expects someone else to tell them how to achieve that. That’s pure Disney Princess Syndrome.

Do you recognise yourself in these examples?

Be honest, this is just a personal-growth exercise, you don’t have to tell anyone.

How often do you do this?

Do you do this with only one person (say your manager) or is it something that you do on a more global basis, in your professional life and your personal life?

Don’t come up with excuses or reasons why you’re doing it, that’s not the point of the exercise. The goal is to self-diagnose: do I suffer from Disney Princess Syndrome (or not)?

You don’t suffer from Disney Princess Syndrome, good for you!

Remember back when you were a kid and you thought your dad [or insert appropriate adult] knew how to do everything? Well, this is you now! Thank the Internet Gods for Google and YouTube.

I don’t wish you to come across a River Guardian, but you can handle it! Have a nice day.

Im a damsel I can handle thispng

If you do suffer from Disney Princess Syndrome...

It’s ok, you can work on it and overcome the bits that are probably impairing you the most in your day to day job (or life in general).

A problem arises: ask yourself the following questions:

Can I define the problem in simple and exact terms?

To grow my career in this company, I want to become a team leader or a recruitment marketing person. You have now identified 2 roles that you are interested in growing into.

What next?

  • Can I find some resources to help me? Check your company’s internal wiki or knowledge base.
  • Check if the company has career planning resources.
  • Check if other people in the company are already doing this job.
  • Look up the requirements for this job in the company and in other company and match them to your skills.

Now sit down and make a pro/cons list: what are the skills and experiences that you have that are a match for this role? Is this role available in your current company or will you have to leave this company to achieve this position? What skills/competencies/experience are you missing at the moment to be a perfect match for your dream job?

If the job that you want is not available in your current company, what can you do to prepare for it? Obviously, in that case, you can’t really go to your manager and request help and training to help you leave the company, can you?

Choices, choices, choices...

We’re going back to the Disney Princess Syndrome: you can wait for Prince Charming to come and save the day (and get you your dream job), or you can take your destiny, big or small (I need to build a pivot table on Excel or the toilets are clogged) into your own hands and break it down into smaller problems to tackle one at a time.

If we go back to our career progression dilemma: the job doesn’t exist in your company and the leadership team doesn’t see a need for it in the foreseeable future. What can you self-train on, that would be valuable for your current job and for you to progress into a different role? Are there any books or blogs on this job, any online meetups, Facebook groups that you can join to learn by osmosis?

The scenario can also be that the job that you want is available in your company, but internal moves need management sponsorship, and your manager never pegged you as someone suitable for this role. So when you start that conversation, be ready to answer: what have you done to prepare yourself for this role?

Spoiler alert: The answer is not “I want to grow my skills” or “I need to get training from you”.

So of course, it’s a lot easier to be the damsel or squire in distress and to wait for your Prince(ss) Charming on their white horse. That clearly is a lot less work for you.

Does that solve your immediate problem though? Prince(ss) Charming might be a good few miles away, so in the meantime, your work is going no-where and you’re not learning anything.

Dawns in troublepngAlso, keep in mind that it’s 2020 and that Prince(ss) Charming, may just be over the rescuing you all the time.

So next time you’re going to go and ask your manager or your colleague for their help, stop for a minute to break down your problem into smaller questions. It may not solve everything, but your personal growth will definitely improve and your value as a colleague will also grow as your questions will become more pertinent and useful.

“I’m a damsel, I’m in distress. I can handle this. Have a nice day!” - Megara

Bonus content because deep down we all know that our inner Disney Princess should really go on sabbatical... for ever.