What is Cassandra Syndrome?

Cassandra Syndrome, also known as Cassandra Complex, Phenomenon, Predicament, or Curse. What is it? In this blog-post you will learn about Cassandra. Three women describe their experiences with Cassandra Syndrome.

IN SHORT: Cassandra Syndrome applies to a person whose valid warnings or concerns are not believed by others.

Cassandra by Ferdinand Rothbart

A TAD BIT LONGER

In Greek mythology, Cassandra is a beautiful daughter of King Priam of Troy. Apollo smitten by her beauty, gives her the gift of prophecy. Despite this gift, Cassandra does not return Apollo’s romantic feelings. As a result, Apollo is so angry that he ensures Cassandra’s prophecies are never believed. Thus, in stories, Cassandra often appears as a prophet of doom, forewarning all her warnings stay unheeded. Over time, Cassandra’s name has become synonymous with prophets of doom.

IN DEPTH

Modern people have little knowledge about prophesies; we prefer statistical data and scientific simulations to map out our future. Those who dare to speak about prophecies are seen as mad or religious fanatics. That said, we fill our days with policy making. Whether you are a housewife/man, or a governmental senior policy maker, we run errands for the rest of the week and make plans for the next five year. We are very busy with forecasting and foretelling our future. Keeping an eye on the future is an integral part of living a well-planned life.

Remember the fall of Troy? Cassandra attempted to warn the Trojan people that Greek warriors were hiding in the Trojan Horse. Nobody believed Cassandra. Instead the Trojans resorted to calling her names and hurling insults at her. At night, the Greek soldiers hiding inside the horse, take the city of Troy, leading to its fall. So, what is Cassandra Syndrome? It consists of two aspects: prophesy and disbelief.

PROPHESY

Prophesying is about seeing, or believing, or knowing something goes wrong. This knowing is based on a gift by the god Apollo in Cassandra’s story, but we -modern and often secular people- can base this knowledge on life experience, intuition, or scientific data. Whatever the source or method of knowing, Cassandra Syndrome is about knowing what is about to happen, and this can be very stressful.

I once read about a man who saw his whole life playing like a movie in his mind when he suffered a NDE (Near Death Experience). After this NDE, his life evolved just the way he had ‘seen’. He knew what would happen, who would die (first), just as he had ‘seen’. I gave this much thought and asked myself ‘Would I want to know all that? And would I be in such acceptance?’ The man’s wife died before him. ‘Would I put effort in trying to change that, to change the ‘natural’ course of things as they had presented in his NDE?’ These are difficult questions.

DISBELIEF

It is extremely stressful if your warning or knowing is met with disbelief. People die; Troy falls. All of that could have been prevented had people listened to Cassandra. Most climate change advocates must have suffered from Cassandra Syndrome. Who believed their doom scenario (of rising sea levels, increased heatwaves, horrendous floods) till we actually saw it happening?

Max Klinger, Cassandra, 1893

Have you ever suffered Cassandra Syndrome?

I did at least twice and it was very stressful. Am I bestowed with the gift of prophesying? No, of course not. Whether knowledge comes intuitively, divinely, logically, or scientifically, that is rather irrelevant. The point is that you had knowledge about a future development and you weren’t believed. Like Cassandra, I was ridiculed.  

Cassandra was seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family. Her father, Priam, locked her away in a chamber and guarded her like the madwoman she was said to be. How could Priam rule when his daughter could foretell the future? As a king, he should be in charge of the future, not his daughter. But because of the gift of Apollo, Cassandra was the real policy maker; she could anticipate the future. Thus, she was shamed as a madwoman. She was silenced.

THREE PERSONAL NARRATIVES ON CASSANDRA SYNDROME

Maria: ‘I got Cassandra syndrome from a conflict with my father. We strongly disagreed about his future. In my opinion, he should sign up for an old people’s home because he needed care and socializing. He said I was psychiatric, which is a very classical reaction of an old man in relation to a woman speaking her mind. Priam drove a knife in Cassandra’s back to stay in power; my father back-stabbed me in order to silence me. That is what (some) men do when they hear women saying things they dislike. This begs the question; has anything changed since Ancient Greece?’

Kathryn: ‘When I think of Cassandra Syndrome, I think of Camille Claudel. She was a very talented sculptress but she lived in the shadow of Auguste Rodin. Claudel made art at the time when it was highly unusual for a woman to make a living as an artist. How could she ever step out of the shadow of the famous Rodin with whom she was in a collaborative and passionate relationship? It is said she lost her mind and lived for 30 years, till her death, in a mental asylum. Why was it that the woman of the artistic couple was stored away? Was she a madwoman or was she perhaps silenced by a male oriented society?’

Petra: ‘How long did it take for the pharmaceutical industry to acknowledge that it has been a men’s industry, testing medicines on men, for the benefits of men? How long have women taken medicines that were designed and tested on men? I understand there has been reluctance with testing medication on women for fear of damaging the reproductive system or unborn babies. But when these male designed medications didn’t help women, women too often were advised to seek psychological help for ‘psycho-somatic’ illnesses. In essence, the pharmaceutical industry was failing women and by suggesting they needed emotional help this industry was ridiculing and silencing women, saying they were a bit loopy, in need of mental help. In fact, the industry should have designed medicine for women. I think that women collectively suffer from Cassandra syndrome.’

For more on women and healthcare issues: Voices of Women. Books: Invisible Women, Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. And: Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn.

How many women (and men) -do you think- have been Cassandra during a time in their lives?

My guess? Too many. Far too many.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer, owner, commission artist, and writer at Mindfuldrawing.com, a website full artwork, art-musings, art-appreciation, and art-essays. Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and loves painting and drawing. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s artshop is at Etsy. Just go there and have a look. You do not need an account to order art. Paula is also at Instagram, where she uses her Instagram as a portfolio for pictures and videos for you to enjoy.