The Cassandra complex is the name given to a phenomenon where people who predict bad news or warnings are ignored or outright dismissed.

The term ‘Cassandra complex’ has entered the lexicon in 1949 when a French philosopher discussed the potential for someone to predict future events.

The complex has been used in wide-ranging contexts. This includes psychology, the circus, the corporate world, environmentalism (and science in general), and philosophy.

Origins of the Cassandra complex name

Cassandra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Priam, the king who reigned Troy when the Greeks attacked it. Cassandra was such a beautiful woman that she attracted the attention of the god Apollo, the son of Zeus. He gave her the gift of prophecy as a love gift, but when she refused his attentions, he grew angry. Apollo then cursed Cassandra to always prophesy the truth but have the misfortune of knowing nobody would ever believe her.

The Cassandra complex as we know it today also has some distinct links back to the times when the Old Testament came into being. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Amos were all prophets who called attention to what was going wrong in their society.

All three prophets spent their lives calling on people to honour God through their actions. They avoided animal sacrifices and cared for those in need. Unfortunately, as was always the case, people didn’t believe them. Moreover, for their attempts, they were put into the stocks, among other punishments.

Cassandra complex in psychology

Painting of Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan
Painting of Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan via WikiCommons

Many psychologists use the Cassandra complex to describe the physical and emotional effects felt by people who experience distressing personal events. It can also apply to people who always suffer the humiliation of never being listened to or believed when they try and explain themselves to other people.

Melanie Klein was a psychologist in the early sixties who came up with the theory that this type of complex can describe moral conscience. It is the job of moral conscience to provide a warning when things are going to go wrong. Klein dubbed this the Cassandra complex because of the moral components which come with many warnings. The super-ego which tries to get us to stop these moralistic warnings is, therefore, Apollo.

According to Klein, people would refuse to believe or listen to someone who was speaking from a place of moral conscience in a bid to ignore their own consciences.

Laurie Layton Schapira was a psychologist active during the eighties. Her own version of the Cassandra complex came with three separate factors involved:

  • A dysfunctional relationship with the Apollo archetype
  • Emotional or physical suffering\women’s problems
  • Lack of belief when sufferers attempt to relate their experiences and beliefs to others.

Schapira considered that a Cassandra complex has a connection with the archetype of order, reason, truth, and clarity. This archetype, which she called the Apollo archetype, stands in contradiction to this complex. To Schapira, the Apollo archetype is external and in emotionally distant. At the same time, a Cassandra woman is one who heavily relies on intuition and emotion.

Cassandra complex in the world today

Cassandra complex as visioning

This type of complex for a working woman can sometimes be a form of visioning. When someone foresees that the direction the business and company they work for is taking certain turns, they often have to struggle with people refusing to believe them. It happens because many people work on the moment and choose not to view what is going to happen in the future.

Some people who have a Cassandra complex can see things before they happen. For example, a dip in the company success rate or profit rate. This is what happened to Warren Buffett, who earned the name Wall Street Cassandra for trying to warn people about the latest crash.

It is not always bad though. In visioning, sometimes people with this complex are looked on as a good sign. This is because they can often see what others can’t.

Environmental movement

Science has been predicting climate change on a massive scale, for quite some time. This includes temperatures rising, flooding, droughts, pollution, and all manner of other horrible things.

Unfortunately, despite many of their warnings coming true, lots of people still ignore this, and the science behind it, as a Cassandra complex. Many scientists actively talk about the dilemma of being stuck in the middle of this type of complex. It’s about being totally alone while you watch people destroy the planet and themselves.

What makes things worse for scientists who have a Cassandra complex? It is that they often find themselves blamed for the very events that they tried to warn about.

Some scientists have also experienced the opposite effect. When they manage to give some good news to people, this is taken as a sign that the entire problem of climate change is, in fact, a hoax, and that anybody who says otherwise is lying.

A Cassandra complex can be an exhausting thing to have. It is especially true when scientists have to watch things get worse and worse as a direct result of their inability to make people believe what they have to say.

Other examples

The Cassandra complex has appeared in a wide number of contexts since it originally appeared in Greek mythology. It is most common in feminism and their perspectives of reality, various parts of the media, and medical science.

People with Autism, or their families, often feel as though they have this type of complex. They can go a long time before someone believes what they are saying about their health and health issues.

Many songwriters have also used the idea of a Cassandra complex, such as ABBA and Dead and Divine. The Ohio band Curse of Cassandra got its name after the very concept of a Cassandra complex.



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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Mike S-J

    I would stress that the Cassandra complex is non-gender.

    1. Terrence

      Mike, I absolutely agree that it is non-gender specific. It is also not specific to political or ideological perspectives.

  2. Miles Greenford

    Excellent. I was considering it slightly more literally though but then as someone who is Autistic, I’m more likely to.

    It could be considered an allegory expressed as a myth. The experiences of Cassandra come very close to the experiences of individuals, at least those who are level one/high functioning autistic spectrum disordered. Here. It is the difference between the neurotypicallity and neurodivergence with resulting significant heuristic distances that result between the two different communities; neurodivergent autistic individuals, with strengths in pattern, visual and association thinking which differ from the conceptual strengths of neurotypical. This can lead to heuristic biases and instances of heuristic bigotry towards the less dominant less authoritative community of Autistic Spectrum Disordered individuals, who are often driven by a very strong personal and social justice motivator. This could be expressed as conscience. Widen this chasm with social and communication challenges necessary for a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and deepen it with emotional dysregulation – another essential signs and symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder; the literal description hidden within the personification and allegory of The Cassandra Myth become all too apparent as descriptors of the live experiences at times, for at least some of us who are level 1 autistic individuals. A way to try and even start to attempt to have this appreciated is through being able to describe it so it is more popularly accessible to a wider neurotypical community. However, that still does not address the powerful and highly significant influences of dominant neurotypical heuristics complexly at play here. And, as such, thus it continues…

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