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The term superwoman was coined by author
Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz who wrote the book,
The Superwoman Syndrome, published in
1984. The book became a best-seller and the
basis of the book was “for women trying to do
it all - how to decide what’s important in your
life and do it well.” And today, typically when
people say “she is a superwoman” clinical
psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia Dr.
Saliha Afridi says that simply implies that the
person is doing more than the average woman
is doing in their society/culture and could
vary accordingly. Most often, these women
do not have the time or energy to devote to
themselves and often set standards that are
unnaturally high, are beyond reach or reason.
Superwomen push themselves to excel, and
the cycle begins—after she excels in one area,
she will push herself to excel in another. Not
limited to only working women, this can be
the stay-at-home mum who is raising three
kids, attends activities, monitors homework,
entertains friends and family all whilst never
complaining. This can be found in any woman,
reiterates Dr Afridi. “A ‘superwoman’ is not
limited to someone who works, because even
women who stay at home have a full plate,”
she says, pointing out, “They may be actively
involved with the lives of their children, the
running of their household, the workings
of their families, and partaking in their
Such is the case as with Laura McCowen, an
IT consultant in Dubai and mother to three
children who frequently sleeps less than six
hours a night to maintain her frenetic pace.
She says, “I am paid well and enjoy my job.
However by the end of the day, I am exhausted.
While my husband gets to come home and put
his feet up and watch TV, I have to deal with
the maid and the dinner as well as oversee
homework and the children’s studies. It leaves
no time for me and by the end of the evening, I
just feel like collapsing…”
The Pressure
These days women are juggling too much at
one time; Dr. Bourg Carter, author of High
Octane Women: How Super achievers Can
Avoid Burnout, explains that with all the balls
we’re juggling these days between work, family,
extended family, our children’s commitments,
economic stress, and other miscellaneous balls
thrown into the mix, who could do all those
things and not drop a ball now and then?
She says, “Day in and day out, that kind of
Superwoman mindset puts enormous pressure
on women to clear hurdles that are set so
high that even Superwoman herself would
have trouble clearing.” She further adds that
if we don’t accomplish superhero feats in our
work and family lives — we feel guilty. And
this guilt adds to our stress levels and leads
to other potential problems such as increased
risk for heart disease and high blood pressure,
Checklist for the
You really believe that you can
do it all. Take care of the home,
the kids, the car, the career, and
even the vacation.
• You seldom say no to anyone
• Boundaries are something
other people have
• You take on extra work to
alleviate someone else’s work
• You have a desperate need to
be liked, wanted and needed
as well as increased risk for ulcers, migraine
headaches, and also unhealthy coping patterns
and emotional problems such as depression
and anxiety.
According to Dr. Afridi, if a woman is
managing many different roles, and doing it
happily because she enjoys it and wants to be
productive and socially responsible, rather
than ‘wanting to please others’ or because
she is unable to say “no” then no harm done.
“However if she is taking on too much,
and not having a balance in her life then it
can have negative impact on her physical,
emotional and relational health,” she says.
And for more extreme cases, the stress caused
by women trying to juggle conflicting roles
can cause a range of physical, psychological,
and interpersonal stress symptoms. The more
she tries to perform her roles perfectly, the
more stress she produces. Sometimes, she
keeps adding roles as if “more” is somehow
better. Other times, she is not performing
multiple roles to experience the Superwoman
Syndrome. Instead, she is stressed as a result
of handling just one role and obsessing to do it
too perfectly.
Understanding your own capabilities and
managing balance is the key in this equation.
“Each woman is different in her roles and
capacities and it is paramount for the woman
to know her own capacity and learns to
balance,” reiterates Dr. Afridi. “Some women
are capable of doing more than others,
due to their levels of motivation, intensity,
organization, or commitment--- don’t try to
compete with others, instead learn what are
the things that are important to you and know
in what capacity can you do those things.”
May/June 2013