Stop trying to be Super Woman
The term super woman 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 communities.”
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…”
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 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.”
Checklist for the Superwomen Syndrome:
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 load
- You have a desperate need to be liked, wanted and needed