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Do you have Superwoman Syndrome?

January 19th 2016 / Elaine Slater

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If your quest to ‘have it all’ is more of a struggle than you’d care to admit, it could be time to ask yourself some searching questions…

When Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to “lean in”, she is speaking to the women amongst us who suffer from “imposter syndrome”. However, our ability to thrive in our careers depends on having help and support at home as well as maintaining mindful self-care in relation to our physical and emotional wellbeing.

It is important for women to also learn how to ‘lean out’, so to speak, otherwise a large number of us will succumb to ‘superwoman syndrome’ (not as heroic or satisfying as it sounds). Here is a breakdown of what ‘superwoman syndrome’ can entail, followed by some good questions to ask yourself if you think you’re susceptible.

Superwoman syndrome affects women of different ages, at different career stages, at different economic levels, and with different intensities.

‘Superwomen’ are often overwhelmed and overscheduled; juggling families, friendships, health and career demands with endless to-do lists.

These women could be perceived as overachievers; women who in general are master multi-taskers and push themselves to excel. They measure their self-worth entirely in terms of productivity and tangible accomplishments.

In my view, women are stressed and stretched like never before. Societal pressure tells women ‘you can have it all’, thus creating a climate of potential failure because, as we are learning the hard way, ‘you can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once’.

Western society’s paradoxical message to women is ‘we are unlimited but limited’. We are bombarded by images and messages telling us that we are ‘lacking’ or not good enough. We are made to feel ‘less than’ unless we perform perfectly and ‘do it all’.

The ‘superwoman’ must often fight the unrelenting demands of insensitive employers, lack of adequate childcare resources, deadlines, overload, and a non-supportive spouse. Often she feels powerless to do something about these demands and is left feeling guilty, overwhelmed and inadequate, not to mention very low in the self-esteem department.

Often ‘superwoman syndrome’ creates the ‘fear of missing out’ (we’re no doubt all familiar with the FOMO in some context) and worries about not keeping up or falling behind. Western society reinforces this in many ways, for example, the recent wellbeing trend, wherein everyone is an “expert” or “guru” about the food we ‘should’ be eating and the exercise we ‘should’ be doing. Of course, there are pressures to be found in keeping up with the latest fashion and culture etc too. This leads to a belief that ‘I am not enough as I am’, the result being lowered self-confidence and self-esteem.

A Superwoman Syndrome Check List

Why does it happen?

To be the good girl

To please everyone

For attention

Due to an inability to say no

Low self-esteem

A fear of missing out

Do you identify with it?

Do you feel the need to do it all?

Do you compete against yourself?

Do you rarely say no to others?

Do you take on more and more responsibility?

Do you rarely feel a strong sense of accomplishment?

Do you constantly feel overwhelmed?

Do you feel the need to be ‘perfect’?

Do you feel the need to ‘be everything to everyone’?

Do you feel good enough?

Do you feel of worth and value?

If this feature has struck a chord, try to break the ‘superwoman’ cycle by stepping back, taking stock and reconsidering your responses to demands made upon you, by your boss, your family or social circle, society as a whole, or vitally, by yourself. Consult Elaine’s SOS tips on easing anxiety here, and keep The Spiritualist’s guide to not allowing stress and pressure to overpower you in mind when you start to feel as though you’re spinning too many plates. You’re superwoman whether you lean in, out or sideways, so don’t push yourself to perform in the rat race.

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Elaine Slater is a psychologist and psychotherapeutic counsellor based in London. To find out more about her background and practice, and to make an appointment, visit her website.

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