Are you a woman who thinks you have to do it all? Are you trying to raise a family, have a career, serve in your church, keep up your home, attend all of your kids activities, work out at the gym and be socially active? Are you constantly on the go? Do you ever give yourself a break? Do you allow yourself to relax? Do you constantly give, give, give while receiving nothing in return? Do you ever stop attending to the needs of others so you can take time out for you? If this fits your profile, you may have something called Superwoman Syndrome.
What is Superwoman Syndrome?
Superwoman Syndrome is exactly what it says it is - trying to be Superwoman. You are a woman who feels pressured to be able to do it all. You are a woman who works hard to fill multiple roles. You are a woman who is trying to juggle, family, career and social activities.
And more often than not, if you have Superwoman Syndrome, you are feeling overworked, overwhelmed and overly committed. You are also probably exhausted, anxious and stressed to the max. But don't worry - you are not alone.
Who are the Superwomen?
Those who have Superwoman Syndrome are moms, professionals, community organizers, activists, volunteers and socialites. Young girls and college-aged women are also susceptible if they are under pressure to excel in school, sports, looks and relationships. Some reports show that girls as young as 13 suffer from Superwoman Syndrome.
According to Dr. Madeline Ann Lewis, co-author of Overcoming the Superwoman Syndrome, some of these women don the proverbial cape because they:
- Want to be the good, little girl
- Have a tendency towards people-pleasing
- Seek attention
- Want to feel like they can do it all
- They cannot say no to others
- To feel accomplished
- Have low self-esteem
- Strive for perfection
The Superwoman is also a good person, duty oriented, very responsible and truly desires to do what is right.
A Brief History of Superwoman Syndrome
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 as did its audiotape series. 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."
The whole notion of the Superwoman came from the second-wave feminist movement which was part of the Feminist Movement that began in the 60s and lasted until the late 70s. The first-wave of this Movement was to gain legal rights and the second-wave involved sexuality, family, work, and reproductive rights.
In 1965, the National Organization for Women was formed. The formation of this organization helped enable the following victories:
- Affirmative Action for women
- The Women's Educational Equity Act
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
- No fault divorce became legal in all 50 states
- A 1975 law that required the U.S. Military Academies to Accept Women
- Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade
In 1982, although the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed, the Feminist Movement had a powerful effect nonetheless. Today (according to Wikipedia), more women earn bachelor's degrees than men, half of the Ivy League presidents are women and the numbers of women in government and traditionally male-dominated fields have dramatically increased. In 2010, women surpassed men for the first time in the American workforce. (economix.com)
And that's where it all began. The second-wave of the Feminist Movement gave women opportunities they never had before. It opened doors that had been shut to them for years. For some women, this whole new world included more demands than they knew what to do with, the pressure to do it all and the belief that they could.
The Stress Factor
One reason having Superwoman Syndrome can be dangerous for women is the stress that it induces. Too much stress is unhealthy. Some stress-related illnesses include ulcers, migraine headaches, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Too much stress can also produce unhealthy coping patterns.
In a recent study of stress and coping patterns for women ages 25 to 34 years, one third of the women in the study used food consumption as a means of coping with their problems. The younger women more often reported physical and emotional symptoms of stress than older women. Girls and women under 25 reportedly turn to anorexia/bulimia oftentimes resulting with an eating disorder.
According to Dr. Madeline Ann Lewis, stress is caused when people strive to be perfect in certain situations. By definition, the Superwoman Syndrome is a range of physical, psychological, and interpersonal stress symptoms experienced by a woman who attempts to perform perfectly in multiple or conflicting roles or goes overboard in one role.
Some emotional and cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Unable to concentrate
- Having memory problems
- Mood swings
- Thinking about negative things all the time
- Emotional outbursts
- Lack of sense of humor
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Muscle tension
- Stomach/abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms or nervous tics
- Unexplained rashes or skin irritations
- Sweating when not physically active
- 'Butterflies' in stomach
- Unable to sleep or excessive sleep
- Shortness of breath
Another way that women who have Superwoman Syndrome have been known to cope with their stress is to use prescription drugs. This can be dangerous to their health and can sometimes lead to serious addictions.
In today's society many women with Superwomen Syndrome are suffering. They are feeling overwhelmed, anxious and stressed. Some use their caffeine addictions to make it through but other women use far worse addictions to get through the day.
According to the the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 6 percent of American women, (7.5 million adult women) report using prescription medicines for a boost of energy, a dose of calm or other non-medical reasons.
Prescription drug abuse has been up since the 1990s. This data may have something to do with more women popping pills. Also, studies show that women are more likely to be prescribed an abusable prescription drug, especially narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs.
According to the article, "Type A Woman's Secret for Having it All? Pill Popping," Licensed Clinical Social Worker Irina Firstein, discusses how easy it is for mothers with demanding jobs to start an addiction.
Dr. Jeffrey Parsons, chair of the Hunter College psychology department says that women don't realize that prescription drugs can be harmful.
The most common drugs prescribed include: opioid painkillers, stimulants and central nervous-system depressants. These drugs are helpful when they are necessary but for a healthy woman taking them, they can take a toll on sleep patterns and the ability to focus or relax. Popping too many pills can also cause irregular heartbeats which could result in cardiac death.
Healing from Superwoman Syndrome
Superwomen, there is a way out. It is possible to overcome Superwoman Syndrome. Some women have used the following tactics when trying to heal from their "I have to do everything and do it well" attitudes:
Assertiveness Training- learn to express yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs, all while respecting the rights of others. Assertive behavior can prevent problems that have the potential to create stress.
Support system - build your own support system and form effective relationships. These people can give help and comfort during times of potential stress.
Have a relationship with God - take time out of your day for prayer and studying the Word. God is also a good One to talk to in times of trouble or despair.
Learn to delegate and ask for help - you really don't have to do everything. If your kids are old enough, ask them for help with housework. Ask your husband to lend a helping hand at home. It really is okay to ask for help.
Let go of perfectionism- realize that the house does not have to be clean 24/7. Dinner does not have to be just right every evening. It really is impossible to be perfect all of the time.
Make the sacrifice- is it time for a sacrifice? Maybe sacrificing work to stay at home? Maybe downsizing your home? Ask yourself what things you can live without. Try to focus on your needs instead of your wants.
Take time out for you - get your hair done, a massage, a pedicure. Go shopping for a new outfit. Go off somewhere on your own and read a good book. Have coffee with a good friend. The world really will go on while you take a break.
Maybe the best advice is to learn to let go and learn to say no. There is hope in overcoming your Superwoman Syndrome!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.