Superwoman Syndrome

Updated on November 8, 2016
Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean is a freelance writer and author. Her inspiring memoir "Having Faith" is available on Amazon. She resides in North Dakota.

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.

you are not a superhero. You are a woman who has needs of your own.
you are not a superhero. You are a woman who has needs of your own. | Source

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.

disorganization can lead to undue stress
disorganization can lead to undue stress

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:

  • Irritability
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Having memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Thinking about negative things all the time
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Indecisiveness
  • 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.

trying to play the role of superwoman can leave you feeling emotionally unfulfilled
trying to play the role of superwoman can leave you feeling emotionally unfulfilled
prescription drugs can be a dangerous way to cope with stress
prescription drugs can be a dangerous way to cope with stress

Pill-Popping Superwomen

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!

Questions & Answers

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      • carrie Lee Night profile image

        Carrie Lee Night 

        4 years ago from Northeast United States

        Interesting and informative hub :) I work in behavioral health and see all types of personality disorders; I do not feel this is a "syndrome", I think it is a natural behavior for people that have that pleasing/serving genetic material. Great topic :) Have a great day.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Jaymi - thanks so much for your comment. I would love to check out your blog!

      • profile image

        Jaymi 

        7 years ago

        Great hub! I am currently blogging on this very subject, you provided me with some new information by way the of book references. Thank you.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Eva-Lynn - first of all welcome to HubPages - it really is a great online community! Thanks for sticking it out to the end of the article - I know it did get kind of long. I always like my hubs to be at least 800 words but that's just me. Some people get by on writing 300-500 word hubs and that works for them. Anyway, thanks so much for your comment!

      • Eva-Lynn profile image

        Eva-Lynn 

        7 years ago from New Jersey

        Very good article! Rather long but I'm new here so please bear my ignorance. Useful article but I took two breaks before finishing it...the good thing is, it was worth reading to the end. Thanks!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        DeBorrah - everything you say is SO TRUE! First and foremost, we must have a relationship with Jesus and pray to Him for guidance on how to live our lives and how to balance all of our responsibilities and which things in our lives we need to prioritize.

        I think you have hit on something and that is women do compare themselves to other women which forces them to think they have to do it better than the next woman. Women comapre houses, cars, clothes, looks, and even their kids. I'll admit, I've compared myself to others and it does not bring any happiness. True happiness and fulfillment comes from HIM! Thanks so much for your wonderful and insightful comment. Be Blessed!

      • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

        DeBorrah K Ogans 

        8 years ago

        Cari Jean, Very informative insightful hub! Great suggestions and excellent advice! It is important to take time and evaluate your priorities! There is not enough hours in the day to do it all. What is most important is an intimate personal relationship with the Lord. To take time to meditate and ponder on His Word and implement His principles daily! Know that God has a plan for your life that only you can fulfill! Seek Him above all else! In Him you can discover a sense of wholeness and true “Security & Significance!”!

        It is so important not to compare yourself with anyone else. To know that you can never do it all! But each day you can have a sense of accomplishment doing whatever it is you do! The material things you see will still be here when you are gone… What is important is relationships! God is Love it is through your relationship with Him you will learn how to Love, yourself and others… Wonderful thought provoking hub! Great JOB! Thank you for sharing, In His Love, Peace, Joy & Blessings!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        jayb23 - thanks so much for your comment. It's great to hear a male's perspective on this subject!

      • jayb23 profile image

        jayb23 

        8 years ago from India

        Amazing hub Cari, I know 1 thing for sure women become superwomen post marriage where they handle everything and Iam talkin in a positive sense of it. Something we men can learn from. Keep up the good work.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        jennshealthstore - HA! Good one! Thanks for your comment and I agree, it would do us all good to slow down a bit.

      • jennshealthstore profile image

        Jennifer Maldonado 

        8 years ago from Tequesta

        Thanks for the wonderful article! You know, it really stresses me out when I am stressed : ) We need to all slow down just a bit.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        HealthyHanna - Unfortunately in today's society it is easy to be sucked into being a Superwoman - we have gotten to kind of expect it from women. I have a lot of respect for women who can make sacrifices and set firm boundaries. Thanks so much for your comment!

      • HealthyHanna profile image

        HealthyHanna 

        8 years ago from Utah

        This is a great hub. Very well written. I know about the Super Woman Syndrome and think there is a lot of wisdom in resisting being sucked into it. But...this is the best article I have seen about it. Thanks.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        JenDobson27 - Thank you so much for your comment. Glad you enjoyed it!

      • JenDobson27 profile image

        JenDobson27 

        8 years ago

        What a great hub! Seriously, I really enjoyed reading that and it really hit home for me. Thanks so much :)

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Journey* - thanks so much for your comment.

      • Journey * profile image

        Nyesha Pagnou MPH 

        8 years ago from USA

        This is a great article Cari Jean. Thanks for sharing.

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Hello, hello, - I agree life gets hard but I don't think we HAVE to be perfect. Why? And by whose standards? We can just do the best we can with what we've got. That's all we can do. I used to get so angry with myself when I messed something up but I have learned to live with my mistakes and move on. I hope all is well with you! Be blessed!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        eovery - It's sad that this is going on in the church. I think some women feel they have to be able to do it all and in a perfect manner to feel loved by God and by others. They need to realize God loves them just as they are and that He does not expect perfection but rather holiness.

        Support from husbands is great as well, I know so many women who complain their husband isn't helping out enough at home. But sometimes the woman doesn't ask for help because she feels like things at home are her duty.

        Thanks for your comment.

      • Hello, hello, profile image

        Hello, hello, 

        8 years ago from London, UK

        Thank you for a super hub but I think we are not trying to be perfect but have to be. Life just puches you constantly.

      • eovery profile image

        eovery 

        8 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

        I hear of this often in church. Women trying to be perfect and then having breakdowns when they do not succeed. They need a lot of support from their husbands.

        Keep on hubbing!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        BPop - welcome back! You're so right about that stress thing!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Pamela - thanks so much for your wonderful comment. I have a friend who fits the bill for this syndrome. And I too had a little of it when I first had my daughter and when my husband and I had our own business. I chose my daughter over my career and I'm so thankful I did! I still have to work on saying no sometimes though!

      • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

        Cari Jean 

        8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

        Vladimir - thanks for your comment. I appreciate you reading this hub!

      • breakfastpop profile image

        breakfastpop 

        8 years ago

        Thanks for a very important article. Stress is the ultimate killer.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        8 years ago from Sunny Florida

        Cari, I think this hub is excellent. I know I use to be like that when I was raising my children, I had trouble saying no even though I had no time. I may still have a little of that attitude in me but I have no problems with boundaries and saying no anymore. There were great suggestions in that book and I know some women who are really going through that syndrome. Hub Rated up!

      • Vladimir Uhri profile image

        Vladimir Uhri 

        8 years ago from HubPages, FB

        Very interesting Hub, thanks.

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