Balance & Lifestyle / Lifestyle

Overcoming the Superwoman Syndrome©

By Dr. Madeline Ann Lewis

In today’s fast pace lifestyle, many women are often caught up in what is appropriately called the “Superwoman Syndrome.” These women are constantly striving to accomplish everything possible in a perfect manner and have not learned how to put themselves as a top priority. Most often, they do not have the time or energy to devote to themselves. Even when having the time, they may consider themselves selfish to indulge in self-pampering or to simply provide themselves quiet time alone. Superwomen always set standards that are unnaturally high, are beyond reach or reason. They tend to strain compulsively toward impossible goals. They measure self-worth entirely in terms of productivity and tangible accomplishments. Unfortunately, by doing so, these Superwomen are making life much more stressful and losing out on its many joys.

No one wants to be mediocre or average. Nobody wants to be of average ability, average intelligence, average potential, or average looks. So, Superwomen push themselves to excel, and the cycle begins: Once they excel in one area, they are not satisfied until they excel in another area. When they cannot excel in every area, their self-worth diminishes and the Superwoman Syndrome presents itself in physical, psychological or interpersonal symptoms.

Trying to Become a Perfectionist

In today’s society, women are often cautioned about cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug abuse. Yet for those women who are juggling conflicting roles as a worker, volunteer, wife/lover, mother, friend, and homemaker, there is a force equally as dangerous as external substance abuse. That force is stress. 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. 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.

There is concern about these women who are trying to be perfect workers, perfect mothers, and perfect housekeepers. They are setting impossible goals. The goals cause havoc to the women who attempt them and perhaps undermine their health. The Superwoman Syndrome affects women at different ages, at different career stages, at different economic levels, and with different intensities. The Superwoman must often fight the unrelenting demands of insensitive employers, lack of inadequate childcare resources, deadlines, overload, and non-supportive spouses.

The Superwoman is a good person, duty oriented, very responsible and truly desires to do what is right. Often, she feels powerless to do anything about these demand “enemies.” She may feel guilty, overwhelmed and inadequate. She carries a giant load in life and frequently goes day-to-day in a semi-depressed state due to her burdens. She is also unhappy about her situation. She does not know how to lighten her load and may secretly resent others who have been able to escape their personal demands.

Why Women Become Superwoman

Women step into the role of Superwoman for many different reasons. Some of the reasons include (but are not limited to) to the following:

To be the good, little girl

To please everyone

For attention

For a feeling of being able to do it all

The inability to say “no” to others or self

For a feeling of accomplishment

Low self-esteem

Getting off the Treadmill

Many talented, creative, and passionate women have stepped into the role of Superwoman. They have donned the cape and mask that have actually hindered their chances for a feeling of success and peace. Yet, because these women chose to put on the Superwoman costume, they can just as easily take it off. They have the potential and ability to become women with less stress and openness and simply do the best that they can do without the compulsive need to be perfect. Women need to ask themselves:

Do I identify with the Superwoman Syndrome?

Do I feel the need to do it all?

Do I compete against myself?

Do I rarely say “no” to others

Do I take on more and more responsibility?

Do I rarely feel a strong sense of accomplishment

Do I constantly feel overwhelmed?

Do I feel the need to be the perfect mother/wife/daughter?

Do I want to be everything to everyone?

Here are a couple of tips that will help these Superwomen have more fulfilling lives:

Keep life simple

Begin leading a simpler and less chaotic life by starting with a life mission statement. In this mission statement, make a list of survival roles, or actions and behavior to get through day by day. Next, write down everything that is vital to obtaining prescribed lifetime goals. Finally, list areas of life that do not need to be done or can be let go. Then when this is done, begin a new game plan. Write this plan as if for a best friend. Watch for time wasters. Learn to say “no” often and without guilt. Reward new behavior. Live with the “needs” and do not complicate life with the “wants.”

Pay attention to each day

First, get up earlier to allow some quiet, private time before leaving for work. Spend some time looking or going outside. What kind of day is it? What types of clouds are in the sky? Are there special sounds? Learn to pay attention to the “now”…do not be a “clock watcher.” Regulate the number of items on the “to do” list. During lunch, avoid talking business, eat slowly and take a full hour. Go to lunch with an enthusiastic staff member. Make a list of “hyper habits” that include too much rushing around. Share this list with a friend, and make a contract to alter some of these conflicting behaviors and to slow down. Find a specific area near work, such as a park, where it is possible to go alone for some quiet time. Post written reminders at home on the mirror that state, “Today, I am going to be in a good mood.” Be willing to say “no” when necessary. Ask for help when needed and delegate whenever it will be an advantage. Finally, before falling asleep, give thanks for one small or large success that occurred that day. Keep everything as simple as humanly possible.

There are so many benefits that will come from stepping off the treadmill and enjoying life without having to do it all. Women need to throw away their Superwomen costumes and keep life simple with a daily “no” and more concern for their own well-being.

Dr. Madeline Ann Lewis is the President/CEO of Deline Institute for Professional Development. She is co-author of “Overcoming the Superwoman Syndrome,” an expert in women’s issues, author, professional speaker and coach. Her passion is supporting women. She can be reached at, Website: www.delineinstitute.net and Email: women@delineinstitute.net

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