“Mommy, I want to be a superhero when I grow up,” has lately been a more frequent statement from the mouth of my babe. Both my husband and I find it incredibly cute, as we know it derives from the love the three of us share for video games and LEGO and any of the other things that are relatable. Not from what it implicates for bigger girls, like mommy…
I was in the clear from both Halloween and Thanksgiving when I realized it. I swore it would never be me, because in spite of my type “A” personality and deep-seated desire to achieve perfection, I long ago admitted to myself that striving for greatness is one thing, but expecting it is impossible. Nevertheless, it happened. I’ve developed Superwoman Syndrome.
I swore it would never be me dealing with this. My restlessness increased several notches in tandem with said realization. The holiday season did this. Ok, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was there, hibernating like something big, bad, and poisonous in remission. But the big three — my dub for the holiday season — that usher in the year’s end certainly brought it directly to the surface. I so badly couldn’t wait to get Christmas in the rear view that I felt twitchy, like an addict experiencing withdrawal.
Why such sourness over what are meant to be special, happy times? Well, as it is, during the regular weekly grind, I have a tendency to try to do everything. The holiday season was simply a horrible math equation: do everything + 10 x 100 = my personal Kryptonite.
The post-cleanup, for me, was no better. What’s that old adage? Work begets work? Sounds right to me, as persistent into January, there’s an avalanche effect in place — the more I do, the more there is to do.
I know I’m not alone. (None of us are in any of our human emotions.) Other moms have so much more going on than I do — surely they with their full-bloom careers and at least double the amount of children, plus bigger extended families and a few pets feel the entire width and breadth of the Superwoman Syndrome.
In case you’ve never heard of this term before, it was initially coined by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, in her book The Superwoman Syndrome, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superwoman_(sociology)) and what it sounds like is exactly what it indicates: feeling constant, intense pressure (whether inwardly, outwardly, or both) to do everything, do it well, do it hard. And do it wearing every hat of every role that you are, or are trying to be. (source: http://carijean.hubpages.com/hub/Superwoman-Syndrome). Yes, it even sounds stressful. Just reading it over while I write this caused me a spike in anxiety.
During the early days of this concept in the 1970s-1980s — on the coattails of the second wave of American feminism– a shift in women’s traditional roles had occurred, turning housewives into career professionals. Women were then filling duel roles: that of being at home with the children and striving toward goals involving previously masculine jobs and/or “public social status.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superwoman_(sociology))
This led to what American feminist and author, Betty Friedan called a “double enslavement of women” in her book The Second Stage. Friedan urged women to fight to reshape and redefine not only both gender roles, but “social values, styles, and institutional structures,” as well in order to attain fulfillment of public and personal life sans sacrificing one in order for the other to exist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superwoman_(sociology))
Granted, Superwoman Syndrome pertains more to women who work outside of the home: professionals, community organizers, activists, volunteers and socialites — which I do wish were the case for me — but I won’t sell myself short; I know how much I do as well as how much more I am trying to do. Currently, my list includes but is not limited to, and occurring in whichever order life dictates: take care of my family/raise my daughter; keep up our humble abode; workout; write/blog; craft greeting cards for friends and family; serve as secretary on my neighborhood home owners’ association board; be an occasional art student; be socially active/meet new people/get together with the friends that I already have; expand the number and quality of friendships my daughter has…I know there’s more. I’m forgetting something…I just know I am.
But you get my meaning. If you think about it, the list above adds up. Lots of women have a list like mine, and worse than mine. And because I feel such a huge responsibility about essentially everything, such a big need to prove myself everyday (don’t ask me to whom, because I don’t know), I sometimes can not shut my mind off. Bedtime literally turns into a mental rehash of my to-do list. Both what I accomplished during business hours, and what looms ahead.
“Do you ever give yourself a break, allow yourself to relax?” No, http://carijean.hubpages.com, I don’t. I no longer know how.
“…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.” Yes and yes, http://carijean.hubpages.com. But it is reassuring to learn that plenty of other women are dealing with this, too. According to this site, Superwoman Syndrome even strikes “girls as young as 13” and “college-aged women,” who are affected due to their efforts “to excel in school, sports, looks and relationships.”
As awesome as it is that my daughter is dreaming big dreams, and as willing as both my husband and I are to always be supportive of who she is and what she wants, I know how easy it would be for her proclamation to turn into pressure. How wanting to be a superhero could morph into feeling like she has to be one. I don’t want this for her.
There are apparently many reasons, many motivations as to why other women like me are driven to “don the proverbial cape,” which are listed in a book, Overcoming the Superwoman Syndrome. Here are those that I feel match me:
- Have a tendency towards people-pleasing
- Want to feel like they can do it all
- To feel accomplished
- Have low self-esteem
- Strive for perfection
The silver-lining — or at least what I feel is — is that “the Superwoman is also a good person, duty oriented, very responsible and truly desires to do what is right.” (http://carijean.hubpages.com/hub/Superwoman-Syndrome). Sounds like a glowing compliment to me. I’ll take it! But back to the seriousness of it all…
Stress, its related illnesses, and the “unhealthy coping patterns” that it can produce are what make the Superwoman Syndrome dangerous. Ulcers, migraine headaches, high blood pressure, and heart problems are among the scenarios that can play out due to stress induced by the Superwoman Syndrome. I certainly don’t want any of that!
According to hubpages.com, a study conducted on women ages 25 to 34 focusing on stress and coping patterns uncovered food consumption as a coping mechanism by one-third of the women; more physical and emotional stress in younger women than those in the study that were older; and that females under 25 were frequently developing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. Thankfully, my commitment to personal fitness keeps me in check from overindulging on food. But because I am also being careful to not teeter in the wrong direction, I still make sure to eat, and eat healthy, so I should also be in the clear from such disorders. That of course still leaves me at risk for physical and emotional stress, which is more difficult to combat.
In spite of how rooted this overall problem can become, the hubpages supplies a second list: tactics some women have used to overcome and heal from their belief that they have to do everything, and well:
“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. (Part of why I started this blog! Yay me!)
Support system – build your own support system and form effective relationships. These people can give help and comfort during times of potential stress. (Working on it…)
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. (I’ve gotten better at asking my spouse to pitch in, and he has gotten better at sensing when I need him to.)
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. (Man, I was doing so well! Perfectionism is part of who I am, thusly lies the rub.)
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. (Back on track — lately, I’ve been having thought processes that go this more helpful, positive route of eliminating the unnecessary.)
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.” (I am not the type who normally does the first three, but the remaining suggestions are great. Sometimes only in theory. Nevertheless, some of these are things I miss doing due to lack of time or untamed restlessness. Who ever thought so much effort would be needed to do what looks or feels like nothing?) (http://carijean.hubpages.com/hub/Superwoman-Syndrome)
So, this leaves me wondering — now that I’ve realized how far my stress can and does escalate — if identifying it is just the beginning of dealing with it, or if I am now in a downhill slide. If I can get a grip on this, can I also save my daughter from ever experiencing this, or at least help her cope were she to find herself here at any age (even if unfortunately as early as 13)? Of course, I don’t have any answers, but hopefully I will now that I see myself a little clearer, in spite of the difficulty of this type of self image.