The “Superwoman” Syndrome; Break The Pattern
                             By Chelse Benham

“Researchers estimate job stre...
research indicates that for men, coming home from work usually means an end
to the primary source of stress. In the articl...
Superwomen see other ‘superwomen’ in the media who seem to be doing
       just fine. (i.e. Oprah, Katie Couric)

Further advice is provided at

   •   Prioritize. What do you really value in life? Make a list of wha...
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The Superwoman Syndrome Do Not Get Caught In It


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The Superwoman Syndrome Do Not Get Caught In It

  1. 1. The “Superwoman” Syndrome; Break The Pattern By Chelse Benham “Researchers estimate job stress costs American industries between $200 and 300 billion annually. The World Health Organization has recognized job stress as a “worldwide epidemic.” – Ohio State University Medical Center Web site According to the American Heritage Dictionary, superwoman refers to “A woman who performs all the duties typically associated with several different full-time roles, such as wage earner, graduate student, mother and wife. A woman with more than human powers.” Unfortunately, the “superwoman syndrome” is alive and well. It affects women of all economic strata. Furthermore, it is disturbing that some women judge their performance and ultimately, their personal worth trying to become a “superwoman.” Maintaining a high level of multi-tasking over a long period of time and placing other’s needs before one’s own may bring a woman to the breaking point if she does not evaluate her situation and make choices that better balance the different areas of her life. According to experts, women who overextend themselves risk their health and sanity reaching for the illusion. At, “Superwoman is, by definition, super-natural. She cannot exist – and she should not exist because to live as Superwoman is to fail. She is the siren, luring women toward anxiety, stress and self-punishing.” “I don't think that there is anything unique about the ‘superwoman syndrome’ in comparison to other drives to achieve. In general, people who have a strong drive to achieve are motivated both from a sense of personal satisfaction that they get from achievement and from the approval from other people that may follow,” said Dr. Kristin Croyle, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Psychology at The University of Texas-Pan American. “I think people may use the ‘superwoman’ idea when they see women who have a natural drive to achieve over-extending themselves, which is a natural trap to fall into. Female gender roles often push women to take over primary child-rearing and homemaking responsibilities, and are also pressured in many circles to have a rewarding career outside the home. With added responsibilities within the community, such as at church, and desires to stay healthy by exercising and cooking healthy foods, there is simply not enough time in the day. Rather than doing a poor job in one or more areas, women with a natural drive to achieve may push themselves to do well in as many areas as possible. After all, there are important reasons not to let these areas slide. For example, you can't put off child rearing indefinitely, or house cleaning for that matter.” According to Sue Barton, a psychologist with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at The University of California Davis Medical Center,
  2. 2. research indicates that for men, coming home from work usually means an end to the primary source of stress. In the article “Beware the perils of superwoman syndrome” found at the UC Health System Web site, women generally do not feel relaxation upon arriving at home. Instead, a woman may continue to feel stressed by internalizing family problems, a messy house and shouldering the majority of household responsibilities. It is this constant stress that may have serious repercussions later on her health. In an interview given at the Ohio State University Medical Center, Dr. Radu Saveanu, psychiatrist and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and executive director of Ohio State University Harding Hospital attributes disease to stress. “Stress, by itself, is not necessarily problematic,” says Dr. Saveanu. “But when it is not managed correctly, that’s when it becomes a problem.” Saveanu says the connection between excessive stress and illness is no longer a theory, with studies on cardiac disease, breast cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions all revealing an undeniable link between disease and stress. In “Things Will Get as Good as You Can Stand,” author Laura Doyle says that women turn away praise at work, help with the house, an expression of admiration so that they appear to be in control. The result is a ‘superwoman syndrome’ where women feel overworked, exhausted and alone. If trying for the unobtainable is so stressful, why do women get snared within this delusion? Where do the values come? Women suffering from “superwoman syndrome” need to stop and think about where the messages are coming from and gain a balance in their lives. For so long, the emancipation of women in Western societies has put pressure on women to achieve the (almost) unachievable: to be the perfect woman while winning in the corporate world of men. Lara Descartes and Conrad P. Kottak at University of Michigan wrote, in their article “Media and the Work/Family Interface,” that “concerns and conflicts inevitably arise over competing demands on adult time and energy. And, despite social transformations that have made it acceptable for middle class women to work outside the home, there remains the belief that it is a mother's role to care for home and children, particularly when the children are young. This ideal in turn clashes with the middle class ideology that being a successful adult means having a career, or at least a job.” According to the Web site there are fundamental reasons that lead women to fall into the “superwoman syndrome” trap. The site lists the psychology that propels the “superwoman syndrome”:
  3. 3. Superwomen see other ‘superwomen’ in the media who seem to be doing just fine. (i.e. Oprah, Katie Couric) Superwomen feel like they should do it all and feel guilty for relaxing, not having an agenda, or not being on the go. Superwomen feel they need to be in control and maintain multiple jobs to validate their sense of worth. Superwomen expect to be a great success at everything they do. They often have a hard time settling for anything less than perfection. Traditional roles keep women feeling responsible for a great number of large responsibilities such as the household and much of the parenting. Women carry the burden of responsibility for these things, and they also have a career, therefore they effectively are holding two full time jobs. Superwomen are dynamic and good at multi-tasking. They derive satisfaction from many different sources and derive more positive feelings from having such resources. Because women are by nature nurturers they nurture their children, their partners and their friends often at the expense of their own needs. Dr. Croyle lists several ways women can begin to eliminate the self-imposed pressures of the “superwoman syndrome.” She offers this advice: • Delegate/ask for help. Spouses, children and family members can all help around the house on a regular basis. Hiring outside help is also an option for some families. • Practice saying no. Pare down responsibilities to what is really critical and then practice assertively saying ‘No!’ to other things. • Leave some time in the schedule to take care of yourself. Make sure that you leave some time in for things that are enjoyable to keep yourself recharged. Also try to find new ways to enjoy the responsibilities that you are keeping. • In some families, it is also appropriate to look more closely at priorities. If the family is really stressed and overscheduled, could one parent take a part-time job or quit work altogether in order to become a stay-at-home parent? If this is financially affordable it can be a great solution that reduces the overall stress of every member of the family. For many families, the lost income from that person is significantly compensated by the amount of money they save on child care.
  4. 4. Further advice is provided at • Prioritize. What do you really value in life? Make a list of what is most important to you and then make a pact with yourself to let go of things that get in the way of attending to your priorities. • Make well thought out adjustments. Something as small as allowing yourself to skip making the bed and simply closing the bedroom door or as big as making an arrangement with your boss to work on flex time during the first few years of your daughter’s life can help you breathe easier. • Give yourself the "okay" to be less than perfect. Perfectionists have it much harder than those who know how to accept things that aren’t perfect. The “superwoman syndrome” is a self-imposed fraud. There can never be a “superwoman.” By its own definition nothing would be good enough, perfection would be out of grasp. The prevailing idea still circulating, propagating and infiltrating our culture that a woman’s worth is justified by how clean the house is, how well mannered the children are, how perfect a wife she is, how shapely her figure is, how successful her career is and how well she handles all of these things at the same time is a trap that leads to feelings of frustration and devaluation. Perhaps, it is time to put into action the ability to say “no” to all the propaganda and over-loading that the “superwoman syndrome” brings with it. Take the time now to evaluate and prioritize the things that really matter and stop piling more on your plate and instead replace responsibilities with peace of mind and time with love ones. ”Your life lies before you like a path of driven snow, be careful how you tread it cause every step will show.” – Lowri Williams