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Superwomen- Running on Empty as Fast as They Can!



As we approach International Women’s’ Day on March 8th, it is a time to pause and reflect on issues central to women. Following the first wave of feminism in the 1970’s, women have worked to exercise their voice, and their social and political power outside of the home. While the housewife was once a central figure used to portray the social demands placed upon women, it appears that this image has been replaced by a new type of woman; the superwoman. Just open up any magazine, or take a scroll through social media, and you will see an astounding amount of women working hard portraying an image of being able to do it all. Superwomen are mystical creatures of the modern world; they are task masters, super planners, the hostess with the most, the loving partner, the caring friend, the nurturer, supermom, the “boss”, and work hard at “having it all together”. For some of you reading this, perhaps you have found yourself envious of these women. I am confident that many reading at very least can identify a superwoman they know. Perhaps you were raised by one, or maybe you even consider yourself to be one.

We are living in a culture where it is expected that we always be tuned in, turned on and ready to take on! This behaviour is rewarded in numerous ways (think praises, compliments and admiration from others). In many regards, society has internalized these expectations. Superwoman often find fault in settling for “good enough” and strive to be “the best”. However, underneath this facade, you will often find a woman who is fighting back fatigue, tears and feelings of being overwhelmed. According to Statistics Canada, women account for approximately 2/3 of mood and anxiety disorders that are diagnosed each year (2018).

The Makings of a Superwomen

When examining superwomen, there are some common characteristics. Many superwomen report they have an overwhelming sense of responsibility, are driven toward perfectionism, and are highly concerned about outward appearances, judgement and criticism from others.

Superwomen are often fueled by a strong desire to achieve, accomplish and succeed. Conversely, superwomen are frequently motivated to avoid feelings of failure through an endless and exhausting cycle of work, service and schedules brimming over with “to do’s.” Entangled in this desire to perform is an over identification of using one’s achievements, to measures one’s worth.

Therapists refer to the deep-seated beliefs about oneself as core beliefs. At times, core beliefs can be negative and often drive one’s framework for how they not only view themselves, but approach life. With superwomen, some many identify having a deep-seated fear of failure, one of not being good enough. To determine if you are holding negative core beliefs at times requires the help of a therapist in uncovering them and work to modify them. However, a good indication if you are holding negative core beliefs are if you perceive failures or misgivings that occur be it on the work, social or home front to be catastrophic and emotionally impactful. Sometimes mistakes become distorted and are interpreted as a commentary on the value of the person’s ability, effort and character itself. It is a common characteristic for superwoman for their expectations of themselves to be exceedingly high, and expectations of others, seemingly low. Superwomen may internalize an ongoing dialogue of placing demands upon herself that far exceed the reality of time and energy required of herself to complete these tasks.

A Superwoman's Kryptonite: Asking for Help

By now I am hoping that you understand that not only is the superwomen entrapped in the quest for having her cake and eating it too, she is also the one baking the cake. Of course, all of this striving towards perfection and “doing” takes a toll mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Further compounding the negative impact, is the absence of self-care by default of superwomen putting themselves last. Self-care becomes a luxury that is dreamed about, something to schedule if there is time (which there never appears to be enough of!). Many women in particular struggle with the idea that self-care equates selfishness justifying that to give to one’s self, would mean depriving others, right? Wrong! Superwomen often struggle to delegate and relinquish power over tasks. Asking for help is somewhat taboo, equating an admittance of failure for who they are and what they can do.

The Pathway to Balance is Closer to Home than Thought

Over time, if nothing is done to change or slow down these expectations and pace, superwomen may report feelings of burnout, apathy and depression. In true “superwoman fashion”, some at this juncture will work extra hard to conceal these feelings from others, masking the fact that they are struggling by doing what they know and do best, MORE!

If you are a superwoman yourself, it can be helpful to consider what it absolutely necessary to do and what is merely a preference. For example, although you may prefer to bake a cake from scratch for your child’s birthday this may not be something that is realistic given time, resources or skill. It is somewhat liberating to make this distinction between necessity and preference as it allows women to modify expectations, ask for help or simply let go.

Written by Emily Spagnolo MSW, RSW If you have a topic that you would like to have addressed, please email Emily at Emilyaspagnolo@gmail.com