by guest contributer Linda Joy
If you look closely you’ll catch a glimpse of it. I’m talking about the Superwoman cape peeking out from under the blouse of so many women as they do their best to balance all their roles. Everywhere you look women are struggling to juggle their roles as the perfect wife, mother, hostess, friend, volunteer and Martha Stewart home decorator, chef, chauffeur, business owner and more. We have been programmed by the media and society to DO, strive and out-perform in order to meet a standard that in reality just can’t be met. For many, the Superwoman cape has become a second skin. It becomes a part of the illusion of who we believe we must be in order to be loved, appreciated and valued. You may have heard about the syndrome affecting millions of women. It’s called the Superwoman Syndrome!
Here are a few of the symptoms to watch for including…
A Disconnect from your Authentic Self
The Loss of your Physical Health and Emotional Well-being
A Loss of Your Sense of Joy and Gratitude
Feeling Spiritually alone, disconnected and disenchanted
Loss of Connection to those around You
Feeling as if Life is Spiraling out of Control and you can’t catch up.
Fear of Dropping the Ball and letting the ‘world’ down
Feeling like a ‘visitor’ in your own life
Tips from a Recovering Superwoman
I’m very familiar with the symptoms of Superwoman Syndrome. Like many others, I’ve been there, done that and it literally came close to killing me at just 40 years old. (I’m now 50.) During my years as reigning SUPERWOMAN I lost my sense of self while going 100 mph trying to fulfill every role imaginable – single mom, award-winning entrepreneur, motivational speaker, community advocate for women and children, running fundraising events and much, much more. The Superwoman Syndrome gives those afflicted the illusion that the more they do for others the more they will feel loved, valued, appreciated, worthy and important.
In my case I lost my sense of self-worth and the Superwoman Syndrome became my crutch to feel all the things that I NOW know have to come from within. In my desire never to let anyone down and in order to fill the empty void within I gave so much of myself that I literally crashed and burned. I missed out on beautiful family memories just to make one more fundraiser or speak at one more shelter. I wanted to ‘help, save, inspire’ just one more woman to believe in herself and not give up – and all the while I was unable to save, help or inspire myself. As Superwoman I spent all my energy on giving, supporting and balancing the balls – until one day there was no energy left in the well.
Like many women I was once afflicted with a serious case of Superwoman Syndrome and though it is curable – a relapse can happen at any time if we are not aware. I share my story with the hope that I can prevent even one woman from finding out the hard way – and to bring awareness that our perceived role as Superwoman is an illusion –one that can cost you everything.
The Truth Behind Superwoman Syndrome
Let me bring you back in time. Ten years ago this Superwoman was flying high and at the speed of light. Even as Superwoman I knew deep inside that I couldn’t possibly balance one more plate or juggle another ball – Superwoman was barely holding on – physically, emotionally or spiritually. (Though of course, back then I would NEVER have admitted that to myself or anyone else).
I was as disconnected from my body as one could possibly be and still be alive. I was so focused on doing, doing , doing that I had lost my ability to ‘BE”. I was wearing so many hats and balancing so many balls that my days began to run together. I began existing on caffeine and sugar just to maintain my frantic Superwoman pace. The more I juggled the more fearful I became about dropping a ball or not living up to the expectations of this Superwoman persona. Then the day came that SHOULD’VE acted as my personal WAKE-UP CALL. Being the slow-learner I was back then I , of course waited for the Cosmic Two-by-Four to hit just months later.
Should’ve Seen the Signs
For many years I owned a successful retail store and was active in the community on issues related to women and children. After winning a local business award one of the local magazine’s ran an article sub-titled “Superwoman’s Cape Must Have Been Behind the Door!. The article profiled all I had overcome as a former welfare mom and all I was doing in life and in the community to support women and children who were going through transition along with mentioning all my other roles as Superwoman. The day the story was released one of my employee’s came in with the new issue and gushing about what a great story it was. I went into my office, closed the door and began reading the article.
I wish I could tell you that I was beaming with pride as I read the article but this story is about the illusions that make up the Superwoman Syndrome and there are many. As I read the story I began to cry. Deep sobs came from deep within, sobs that I hadn’t allowed myself to release in a long, long time for fear that they wouldn’t stop and of course, Superwoman must remain in control.
Feeling Trapped by the Illusion
I still remember the intense feeling of dread that enveloped me as I read the story and remember thinking – “Oh my God! Now I’ll never be able to slow down or take this cape off.” (or I’ll let everyone down, etc. etc.) I felt so trapped by the life I had created and the Superwoman illusion that I was living under.
Today I look back and see that my reaction to that article was a sign from my soul that I had disconnected from my true purpose – but that’s a story for another day. Instead of listening to the wisdom that my reaction had evoked and beginning to review my beliefs around my need to be Superwoman – I wiped the tears, checked my cape for wrinkles and continued flying at the speed of light.
Superwoman was Brought to Her Knees
Less than six months later (after not heeding all the signs and symptoms my body tried to relay to me for quite awhile, ok for about two years) my body began shutting down. That’s right at 40 years old – Superwoman was hit with the Cosmic Two-by-Four. Body aches and fatigue so severe I couldn’t tie my own shoe to finally a mini-stroke at 40 that left me house-bound. Bounced around for eighteen months from specialist to specialist – with diagnoses ranging from Advanced Lyme Disease to Multiple Sclerosis – Superwoman could fly no more. Actually, Superwoman wasn’t even allowed to drive, run or play during one period of time.
Superwoman was told she couldn’t do ANYTHING! ME????? My initial thoughts were “My God, the world is going to fall apart. Who is going to fulfill all my roles? Who is going to take on all my responsibilities?” The questions, worries and concerns filled my mind with dread.
Words can’t explain the intense anxiety and guilt I experienced during those first few days of bed rest. Yes, GUILT! Imagine, my body was screaming for love, care and bed rest and I was feeling guilty about all those imagined people I was letting down. My Superwoman cape hung solemnly on the back of the door haunting me with thoughts of all I SHOULD be doing. It was only pure exhaustion and pain that kept me in that bed –ok, and the fact that my family took my car keys also helped.
As the days of rest turned to weeks my illusion of self-importance was shattered. The world continued spinning, projects were completed, my business ran without me and my world didn’t fall apart. Slowly the guilt was replaced with an immense sense of relief that I had an ‘excuse’ (illness) which prevented me from putting my cape back on. For the first time in years I felt released from the illusion of the persona I had worn for so long. With only time on my hands I began reading and filling my time with books on spirituality, holistic healing, personal development and inspirational topics. As I began the healing journey back to myself I was able to release the illusions that kept me chained to a persona that left me feeling empty.
Flash forward to 2013! I am happy, healthy and living my truth . I’ve spent the last ten years working on removing the masks and stories that held me hostage in my own life. It’s been a journey and though it took a Cosmic Two-by-Four to bring Superwoman to her knees (literally and figuratively) I believe that without that wake-up call I wouldn’t be here today.
I look back on my days of healing and see the blessings and lessons contained within. As hard as the healing experience was, I would do it again to gain the blessings, lessons and insights that came from such a dark time. I can’t say that I’ve healed all my self-care issues – it’s something that I continue to work on – but with much more gentleness and self-compassion than I had before.
Are you wondering what happened to the Superwoman cape or if I have relapsed during my journey? Yes, I’ve relapsed over the years and there have been days I’ve pranced around in front of the mirror in my Superwoman cape but it happens less and less now. As I’ve shared with other recovering Superwoman ‘unless we stay connected to our essence, our authentic self we can get pulled back into the illusion.” As I began the healing journey back to myself the Superwoman cape found its way to the back of the closet – where it remains today.