As seen in Today's Parent 

As seen in Flare Magazine

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Anu Sharma-Niwa,
M.A., R.Psych.
Registered Psychologist 

Phone: (403) 990-4159
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501, 1550 8th Street SW
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Calgary, AB 

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The Superwoman Syndrome

 Are you a woman who feels like you are constantly juggling balls in the air, always afraid of the chance that one might drop?

Do you find it near impossible to make time for yourself because you are so exhausted from meeting everyone else’s needs? 

Do you feel guilty because you feel like your efforts are never good enough?

Has anyone every referred to you as a being a Superwoman when all you feel like is a failure? 

Many contemporary women today were raised with the belief that the most appropriate roles for women were caretakers, nurturers, and emotional supporters of their partners, children, aging parents, etc. The term “Superwoman seems to have essentially become synonymous with the expectations placed on women who try to be the best mother, partner, daughter, sibling, friend, and employee in a single bound.  The reality is that the majority of women take on paid roles in addition to being the core provider of unpaid caregiving and support within their families.  Women tend to be constantly juggling multiple roles and responsibilities on a daily basis, continually trying to get more done in less time.  This juggling act makes it much harder to focus and be fully present in what they are doing and may also result in diminished feelings of satisfaction.  This relentless pace at which tasks are performed can also leave many women struggling to find any personal time, placing self-care on the “back-burner”, thus creating a slippery slope for stress and guilt to rear its ugly head and promote more symptoms of anxiety , depression, eating disorders,…and possibly even exacerbate other health problems.  

So what is a Superwoman to do in order to feel more human again? 


So the reality of it is that “self-care” has become a great new buzz-word…but what does that really look like??

I like to use the example of an automobile….we don’t think twice about taking our vehicle in for regular maintenance appointments and to keep it filled with fuel but we will let this happen to ourselves.  You must make a conscious effort to ensure that your tank does not run out of fuel and to keep up with regular self-care in order to be able to fulfill your roles and responsibilities with feeling more balance, confidence and peace. 

Part of self-care entails prioritizing your roles and responsibilities so that you can become more clear about what is truly most important to you at this particular stage of life.  Once you identify your real priorities, you can focus your energy where you need it most.  

One of the biggest barriers to self-care is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is when you feel compelled to be all things to all people, yet continue to feel inadequate regardless of how much you accomplish because your measure of self-worth now becomes things that you do, as opposed to who you are. Your fears of failure then drive you to produce more and do more…even when you are low on fuel.  When you try to take on more than your fuel tanks will allow, you become susceptible to feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy anxiety, and depression.  You become convinced that you are never good enough or that you are a failure and continue again to be all things to all people in an effort to fill this void.  This is what referred to as the Cycle of Over- Functioning.  

Part of healthy self-care involves maintaining healthy boundaries and learning to say “No” in a kind and respectful way.  A boundary is the invisible barrier protecting and enhancing the integrity of a person.  We need boundaries to protect and take care of ourselves. There are essentially three types of boundaries: 

1.    Rigid: characterized by strict rules and guidelines; very closed.

2.    Diffuse:  significant difficulty with saying “no”; fragile; others make decisions about entering this boundary.

3.   Healthy: when you are in charge but flexible about letting people in or out, depending on the situation at hand.  

 It is so important for you, as women, to give yourselves permission to ASK FOR HELP!! Noteworthy is that Superwomen rarely do this.  Assertiveness and consistency with boundary setting are both learned skills. We don’t come out of the womb communicating and setting healthy boundaries…. we LEARN to be good communicators.  We LEARN how to take care of ourselves.  

I often ask the Superwomen that I encounter to imagine that there is a loved one living inside of them and to consider how they would treat that person. Most often it is with much more care and compassion than they give themselves.  I then ask them to treat that person (themselves) with all the respect that they deserve in an effort to break this double standard. With a bit of practice, this can become a new and healthy learned habit!


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