Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Superwoman Syndrome. By definition, it’s a range of physical, psychological and interpersonal stress symptoms experienced by women who try to perform perfectly in multiple, conflicting roles. They try to do it all, be it all, and have it all. And often in the process they stretch themselves too thin.

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I’m sure you know a superwoman – perhaps you are one. You’re striving to be the brilliant business exec, the caring wife, the mom who never misses a cricket match, the endlessly understanding friend and the most charming host…and you’re probably utterly exhausted.

No one person can be all these things, all the time. It’s hard enough being good at everything, never mind being perfect at everything.As women, we put ourselves under way too much pressure.

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When we’re not performing “perfectly”, we start questioning ourselves, losing confidence in our own abilities, often undermining our efforts to be good at what we do. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

Speaking about Superwoman Syndrome, Jennifer Duong, MD, says, “It’s important to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. Aspiring to a level of perfectionism that is not attainable and sacrificing your well-being consistently will inevitably lead to stress and unhappiness.” 

American journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman compared men and women at work and found that a shortage of confidence is more likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of competence.

 And when it comes to work-related confidence, they found that men are far ahead.

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Writing about the confidence gap, they said: “A Hewlett-Packard review of personnel records found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirm what we instinctively know. Under-qualified and underprepared men don’t think twice… overqualified and over prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

The impact this has on us is bad enough, but what about the impact that Superwoman Syndrome has on the young girls in our lives who look up to us as role models? 

Girls as young as 13 are becoming victims of Superwoman Syndrome. They see us putting too much focus on what is truly unachievable and do the same. More research shows that girls trying to live up to this ideal are at risk of increased emotional instability, resulting in anxiety, depression and even eating disorders. 

What are we teaching the girls we’re guiding into womanhood?It’s time we accept that being good, is good enough. The reality is, trying to be super-anything makes it really difficult to be good at anything.

It’s time to take off the cape and say no – no to the things we don’t have the time to do or the things we just don’t want to do. Because the more we do on our own, the more people expect us to do on our own. 

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It’s time we learn that asking for help is a sign of strength, start setting goals that are actually attainable and realise that dreams should be achievable. You also need to take a well-deserved break in the form of a treat of a much-needed holiday. And finally, see perfection as the same fictional character we read about in comic books. Just a fragment of our imaginations.

So please, this Women’s Month, let’s kill Superwoman.  

Are you an exhausted superwoman? Or do you know a superwoman who’s got it all figured out? Share your thoughts with us here.

 *Michelle Kreuiter is a Creative Director at VMLY&R South Africa

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