Get Rid of Superwoman Syndrome Once and for All
When it comes to what happened the other day, I have choices.
I can forget it, beat myself up, or learn from it. Usually I elect a combination of forgetfulness and self-flagellation, but now, I’m going to go with learning.
Here’s what happened: I spent a day in a haze of stress, flitting from one administrative task to another. I didn’t prioritize creative writing. By the end I was sprawled on the couch, back aching from hours of sitting, eyes strained from staring at the computer.
What I found especially frustrating was that I know better. When I feel a day spiraling out of control, I know to take pause and ask: what needs to happen? What can wait? What would bring joy into the picture? But I didn’t.
We don’t quit doing harmful things until we’re ready. We don’t start doing kind things until we understand, on a bone-deep level, that we are worthy of love and tender care.
Though I left an intense series of caregiving roles and built my own business, I occasionally slip into past patterns. If I’m not careful, I find myself working at a frantic pace. Why? Because it’s familiar.
I’ve had practice rushing around and doing All The Things. I’m not practiced at slowing down. No, I am Superwoman!
No, I am not.
It’s humbling to realize what unrealistic demands have done to my body. For some time now, I’ve been struggling with low energy. I’ve always been proud of my ability to ‘push through.’ But that ability is a double-edged sword.
Yes, I am determined. But if I don’t use that determination wisely, it will keep me from joy, rest, and relationship. Just because I can blaze through all the items on my list doesn’t mean that it’s wise to do so.
The day after the aforementioned crash-and-burn, I went to yoga, knowing that I needed to take it slow. That meant sitting in child’s pose (resting pose) several times.
In most yoga classes, this is completely acceptable. Teachers remind students to rest whenever they need to during the practice. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done so.
Whenever I’ve been given permission to rest, an arrogant voice in my head says something like: That’s nice, but unnecessary. Maybe other people will need rest, but not me! I do All The Poses! I am Determined Woman!
I’m not proud of this, but there it is: I think I am better than other people. I think I can push my body without consequences. This doesn’t end well, because … there are consequences. There’s physical weariness, and detachment from one’s body and one’s inner voice.
If you practice tuning out your inner voice, it gets harder and harder to hear it. So these days, I’ve started tuning in. And my health is being restored.
Since I began listening, my body has started speaking up. Earlier this month, it told me to stop with the coffee already. (I now see why caffeine withdrawal is listed as a disorder in the DSM-5.)
Even so, I’m glad I listened when my body asked me to stop masking the truth of my energy levels, and my need for rest.
When I rested during that class, a realization washed over me: Dear God, I have spent so much time trying to be Superwoman that I barely know what it is to be myself. But humbling myself, admitting that I’m human … this is a beginning.
Right here in child’s pose, I am being reborn.
Do you struggle with superwoman syndrome? Join the conversation in the comments!
Caroline’s stories around the Web:
NEW! Guest post at Addie Zierman: The Resource Pile
Guest post at The Happiness Project: Before & After: Do A Little Work, Every Single Day
Guest post at GenPink: On Missing Meetings, Hopping Planes, and Choosing Life
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About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.