When it comes to what happened the other day, I have choices. I can forget it, beat myself up for having superwoman syndrome, 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 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.

Life with Superwoman Syndrome

Superwoman syndrome

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Permission to Rest

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 to Superwoman Syndrome. 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.

What it is to Be Myself

humble, recovering from Superwoman syndrome

Image courtesy of samuiblue / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

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  1. Lynette Noel January 21, 2014 at 2:44 PM - Reply

    This is a powerful reminder to me that ‘Superwoman’ only exists in comics or the movies. Slowing down to go forward positively is more wholesome. Thanks for sharing.

    • Caroline McGraw January 21, 2014 at 4:26 PM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Lynette! And I love the phrase, “slowing down to go forward.” Thank you!

  2. Brooke January 21, 2014 at 9:48 PM - Reply

    I love, love, love this post! It is brave and beautiful. And I am THE SAME WAY. Even when I’m working from home, I push myself to DO MORE. Can I run an errand on my lunch break instead of taking a break to walk or meditate? I CAN, but I SHOULDN’T. It brings me back to the central question I had to ask myself every day when I was ill this summer and fall: What is the best decision I can make for my health right now?

    • Caroline McGraw January 22, 2014 at 12:01 AM - Reply

      Thank you, dear friend, both for the affirmation of the post and for living it along with me! And what a powerful question: what is the best decision I can make for my health right now? I really like that, and will be asking myself the same. xo

  3. Morag January 22, 2014 at 5:47 AM - Reply

    Me too! My superwoman belief ended up leading me to more than a year of anorexic behavior because obviously super-me didn’t need food. When I came to my senses I realized that it was ok just to be human. It was the start of my recovery from that root belief that had permeated many areas of my life and had been part of my identity.

    • Caroline McGraw January 22, 2014 at 5:20 PM - Reply

      What a powerful story, Morag — thank you for sharing it here! Lately, I’ve been learning more about what it means to be in recovery, and I’m coming to realize that that root belief, “It’s not okay to have needs and be human,” is at the root of so many struggles. Here’s to being human, and learning what that means together.

  4. Tara January 22, 2014 at 4:37 PM - Reply

    I love your trailer, Caroline. Congratulations on that! This post really speaks to me and, funny, I just put myself in child’s pose this morning, for the first time in a long time. Self-care is so very important. Blessings to you!

    • Caroline McGraw January 22, 2014 at 5:22 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Tara — it’s great to ‘see’ you here! So glad you enjoyed the trailer; Armosa Studios did an amazing job. And how perfect that you were just in child’s pose! I’ve added 10 deep breaths in child’s pose to my morning routine, so I’m right there with you. Blessings right back! 🙂

  5. Christiana January 23, 2014 at 2:22 AM - Reply

    You hit it right on the head, Caroline. I have had Superwoman Syndrome for years now, and one of my symptoms is thinking that I can do All The Things while doing All The Things Perfectly. Because MY way is right and I am the ONLY one who can do it…right? WRONG! I recently wrote about my struggle as well at http://www.sayhelloyellow.com.

    • Caroline McGraw January 23, 2014 at 4:30 PM - Reply

      Glad to know I’m not the only one (and certainly not the only special needs sib) who struggles with this. Thanks for sharing, Christiana. 🙂

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