The pressure of being a “Superwoman” is a real and problematic issue affecting Black women today. The expectation for Black women to be responsible for their families, community, households, and jobs often leads to burnout and neglect of their mental and physical well-being. Last month during Women’s History Month, we all spent time celebrating our accolades and accomplishments. However, I think it’s just as important to do what we can collectively to challenge the status quo that places so much emphasis on status and outward success.
If you think you must do it all— juggle a career, family, home, and everything else — you may suffer from “Superwoman Syndrome” – a term first coined by Dr. Marilyn Gentry in 1984. It is a term used to describe the over-achieving, multitasking woman who gives her all to succeed in her career and personal life. She is often seen as having superhuman abilities and can easily handle anything that comes her way.
These women often have an impressive array of skills and qualifications behind them, yet despite this are not always viewed as truly successful because of their drive to keep pushing themselves even harder. This sense of unfulfillment often leads these superwomen to burnout, exhaustion, guilt, and depression.
According to Jennifer Duong, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas, “the idea that fulfilling all of your roles and responsibilities to perfection will lead to a lifetime of happiness and balance is not realistic, nor should it be. Instead of feeling fulfilled, you can find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, and chronically fatigued.”
As a recovering “Superwoman,” I know firsthand the burnout and long-term effects of this issue. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, I was Morehouse College in Atlanta’s VP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel. I was involved in decisions to send students and employees home and worked closely with our president and the executive leadership at our neighboring HBCUs, including Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morehouse School of Medicine. Once at home during the pandemic, I began to realize my professional lifestyle was no longer sustainable. I had physical aches and migraines. I was completely exhausted and burnt out. I began to realize I felt more peaceful and rested at home with my two teenage sons than maintaining the day-to-day hustle and grind of my professional life. The world was shutting down, and I was finding respite in it.
From my experience, the “Superwoman” dynamic forces Black women to be serious all the time, placing a strong focus on being responsible and accomplished. This dynamic is often exacerbated by the generational trauma passed down to us as Black women, which leads us to believe we have the ability—and the responsibility—to carry the burden of the entire community on our shoulders.
As early as high school, the concept of community service was instilled in me by my mother and my church family. Then, when I attended Spelman College, there was an unspoken expectation of community service, further reinforcing my sense of responsibility to the community. From that point forward, I engaged in community service in myriad ways, including, pro bono representation of asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. However, I often found myself giving and serving even when I felt depleted and had nothing left to give.
My epiphany during the pandemic about my own “Superwoman” syndrome led me to become a Certified Mindset Coach and start a consultancy called Flawed Masterpiece®. It’s focused on helping other Black women with their personal development, wellness, and self-care. The pandemic allowed me to slow down and recognize the toll the “Superwoman” syndrome had taken on my mental and physical wellness and personal relationships. When I looked up, I was leading boards, leading in the corporate environment as an attorney of nearly 20 years, and leading in my household, all the while increasingly feeling overwhelmed and burned out. My downtime during the pandemic led me to seek therapy, spend more time in nature, start gardening, journaling, making playlists, cooking with my kids, and experiencing life more fully. As I began to unload my plate, I felt rejuvenated. I realized the shift I made was something other Black women needed too. Here are four ways to combat “Superwoman Syndrome”:
Taking time to check in with yourself and prioritize rest and well-being is an important practice to maintain your overall wellness mentally and physically. By engaging in self-reflection on a weekly basis, you can create space to connect with your thoughts and emotions to assess your overall well-being. This can involve journaling, meditating, or simply taking some quiet time for yourself. By prioritizing rest and self-care, you can recharge and show up more fully in other areas of your life.
- Give responsibilities back
It’s important to recognize when you have taken on too much and when it’s time to delegate tasks to others. This can include family members, co-workers, or friends. By redistributing responsibilities, you can create more time and space in your schedule to focus on self-care and overall well-being. This can also help to reduce stress and increase your overall sense of balance and harmony.
- Nurture yourself intentionally
Engaging in activities that are nurturing, playful, creative, and intentionally non-productive can have a powerful impact on your well-being. This can include spending time in nature, engaging in a creative hobby, or simply taking time to rest and recharge. By intentionally engaging in activities that bring you joy and fill your cup, you can increase your overall sense of well-being and reduce stress.
- Prioritize sleep and hydration
Two simple but powerful ways to improve your well-being are getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. Numerous studies show sleep is essential for physical and mental wellness, and getting enough high-quality sleep can improve mood, increase focus, and reduce stress. According to Tiffany Lester, M.D., medical director at Parsley Health in San Francisco, “sleep is the foundation of health.” Similarly, drinking enough water can help to flush out toxins, improve digestion, and increase overall energy levels. As the Harvard School of Public Health points out, good hydration helps you sleep better, think more clearly, and even puts you in a better mood. By prioritizing these two foundational aspects of health, you can set the stage for overall well-being and vitality.
As a Black woman, I believe the time is now to acknowledge and address our “Superwoman” syndrome. It is time to focus on our own needs without shame or guilt. As we prioritize our well-being and self-care, we can begin to lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives. I know there are lots of us out there—from lawyers to doctors, and corporate execs, to frontline workers in healthcare, bankers, and educators who are all ready to take the cape off.
Joy White is a charismatic, multi-hyphenate powerhouse attorney and reinvention coach. Joy has built a life and career as an esteemed corporate employment attorney, a once General Counsel at the prestigious Morehouse College, and the now Managing Partner at her own law firm, The White Legal Group.
In addition to nearly two decades of practicing law at some of the most prestigious law firms in the country, Joy is also a certified transformational mindset coach. As the founder and CEO of Flawed Masterpiece® Joy is the sole creator of the six-phase F.L.A.W.E.D journey of inner awakening and self-discovery. Joy holds a B.A. in English Literature from the illustrious HBCU Spelman College and her J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School.