The Superwoman Syndrome: A Middle Eastern Reality

Superwoman SyndromeI began thinking seriously about the Superwoman Syndrome when I fell into the vicious circle of trying to be perfect at all levels. The first time occurred in Montreal (QC, Canada) while studying (M.A., PhD, Post-doctorate researches…) and working 20/24 hours. The second time in Lebanon…

During one of the first women gatherings (sobhiyat) I attended in 2007, someone asked me if I work. My answer was: Yes, almost 24/24, and proud of it!

It took me few years to fully realize that this ‘train de vie’ is physically and psychologically damaging.

A friend of mine published a post on Facebook in May 2011, describing her way of life – and obviously mine too : “I am an alarm clock, a cook, a maid, a teacher, a nanny, a nurse, a “handyman”, a safety officer, a psychiatrist, a driver, an ATM, an amusement park, a cuddly friend (doudou)… I have no vacation or sick days. I am on call all year long!”. I included the following list: “I am  a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a wife, a mother, a lover, a daughter in law, a sister in law, a worker, a volunteer, a robot, a conflict resolution and mediation expert, an activist, a social relations instigator, a judge, an investigation officer, an accountant, a victim, a slayer, a citizen, a friend, an enemy… A ‘superwoman’ struggling to survive… “

In fact, this reality/syndrome characterizes many women I know – friends, colleagues and acquaintances – living in Lebanon and the Middle East in today’s fast pace lifestyle. Women who are constantly striving to accomplish everything possible in a perfect manner. Even when having the time, they consider themselves selfish to indulge in self-pampering or to simply provide themselves a quiet time alone. And if it’s not the case, society customs and laws remind them of ‘their duties’, ‘goals’ and ‘standards’ that are most often unnaturally high – i.e. impossible. Women who are caught in a vicious circle of measuring their self-worth and being measured by others in terms of productivity, excellence and tangible accomplishments beyond average.

Unfortunately, these women are losing in the battle of equality with men when they are burned out and constantly unsatisfied. They end up losing their self-worth and being exhausted on physical, psychological and interpersonal levels. I often found myself lost when striving to become a perfect worker, a perfect mother and a perfect housekeeper, to the point of undermining my health and my relations to others. It took me several years and gradual concentration on my needs/aspirations and dreams to begin to break the vicious circle and to recognize/embrace my imperfections.

I am still working on getting off the super powerful Treadmill and being/living as a WOMAN, not as a superwoman.

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  1. Dr. Chrabieh, thank you for this testimony. I thought this syndrome was a ‘Western’ syndrome not Middle Eastern too. I guess one of the downsides of globalization…

  2. Indeed… Even if there are differences between contexts, cultures and geopolitical areas, there are common characteristics too.
    I recommend the book of Linda Ellis Eastman (ed.). Overcoming the Superwoman Syndrome. Written by twenty five consultants, coaches, and international professionals, a must-read for women involving self-esteem issues, dealing with stress management, overcoming anger and frustration, and living a more calm life.

  3. I consider myself too a superwoman and i don’t like this situation… Thank you for this post and the info concerning Eastman’s book.

  4. Very interesting article! I think though that the road to equality is paved with women believing that being equal to men is something they are born as and there is no need to prove it by achievements and goals (of course that is not an invitation to not any any goals and achievements). And of course, it is important for women to take the time to themselves and satisfy their own needs because being at peace with oneself is a great advantage when fighting for something you want.
    Thank you. It was a great read!

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