The Black Superwoman Syndrome, Busy-ness, and Depression
By: Michaiah Dominguez-Miller
Founder Marriage + Motherhood + Mental Health
As an American culture we are overwhelmed, overworked, overtired, and overextended. We are addicted to our busy-ness, the career, the family, the friends, the community, the education, the list goes on and on. We feel pride in juggling these worthy causes because our culture defines our value by what we are able to accomplish, our educational and socioeconomic status, and the results we produce.
As black women, we are all the more pressured to over-perform. The Black Superwoman Syndrome is a burden of 'strength'passed down through generations, lessons among lessons handed down from grandmother to mother and mother to daughter.
We believe we can do it all on our own, have it all, and be all things to all people all the time.
This faulty belief leads to overexertion and destruction.
If we make that declaration our life mission, our daily decisions and actions willresist depending on others, suppress emotions or deny them, and resist vulnerability altogether. If we take on this Black superwoman character, research says we are at risk of decreased self-care and facelong term health consequences like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer mortality, chronic pain, functional impairment (at work, home, or school), and post-traumatic stress disorder (from traumas we refuse to face).Notonly are African American women at higher risk for these physical problems, but we are less likely to report or seek help for emotional distress and depression.
So instead, my personal experience is reflective of many of uswho become stuck in routine behaviors that provide temporary relief instead of the true healing we need. For me, that meant overeating (especially the most fabulously decadentunhealthy foods) and- in my younger years- binge drinking.For some of us, it may mean smoking cigarettes or marijuana, or excessive time spent in bed…or shopping…or watching television…or having sex. All of this in an attempt to self-soothe.
While these behaviors may provide a temporary high, excitement, or relief, stress and depression often still emergedespite our efforts. There’s a great chance our lives may still bedisrupted by irritability, anger, physical pain and chronic illnesswhen we are expected to be superwoman.
How can we avoid the superwoman trap?
1. We must move beyond self-silencing to open dialogue in safe spaces like this one!
2. Seek and accept support- reach out to family and friends who you trust and love. You will find we can relate to each other much more than we believe. Support exists for you… reach out and lean in.
3. Mindfulness- We are not ‘doing machines’ we are human… multifaceted, living, breathing, feeling women. Becomeaware of emotions without assigning them value of good or bad. Feel them, live in them in the moment. Consider what has triggered the feeling and how often it comes.
4. Challenging irrational thoughts that you can do it all- there is a difference being strong and carrying the burden of strength. If you find that you are overwhelmed, anxious, tearful, moody, and/or stressed most of the time you may need to evaluate the burdens you’re carrying and challenge your reasoning for carrying them.
Sis, you are beautiful. I see you. You don’t have to earn my respect our love by overachieving, overworking, or being overly ‘strong’. You are a worthy woman. You and me, we will NEVER be superwoman BUTwe can grow into the best version of ourselves possible. That means giving ourselves grace, relishing in our limited humanity, and honoring the beauty in both our strengths and weaknesses.
Inspired by research by Burnett-Zeigler, Inger, PhD., Brown, Valerie, JD, MA, Huddleston-Mattai, Barbara, Woods-Giscombe, Cheryl. PhD.