- Superwoman only exists in the movies and comics, but you'll find that moms still try to be her on a daily basis!
- When the enjoyment of helping others becomes stressful and overwhelming, you may be experiencing superwoman schema.
Maternal and child health is a real issue that deserves real talk. The Pickles and Ice Cream® Team will discuss a serious problem that African American mothers and birthgivers could face: The Superwoman Schema (SWS).7
African American women experience disproportionately high rates of stress-related chronic health conditions compared to non-Hispanic white women.7 Playing Superwoman or the Strong Black Woman role can protect you and others, but it can also cause great harm.
Superwoman is a popular hero. She flies in, saves the world against all odds, then goes out and does it all over again. She can be a strong role model for girls and women, but there’s a reason that Superwoman exists only in comics and movies. You can’t do everything for everybody no matter how hard you try. Ignoring your own needs to take care of everyone else can lead to burnout, stress, and other health problems.
So, what does the Superwoman Schema look like? It really depends on the person. However, there are some common signs to look for. If you or someone you know:
- Feels a lot of pressure to succeed no matter what is on your plate
- Downplays personal feelings to take care of someone else’s
- Tries to power through every situation
- Has a hard time asking others for help when you need it
- Cares for others but ignores self-care
Then those may be signs of an attempt to be Superwoman.1
There are also life experiences that make it more likely for someone to develop the Superwoman schema.2,3 They include:
- Experiences of racism or sexism
- Seeing mother figures take on the Superwoman role
- A history of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, financial)
- Religious beliefs with a spiritual responsibility to family and community
Caregiving vs. Superwoman Caregiving
Because of the expectations that society puts on parents and mothers, it can be hard to tell the difference between being Superwoman and healthy caregiving. People who experience this Superwoman syndrome may really enjoy the feeling of providing for their family and community.
The problem begins when you have trouble setting boundaries with the people in your life. Boundaries like what you can and cannot do for them. This is especially true if you find that your needs are not being met because you are taking care of everyone around you.
Over time you may start to experience:4,5
- Feeling a lack of support from your relationships
- Drinking and smoking to cope
- Signs of stress like headaches, short temper, and lack of motivation
That’s not to say that all stress is bad! Stress can be good when it pushes you to solve problems in your life. When stress starts to overwhelm you during pregnancy it can raise your risk of high blood pressure, miscarriage, premature birth, and mood and anxiety disorders.6 Seek support from friends and family if this happens. You deserve the support you give to everyone else!
Fighting Off Superwoman
Now you may be seeing how you’ve tried to be Superwoman in your own life. It’s okay to admit when you feel like you’ve taken on too much. Being Superwoman shouldn’t be your goal. It’s more important that you find the superpower within yourself. That includes surrounding yourself with people who can support you and share your struggles.
Our Pickles & Ice Cream Mom-Led Peer Support Groups are safe places where you can talk with other people who are going through what you’re going through. If you’re not comfortable with groups, then talking to a therapist who can help you learn to set healthy boundaries can be helpful.
As a pregnant person, you can also look into a doula for support. Doulas are becoming a popular health service that support you in all ways. Doulas coach you through pregnancy, prepare you for childbirth and help through postpartum changes. Doulas also build relationships with you where you can feel safe and secure telling someone what your wants and needs are during pregnancy. Are you interested in learning more about doulas? Visit the P&I blog to learn what a difference a doula can make in supporting you and your family.
Even superheroes need support, let P&I be a sidekick for you and your family!
- Racial Discrimination, the superwoman schema, and allostatic load: exploring an integrative stress-coping model among African-American woman, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
- The Giscombe Superwoman Schema Questionnaire: Psychometric Properties and Associations with Mental Health and Health Behaviors in African American Women, Issues in Mental Health Nursing
- An Exploration of the Strong Black Woman Schema and Perinatal Mental Health, Doctor of Social Work Banded Dissertation
- Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open UP, Frontiers in Psychology
- Exhausted Parents: Developmental and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory, Frontiers in Psychology
- Anxiety, Depression, and Stress during Pregnancy: Implications for Mothers, Children, Research, and Practice, Current Opinion in Psychiatry
- Superwoman Schema: African American Women’s Views on Stress, Strength, and Health, Cheryl L. Woods-Giscombé, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor