Superwomen are Psycho (and other uncomfortable truths)

Posted on July 29, 2010


I once knew a woman who was single-handedly planning her wedding, opening her business and completing an intense post-graduate certification process while, at the same time, decorating her new home and preparing for a month-long  international trip (Where she would meet, for the first time, her fiance’s entire extended family who did not speak a word of English. So she was also squeezing in some crash course language lessons as well).

During this rather overwhelming time, this same woman also started a new and intense fitness regimen, insisted on designing her save the date cards by hand, and volunteered for a wonderful-and also utterly exhausting-week of summer camp for teenagers.

The mere mortals around her looked on in awe, calling her a “superwoman”. However, behind the scenes, this woman became dangerously addicted to Starbuck’s espresso, frequently collapsed from exhaustion and suffered near catastrophic levels of stress-induced crying spells (I won’t even talk about the screaming).

In short, she lost her damn mind.

I know this woman went temporarily insane because I. was. her. Seduced by the overrated superwoman complex, I spent years risking my adrenal function and my beloved sanity to attain what I thought was an amazing resume, an impressive to-do list, an enviable existence. I wanted to be a superwoman. And for a while I was.

But then I realized this: Superwomen are psycho.

They are batshit crazy. They are not good friends. They are not good wives. They are not good mothers. They’re too tired and distracted to listen. They’re insensitive and forgetful because they have so much going on. They’re too busy trying to be impressive to really show up and pay attention to anyone else.

How can anyone be even remotely stable when they rarely sleep, have a codependent relationship with their Blackberry and are driving, texting, mentally composing a grocery list, reading the morning’s headlines, doing their make-up and running a conference call (on speaker phone of course) at the same time?

Exactly. They can’t. You can’t be everything to everyone. Life just doesn’t work that way.

The whole superwoman complex is just a nasty little ego-centered game. No one wins in that game. No one but especially not the superwoman who started it.

“Happy women know that you can have it all, just not all at the same time,” Cathy Greenburg and Dan Baker state in their research-based book entitled What Happy Women Know. I could not agree more.

You can be at the top of the executive ladder in your high-powered career. You can be a great mom who is active in her kids’ lives. You can be the best wife on the planet. You can learn how to be a chef, an interior designer, an avid bird watcher and whatever else your heart desires. You just can’t do it all at the same time. That is, if you value your sanity.

The truth is (and for me this was the most uncomfortable realization), the superwoman complex is really about only one thing: the desire to be impressive, to be superior to others, in order to get love. That’s right. At the heart of every overworked day and sleepless night is a desire for complete and unconditional love.

When I met and fell in love with my husband, 75 hour work weeks no longer seemed so appealing. It’s not that I stopped working, I just stopped trying to give 100% to everything and everyone else. I learned to prioritize.

Now this process didn’t happen quickly or easily (egos rarely go down without a fight) but eventually I learned what most happy women know: Life is a lot more fun when you’re really in it, rather than just speeding through it to get to the next big thing.

So the next time you feel yourself feeling a bit inferior because you’ve read in your college alumni magazine that an old classmate has recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, started her own non-profit, become a world-renowned photographer and published three New York Time’s bestselling books, just stop and remember: She’s probably psycho.

Then relish the life you’ve created, with its rest and its consideration for others and its real friendships and its mental peace.

Posted in: Love 101