In this episode of Eat the Rules, it’s the body image series and I’m taking a deep dive into Superwoman syndrome - if you struggle with trying to do it all and be it all, then you won’t want to miss this.
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This is eat the rules, a podcast about body image self worth, anti dieting and intersectional feminism. I am your host summer Innanen. a professionally trained coach specializing in body image self worth and confidence and the best selling author of body image remix. If you're ready to break free of societal standards and stop living behind the number on your scale, then you have come to the right place. Welcome to the show.
This is episode 241 And it's another episode in the body image series. I'm taking a deep dive into Superwoman syndrome. If you struggle with trying to do it all and be it all then you don't want to miss this episode, I talk about what Superwoman syndrome is six ways to identify whether you have it, how it impacts your body image and 10 ways to break free, you can find all the links and resources mentioned including a free worksheet called 10 ways to reject Superwoman syndrome at summer innanen.com forward slash Two for one. Let's give a shout out to Cal flan who left this review. Listen to this podcast summer has awesome insight and hosts great guests. This podcast has literally changed the direction of my life for the better. Thank you so much for leaving that review. I would really appreciate it if you took a minute to leave a review as well. Go to iTunes search for eat the rules. Then click ratings and reviews and click to leave a review or give it a rating. Don't forget to grab your free copy of the 10 day body confidence makeover at summer innanen.com forward slash freebies with 10 steps to take right now to feel better in your body. And if you are a professional who works with people who may also have body image struggles get the free body image coaching roadmap at summer innanen.com forward slash roadmap. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast to takes a second to just click that little follow or subscribe button via whatever platform you're using. All right, let's dive into this week's episode, I want to talk about why I'm doing this episode when I was living with the challenges of adenomyosis. Or when I was going through a lot of pain and just the stress of having to kind of design my life around it. And not getting sleep for a week, every couple of weeks. If you want to hear more about that, you can go back and listen to episode 232, where I talk about that in more detail. But when I was going through that, it made me realize how often we're used to suffering. We're used to just, you know, having pain or having some kind of discomfort or being exhausted, and really just downplaying it and saying, oh, you know, it's not that bad. Or, oh, I'll just wait to see a doctor. Or I'll just, you know, continue to kind of keep pushing through, I just need to work harder, I just need to get off earlier or, you know, I or I am able to just push through and people praise me for it. So that motivates me to keep doing it. It really made me reflect on that both with that. And also, after I had COVID and my heart rate was higher. And yeah, it just made me really think about these things. And I also hear from clients all the time, that really struggle with this pressure to do it all and be at all. And we're conditioned to ignore things like exhaustion, or pain or other discomfort from our body in an effort to just keep all the balls in the air, right? Like we just think like, well, I don't have time for that or it's not that bad. Instead of really like valuing, if there's, you know, valuing ourselves enough and respecting ourselves enough to say, hey, you know what, I'm not really feeling like myself, or outside of just kind of like more medical symptoms, really just, you know, the sheer exhaustion and loud voice of your inner critic that you end up suffering with as a result of trying to do it all and be at all. And I remember seeing this post on Facebook. This was a few years ago, and I'm going to try and keep this as anonymous as possible. Pretty much no one listening to this is going to know who I'm talking about. So that's good. I don't think so at least. Anyways, there was a post that came up on my Facebook feed and it was someone praising their wife for working full time and
and going to the gym and taking care of their kids right up until her, I think it was like their third or fourth child came. So she was like, extremely pregnant. And it was this post being like, I'm so proud of my wife, you know, she's still seeing so many clients every day and she's going to the gym and she takes care of the kids. And everyone in the comments was like, You're so amazing, your wife is so incredible. And I was like, why are we praising this? Like, why do we praise this, like the baby's literally about to fall out of her, like, take some damn rest, you know. And it actually frustrated me so much that inspired me to write this post many years ago. So I'm going to read you a Facebook post that I wrote, that was inspired by seeing that I'm hyper aware of how our culture praises the super woman, the woman who can manage being a mom, a career person health enthusiast, while maintaining a Pinterest worthy home. And how this obsession with doing it all starts to impact the pressure we put back on ourselves. I've decided I'm here to praise the ones who rest the ones who set firm boundaries, the ones who say no, the ones who ask for help, the ones who admit they don't have it all together, the ones that choose the messiness of life, instead of trying to keep everything polished and pristine. That's the kind of Superwoman I am here for. And it got a really great response, because I think everyone really needed to hear this. And it's a sigh of relief, to think like, Okay, we don't need to be like no one is perfect, no one is holding it all together, people who kind of give that impression typically either have a ton of help that you don't see, or there's a lot going on in their inner world, that would be we don't know about, like, maybe they don't actually feel that good. And they just give off this perception of it. I think that happens, the majority of the time, to be honest, and our culture really glorifies and sees people as morally superior, who can juggle everything. And what happens is, is that we then internalize that we internalize that we should be able to then do everything effortlessly. And then if we can't, there is something wrong with us. So for example, like kind of like what happened to me when we look at social media, and we see people with their well organized homes and their glossy skin and their homemade meals, and they're raising five kids, and they're working a full time job. And we think, well, I should be able to do that then too. And I see this time and time again, I see clients beating themselves up because they feel like they can't do it all. And they feel like there's something wrong with them as a result of that. And that need to do it all. And B it all has a name and that name is Superwoman syndrome. And that is a very gendered name. That is the kind of official name that people use and psychologists use around it. However, I recognize that that is extreme that's looking at things very binary. So maybe we call it superhero syndrome. Although I would say it does disproportionately affect people who identify as as female. And it really is this idea that we can do it all and be at all, that we can maintain our hosts and focus on our health and have the perfect body and be career oriented, and effortlessly manage, like all that mental load of running household, which is especially dominant if you're a parent, and then just show up in life like Kelly Ripa with like a lot of energy and a smile. You know, that's that's kind of how, when I think about who, who's sort of like, you know, the Superwoman archetype, I really always think of like Kelly Ripa and like Gwyneth Paltrow, those are kind of the two people that come to mind for me, I'm always curious as to like, who might come to mind for you, it's probably different. But that's who I think about. And I think, we think, okay, I should be able to do that, too, I should look like them, I should be able to be like energetic, and perky and all this other stuff. And it tears us apart inside. When we're attempting to do all this, we're doing it at the expense of ourselves, we're putting others needs before our own, we're putting all of our energy into kind of this image that we want other people to see us as. And we put that into how we may appear to others. And we putting that all before our own well being, we're usually putting that before a lot of our own wants and our own needs, and the things that we truly value. And so in other words, what we're often doing is we're chasing this illusion of having it all together and this illusion of perfection over what we actually want to need. We say to ourselves, you know, I'm going to put other people's needs before my own, I'm going to put how I how I think other people should perceive me before my needs. And what I mean by that is that we often get sucked into kind of being a superhero because we don't want to be perceived as less than so there's definitely an external influence here, in terms of how other people perceive us and judge us. And there's a fear behind that there's a fear behind these behaviors. And that fear is often I'm sure there's more than a Milus here, but those fears are often that we're going to be perceived as inadequate, that we're going to be perceived as less than that we're going to be perceived as failures or NP
reductive or lazy, and that is cultural conditioning, this has been conditioned in us as a way to gain more social currency, if we can just, you know, give the impression that we have it all together, then we'll get more power or will be more open to being desirable and lovable and all of these other things that come along with that. Our culture praises busyness, it praises the hustle, it praises hard work. And that's really, if if you kind of look into the history of that, and the racial origins of that, that's really the culture of, of whiteness. If you Google the culture of whiteness, you'll find a lot of stuff on that. And if you look at the images, you'll find really good illustrations of the breakdown of what that looks like. It's kind of like this idea of quiet quitting, that's come up right now, where if you're just doing your job, you're considered, you know, not as valuable. Because again, this ties back to this culture that we have that really praises kind of overworking and going over and above and competition and all this other stuff and productivity. And I'm not saying that you can't work hard at things and go to the other or go at or that we should all just go to the other extreme, and do nothing. But there's a diminishing point of returns to hard work, there's a diminishing point of returns to these efforts. And if they're not coming from a place of respect for our own needs and wants, then it's absolutely going to be at a detriment to our mental well being. And all of this sources from the archetype of the quote unquote, perfect woman, I kind of mentioned this earlier, when I talked about when I think of when I think of the perfect woman I think of, you know, Gwyneth Paltrow, or I think of Kelly Ripa. And it's really just, you know, that that woman that like, has it all together and is successful and is like, has a smile and all this other crap. But that trying to fit into that archetype of the perfect woman steals our time, it steals our energy, and it steals our resources, much like diet culture was, which is a subset of that. So trying to like hustle to give off this illusion of perfection. It takes a hell of a lot of time, a hell of a lot of energy, and money, and just our resources in general. And I want to note here that this is much more difficult for women of color or other marginalized groups, as they often have to work much harder to prove themselves. And in order to deal with subtle and overt forms of discrimination. I came across this interesting article by Dr. Helen fosu, who is a psychologist and wrote this great article about her own lived experience with Superwoman syndrome. So I'm going to link to that in the show notes. Because I think that offers a different lived experience than the one that I have with it. And there's also this really interesting study that I came across that I'll link to in the show notes, which is called Superwoman schema, African American woman's views on stress, strengthen health, which really breaks down the origins of this even further and how the this really does stem from more racial origins that and that's not easy to find when you kind of just loosely Google Superwoman syndrome online. And what they talk, one of the things that they really talk specifically about in that study is that among black women, Superwoman syndrome is quote, unquote, necessary for survival. And the thing that I really took away from that is that depending on your level of privilege, you likely feel greater pressure to engage in Superwoman syndrome as a means of survival. And I've certainly worked with clients that identify as fat, who have felt increased pressure, they felt increased pressure to work harder to prove themselves because of their body size. And again, this is coming back to just the product of the culture that we live in the dominant white culture, the fat phobic culture, the sexist culture that values overworking and competition and power. And so I think that it's always really good to know the origins of these things, it's really important to look at the social justice aspect of these things. Because it's not an individual defect. It's not just like, oh, you know, you just need to, like stop trying to work so hard. It's literally in our DNA as a way to try to survive for a lot of individuals more so if you experience different levels of oppression. And so it's not something to feel bad about. So don't beat yourself up for having this. It's not something to, you know, again, feel shame about. I think, let's bring awareness to this and see how our culture perpetuates this narrative. Like let's open up our awareness to it so that we can actively reject it as individuals and also look for the systemic ways that we can try to create change or reject it on a
broader basis, whether that's like, you're a teacher in a school or you're in a corporation, and you can affect kind of a broader change to it, because it really does have a significant impact on our well being and how we value ourselves. And there's six signs of of super Superwoman syndrome that I want to break down. And again, I'm, I apologize, I'm using the gendered term, but that's just how it's written. So Number The first one is really if you have trouble saying no, or you feel guilty when you do say no, so if you have trouble saying no to things, if you feel a sense of guilt, if someone asks you to do something, and you just feel like you have to say yes, otherwise, the guilt is just going to be too overwhelming for you. Number two, if you feel like you can't relax until your to do list is done. And if this is you, I just want to tell you that your to do list is never done, it always gets longer, but it's never ending, right. So if you're never gonna be able to relax if you're hinging it on whether your to do list is done or not. Point number three is your inner voice has a lot of shoulds. So I think shoulds are one of the biggest symptoms and signs of Superwoman syndrome. And so that plays out, as I should have worked out today, I should have cleaned out that drawer, I should have been able to finish that proposal for work, I shouldn't have eaten that earlier. All of those things create this, like emotional and internal baggage that we carry around. And I do a lot of work with people around their shirts, when we first start working together and you on fire, it's one of the fundamental things that we do, because that really shows the expectations that we have on ourselves and how that's hurting us. And then we can take steps to break free from that. So the fourth sign is you judge yourself based on whether you get things done. So you have a barometer for like whether you're worthy, or whether you're successful based on whether or not you get things done and you feel like a failure, or you feel like there's something wrong with you, if you don't need to think to yourself, like I just need better time management, or I just need to get up earlier, when the solution is really to lower the bar. There's more solutions to that. But one of the main ones is to lower the bar on ourselves. Number five is you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough. So even if you do achieve something, even if you do complete the project, you feel like it's never good enough. And I remember this really showing up in body image for myself. And I see this all the time in my clients. But often we can recount being at our thinnest and it still not being good enough, then we started to critique another aspect of ourselves where we felt like it wasn't good enough. And so that's just an element of how that plays out as it relates to body image, but it's just this overarching feeling of nothing you do is never good enough. And the last one is your you feel stressed out. So whether it's physically or mentally or both, you may get other symptoms from this, such as exhaustion or sickness or digestive issues. But overall, you just kind of feel burned, burned out. And that I think is really, really common. And often, that's a sign that some of this is at play in the background.
Speaking of stress and burnout, you know, I've struggled with anxiety before and coffee was one of those things that really triggered it in addition to that coffee would always give me insomnia, even if I had it in the morning. Therefore, I had to stop drinking it. But I missed that feeling of being more awake and alert, enter magic mind an elixir filled with things that give you more energy and focus without that jittery, impatient feeling that coffee gives you. It's really easy to use. It's this little bottle, it's like a little shot. And it tastes great. And it has a whole bunch of really awesome ingredients in it. Like lion's mane and cortisol, mushrooms, not those kinds of mushrooms. But the ones that really help you focus and things like L theanine, and they help you focus they help with your memory, they help you with your cognitive function, and just help you feel better overall, and I love it so much more than drinking a coffee. If you want to try it, I have a 20% off code to share with you it's rules 20 That's our U L E S two zero. To use it you can go to magic mind.co forward slash rules and enter the code rules 20 at checkout, the best part is is that they have a money back guarantee. So if you don't like it, or it doesn't work for you, you get your money back. You can also get a subscription for 40% off with the code rules 20 that code will expire after 10 days. So if you want to take advantage of that, go to magic mind.co forward slash rules and enter the code rules 20 at checkout
I want to talk about how this really impacts our sense of self
worth so this feeling that we are valuable this knowing this inner belief that, you know, I'm I'm valuable, I'm worthy, I'm good enough. Or as my friend and colleague Karianne Livingston says, like, I am plenty, which I love. And so self worth is I'm just gonna circle back to the definition of self worth. But self worth is really about knowing who we are, and knowing that who we are, is valuable and worthy. And it's tough to know who we are when everything we are doing as it is at the expense of ourselves. And I just want to say that definition of self worth is my own. So there's probably other ones out there, but that's how I look at it. So anyways, it's tough to know who we are when everything we were doing is at the expense of ourselves. When I work with people and you on fire, we do a bunch of work around discovering who we are outside of our appearance. And that's rooted in understanding our values and understanding our purpose and understanding our wants and our needs. And most often, our purpose and our values are not aligned with the expectations that we're putting on ourselves and our to do list. So let me give you a specific example of that. And one of my personal values is freedom, I really like to have freedom and flexibility. It's one of the reasons why I run my own business. And it's impossible for me to honor that. If I'm trying to do all of the parenting if I'm trying to maintain the entire household, if I'm trying to work, you know, 50 hours a week, which I would never do, by the way. But if I did try to do those things, it would be the at the expense of something I really value, which is freedom. And so when we are engaging in the behaviors, and this mentality of having like Superwoman syndrome, it's often at the expense of the things that we truly value. And when we're not honoring our values, our whole sense of being in terms of self worth is lower. And so it's when we're trying to live up to society's expectations of the perfect human, it's going to be really hard for us to live in alignment with our values and our purpose. In addition to that, it's really tough to reinforce a belief in us that we matter and that we are valuable and worthy if we're putting others needs, other people's needs and other needs in general before our own. If we're putting massive expectations on ourselves, and we constantly feel like a failure, or that there is something wrong with us, then it's really hard to cultivate this belief that we're valuable and worthy. And the last way that this ties to our self worth is that when it comes to Superwoman syndrome, our sense of worthiness is often wrapped up in productivity, and how much we can achieve. You know, we're kind of measuring ourselves based on whether I'm meeting all these expectations, whether I am productive, whether I am successful, which often are kind of just these like elusive things like it's not actually like a static thing, because it never feels good enough, right. It's a moving goalpost I should say. And that shows up in the expectations we put on ourselves to be able to compete complete these massive to do lists, to achieve career milestones. And it often shows up with our body because working on being thinner is applauded as an achievement. So with that, let's segue to how Superwoman syndrome really intersects with body image. So one of the components of of Superwoman syndrome that I often see this idea of doing it all and being at all, is also having the perfect body, and or loving that body that you're in. And I, and what I see is that we should on ourselves about that. So we think, well, I shouldn't eat that I should look different that should fit me, or I should appreciate my body, I should love my body, I know better than this. And both of those things make us feel worse about ourselves. And so that is a way that for a lot of people, if you look at this, like a like a pie chart, and you look at, you know, the ideal of the perfect woman or the perfect person, body tape, or achieving like a certain luck is often a large wedge in that, in that puzzle in that pie chart or piece of pizza, I always picture pizza, it's often a large wedge, right, and how other people perceive us as well. And so that then drives these behaviors of feeling like you have to kind of do it all and be it all and burn yourself out and be at the gym X number of days a week and be doing all these things. So that's how body image ties into that. And then in addition to that, when we're exhausted and burned out, we're much more likely to be harsh on our bodies. And so Superwoman syndrome engaging in like trying to do it all and be it all is going to exhaust us and burn us out. And therefore we're going to be even more critical of ourselves, and especially on our bodies, because we're going to look to our bodies to give us a sense of control, and it feels like something that we can fix. I talked about that more in Episode 193 The body image series dieting as a coping mechanism, if you want to
get more into that. But even if we heal our body image, if we're still having like this overall pressure on ourselves and other areas of our life to live up to this ideal of perfection, we're still not going to feel good enough or at peace. And that's why when I work with people and in my Yuan fire group program, one of the first things we do is look at how those ideals of perfection has shown up in our lives, and how we've internalized them, and how we can break free of them to be more loyal to the things we want and need outside of those expectations. If we don't address it as a whole, then we're just looking at it through a vacuum. And we're still going to be beating ourselves up and feeling like, you know, nothing we do is good enough. The last thing I want to talk about in this episode is the ways that that we can break free, so I have created a free worksheet for you or a free download. That is called 10 ways to reject Superwoman syndrome, and it has 10 actions that you can take. So I'm only going to go over five of them. And then you can get the rest in the download. The first one I want to talk about is, and I alluded to this earlier is lowering the bar, we want to look for ways to lower the bar on ourselves. And what I see time and time again, is people who kind of set these objectives or they set these expectations for themselves that are just so ridiculous. And then they don't do the thing that they want to do. And then they beat themselves up for not doing that. Like for example, I'm going to pick something just off the top of my head here, but like, Okay, I'm going to meditate five days a week, I'm going to do it for 15 minutes a day, for five days a week. But it's like, if you've never done that before, that's not in your way of being or your routine, like you're sort of setting yourself up to fail. So let's lower the bar, like what would feel so ridiculously doable that you could do so always looking for ways to lower the bar. Another really important thing is being more loyal to our values and our purpose. When we're more loyal to our values and our purpose, we automatically reject these shoulds we automatically reject this idea of perfection. And I'm just such a huge fan of of that work. Another thing to do is to make decisions from a place of does this really honor the fact that I matter? And use that as a barometer for making choices. For example, you get invited to a social event. And you know, you're exhausted, you're just burned out, you've had a really draining week, maybe you're an introvert like me, and you just want to like hibernate and watch TV. So you think to yourself, Okay, like, what, how can I show myself that I matter here with showing myself that I matter be pushing myself through the go to the social event, because otherwise I'll feel guilty that I can't be there, or with showing myself that I matter be sitting on my couch in a burrito blanket and watching TV, and making that choice that's really going to honor that you matter. And that's going to look different for you, again, depending on who you are, what your needs are, and what your values are and your purposes. So another thing that I'm going to highlight here is to stop pretending that you have it all together, no one has it all together, let's all stop pretending that we have it all together.
Let's, let's like embrace the fact that we're messy human selves and role model that to others, let's stop being so apologetic for the ways that we're not living up to this idea of perfection. And I am guilty of this. Anytime someone comes in my house, I start talking about all the things I need to do to make my house look more to make my house look better. You know, like, oh, I need to, you know, move some of these toys and like reorganize it. And there's a picture that we need to hang on that wall. And I'm 100% guilty of that. Because I'm trying to show the person that like even though it's clear, I don't have it all together based on the way the inside of my house looks.
I have an intention to have it look like I have it all together. And so I just think that if we can really embrace our messy human selves, it's going to make other people feel better too. And like, allow ourselves to relax. And the last thing I wanted to mention is we need to stop normalizing suffering. Let's stop saying we're fine. Let's stop saying we're okay. When we are really not. Let's let's be honest about tough times. It doesn't mean you have to be a Debbie Downer. But like, let's just stop pushing through it and saying, No, I'm good. Meanwhile, you're like insides are burning or like excruciating pain. We don't have to do that. And I think the more that collectively we can do those last two things, the better it will be for for everybody. So there's five more that I didn't mention. So you can get that at summer innanen.com forward slash 241. And really like please let's just stop praising Superwoman. Okay, like let's stop. Let's stop saying, oh my god, you're so amazing, which by the way, a lot of people said that to me. When I was recovering from surgery. If I was if I
Did anything they're like, Oh, you're so amazing. And I was thinking to myself, like, Please Don't praise me for this. And I really tried to get into resting, I really tried to see it as like this really almost positive opportunity to just do nothing for two weeks plus, and to really think like, Okay, I want to watch some trashy TV, I want to take naps, I want to, you know, look at funny stuff on my phone. Like all these things that weren't productive, quote, unquote, I really tried to prioritize that. And the more than I did it after those first few days, the more I really got into it. And the more that I was like, This is really nice. And that's what prompted me to then just kind of go dark on social media and just be like, you know, I just don't want to do any of this stuff. Right now, I just don't want to be productive. And obviously, there's a privilege in that I do run my own business. And I was recovering from a surgery so I completely recognize the level of privilege in that. However, the more that I sort of got into it, the easier it was for me to really keep the bar low and reject stuff and I feel so much more energized as a result. Like who knew remote removing an organ could just be like so amazing. Anyways, I would be curious to know your thoughts on Superwoman syndrome or superhero syndrome, however you identify and however this applies to you. And don't forget to grab your free worksheet, and that's a wrap for this episode. I'll put all the links that I've mentioned here in the show notes, you'll be able to find those at summer innanen.com. Forward slash 241. Thank you so much for listening today. Rock on.
I'm Summer Innanen. And I want to thank you for listening today. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at summer Innanen. And if you haven't yet, go to Apple podcasts search eat the rules and subscribe rate and review this show. I would be so grateful. Until next time, rock on
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