What Happens When Normal Women Try to Become Superwomen

Becoming superwomen often comes at the price of our mental, spiritual, and emotional health

We often think of humility as a heightened awareness of our faults, but humility is actually an awareness of our limitations. When Jesus invites us to learn from his humility, he’s calling us to embrace the same human limits that he embraced when he came to earth. The need for food, sleep, exercise, relaxation — all of these things are a natural and good part of how God made us. But pride tells us that we can live beyond them. So we skip meals, skimp on sleep, and pack our daily schedules with more than any one person can achieve in a week. And we reap the stress and anxiety that comes from trying to be more and do more than God ever intended for us.

 

There’s nothing quite like the comfort of knowing that you’re not losing your mind. Or if you are, that you’re not the only one.

I remember feeling this relief last year while doing research for a book. I’d come across the yearly survey from the American Psychological Association that “measures attitudes and perceptions of stress among the general public.” According to the report, women report higher levels of stress than men, as well as higher rates of stress than previous generations. As I reviewed the data, I saw my life laid bare via percentages, graphs, and color-coded pie charts.

As an author, pastor’s wife, and mother to three active kids, my day has very little margin. I regularly feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. My husband, on the other hand, seems to move effortlessly through his day. The difference is most obvious at bedtime. He lays his head on the pillow and drifts off to sleep; I toss and turn, worrying about all the things I failed to do. I calculate the number of calories I’ve consumed, try to remember whether I emailed my editor back, and wonder if the rash on my 10-year-old’s chest is simply a reaction to seasonal allergies. No use waiting until morning; I get up to google it.

The combination of busy days and sleepless night left me increasingly anxious, cranky, and concerned about my mental state. Turns out, I’m in good company. And while the APA survey does not explain why women like me report higher levels of stress, I have a theory: a lot of us are trying to be superheroes when we’re only human.

Limitless?

Last month, two pictures came through my social media feed. The first was of a female physician tending to a player on the sidelines of a football game. Not only was she obviously pregnant, she also had a toddler strapped to her back. The second was similar, capturing a young mom juggling a bottle and a camera with a massive telescopic lens. She also had children strapped to her body, front and back.

At one level, we cheer the sheer tenacity of these images. They capture a certain determination, the strength to overcome challenges, to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But on another, these kinds of images — like images of flawless, sculpted female bodies — have the potential to set a level of expectation that is simply unattainable for most women. Suddenly being superhuman has become the new normal.

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