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How to Stop ‘Strong Black Superwoman Syndrome’

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The day I decided to get help — to go to therapy — was the day I realized I was an emotional eater. I walked into the office of this white guy who was experienced in treating patients who struggled with weight loss. I only went four times as we weren’t getting anywhere. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him and I knew it was because I thought he couldn’t relate to my life. The next time I went was in the middle of my last relationship. I sought out a black lady who specialized in Christian counseling. I went in there to figure out why I was acting the way I did in the relationship. I mean, those were reasons why I went, but it wasn’t the reason I needed to be there. I was experiencing “strong black woman/superwoman” syndrome. I had no clue. If you didn’t know, this syndrome can be deadly.

On the outside, my life looked relatively perfect. On the inside, I was slowly cracking under the pressure. I was breaking and it was not going to get better if I kept going at the rate I was going. I was to the point where I was just stuck. Still, to this day, I am fighting the battle to take this superwoman cape off and keep it off for good.

The “strong black woman” persona was created as a way to overcome all of the stereotypes about us black women. It is who we had to be throughout history. Everyone needed us and depended on us. This came with consequences, though.

Underneath my cape, I was broken, bruised and barely able to breathe. I wasn’t moving back home because I saw that as a sign of failure. I wasn’t going to seem as if I needed help with raising Mason and I was definitely not asking anyone for money. I made my bed and I was going to lie in it. I didn’t see that I was not alone because my pride told me I didn’t need help and I didn’t need anyone. Here I was, in this city alone, hoping for a job in a field that is dominated by white males (where I am considered a unicorn, as told by my first boss) and parenting solo. I was so determined to keep it together, to make it look easy, to show everyone I was capable of playing the hand I’d been dealt in life. My life on social media was true, but it was just a highlight reel. You didn’t see the ugly parts.

What makes up the strong black woman syndrome?

You feel as if there is an obligation to look strong, to come off as having it all together.

You suppress your emotions. Even if the world is falling apart around you, no one will see you fold.

You feel as if you can’t get help, and being vulnerable is something you’re not.

You have the motivation to succeed against all odds. You let nothing stand in your way and you’re gonna move forward at all costs. You don’t mind paying the price.

You feel as if it’s your responsibility to put yourself last because there are people who need you.

You take on everyone’s problems and their stress becomes yours too.

I had all of the symptoms. Somewhere along the way, the Holy Spirit told me, “Baby girl, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You gotta get some help.” There just wasn’t anymore left to give and as a result, I was not taking care of myself, not eating right, not sleeping enough. I just didn’t have the time because I was too busy being everything to everyone and nothing to myself. Self-care was non-existent. I just keep going and going and going.

Sounds familiar?

Enough is enough! Sis, it’s time we take our capes off. We weren’t built to move in this world all by ourselves. Here are some tips to help you remove it for good.

1. Learn to notice the early signs of stress. For me, it’s tension in my neck or I become very snappy. I stop and think about what’s going on to cause my reactions.

2. Begin to manage your stress. Delegate tasks to someone else; don’t pretend to be just fine when someone asks how you are. (I am talking to myself.) Accept help when someone offers it. It really takes the weight off of your shoulders. No, you will not be a burden.

3. You gotta find the time to exercise. Eat more veggies and fruits, and get sleep!

4. Set boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. Tell your family no, your boss no and tell yourself no. You don’t have to save the world.

5. Create a plan for when it’s too much. For me, that’s taking more time for myself, sending Mason to his dad’s and heck, skipping out on some obligations during the week. The world will keep going without you.

It won’t be easy. You will first have to get used to being vulnerable, but I know we got this. We made it this far; we still have our right mind and a great future ahead of us. Inbox me if you want to talk. Otherwise, feel free to leave a comment saying “me too” if you relate. Talk soon?

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash

Originally published: April 27, 2019
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