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Painted Brain | The Superwoman Complex
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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The Superwoman Complex

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Article written by Jherica Johnson

The Superwoman Complex—the overwhelming compulsion for black women to defy and disprove statistics, societal norms and stigmas often at the expense of their own mental, physical or spiritual wellbeing.

Ok, so I made that up. But I’m sure y’all knew the EXACT phenomenon I am trying to describe. We all know at least one woman that seems to effortlessly wear 62 different hats efficiently, effectively, and slay while doing it! Well let me tell you, even SHE has struggled with the very thing I am writing about.

Busy Woman. Szabó Andrea via Dribble.com

Imagine being an essential worker, maintaining various relationships, taking care of dependents like children or older parents, and maintaining a home and fiscal responsibility all while trying to combat racism, police brutality, and the unjust murders of black people on a national scale. Now imagine still feeling compelled to stretch yourself thin because if you don’t do it, it may not get done. That’s the black superwoman complex.

We all know the odds are undoubtedly stacked against black women. We are one of the most educated subsets of the population while also being one of the most underpaid. We also are one of the most discriminated against in the healthcare realm, as if we don’t know our own bodies.

Even amongst our own community we are often stereotyped as angry, loud, argumentative, non-submissive, and a bunch of other generalized crap. So in typical black woman fashion, we decide we will overcome it all…at any cost. But sometimes the price is our mental and physical well-being.

I think that we as black women tend to overextend ourselves in an effort to combat the negative statistics, assumptions, and generalizations placed on us by society. Ultimately it impacts our overall health and our character. I know several women, including myself, that have chosen not to engage in important discussions because our passion is often interpreted as aggression. We fight so strenuously to not fall victim to statistics that we have created a cocoon of barriers around our true personhood. Carrying that around day after day effects our mental and emotional health in devastating ways.

It’s common for us to fulfill multiple roles and execute multiple duties simultaneously. The majority of my friends are mothers, students, active in ministry, wives, employed at multiple jobs, starting their own businesses, etc. Fulfilling so many roles can create tremendous amount of strain emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and often times physically. Advancement in society is a wonderful and necessary thing; however, pieces of ourselves are often lost in the process.

[Related: Bearing the Burden of Being a Black Woman in America]

Now, there is no simple solution to this phenomenon. Many of the roles we play are completely necessary and often bring us joy. The spaces we occupy need us and our unique perspective! In my opinion, the trick is setting boundaries so we can maintain our health but also be effective. I also want to acknowledge that, in recent years, black women have begun to take our mental health more seriously and engage in health self care practices to help navigate our roles. Not to mention going to therapy to deal with our baggage. Go us! The time for giving the world our best at our own expense is over. So here are some tricks you can implement in your own life, that help you prioritize your self and your personal wellbeing:

  • Delegate: I can get really particular about how I like things done, but there are tasks you can pass off to others even though you may not want to.  I have had to learn to differentiate between when it’s important for me to involve myself personally, versus when I am being controlling.
  • Say no: Period. You can offer an explanation or not. That’s up to you.
  • Hold your space: Physically and symbolically. One thing I try is not being the one to move off of the path when people are walking toward me. That may sound weird but it gives me confidence to hold my space when it counts. Do not allow doubt to make you think you do not belong in spaces you have earned. It’s called imposter syndrome. Don’t shrink.
  • Be yourself: As long as the person you are does not infringe on any one else’s rights feel free to be wholly you. I am a formidable black woman that loves my people, the marvel cinematic universe, socks and fighting for social justice. I can talk to you about racial and gender disparities in various arenas, but also argue why Captain America isn’t the best Avenger.
  • Talk to your tribe: Share your burdens with your loved ones. The collective weight of the world feels lighter when you have people to help you bear it.

Featured Image obtained from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/27654985188182000/

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