I'm Not Your "Black Superwoman" - The Syndrome


Kayrn White said it best in 1988! Black women have been on to it for decades, I’d even dare to say centuries – the Black Superwoman Syndrome, coined by Clinical Psychologist Jazz Keyes. Sis! It’s real, it has a name and when I first heard it I screamed and almost fell out of my seat! It was so simply put that I wanted to smack my forehead and yell “EXACTLY!” The Black Superwoman Syndrome is so unconsciously ingrained in many of us and we have no idea. All we know is that we move move move – saving everyone in our lives – until the point of mental, emotional, and even physical exhaustion. We see her on TV as Olivia Pope, Cookie Lyon, and Annalise Keating; We ARE her, as we constantly have to live up to being a powerhouse clothed in resilience and everyone’s everything.


The ‘strong black woman’ stereotype was created to combat other nasty stereotypes of Black women. We have a long history of being pictured as the Mammie (care-taking White children), Sapphire (the angry Black woman), and most commonly Jezebel (the hypersexualized Black woman). We are so much more having contributed immensely to society and deserve to be depicted as the goddesses we truly are; however portraying Black women as superhuman has been as much debilitating as it has been empowering. Let’s be real – juggling school, business, a baby, a household & its bills, family & friends (and all their issues), etc would weigh ANYONE down! I can not for the life of me understand why society sees the Black woman as this creation which absolutely nothing penetrates, but I digress.


Psychiatric Nurse Cheryl Giscombe has spent at least 15 years studying what she calls the ‘The Black Superwoman Schema’ and its effects on the psyche and physical health of Black women. She concluded there are 5 major characteristics of the Black Superwoman:


1. Perceived obligation to present an image of strength

2. Perceived obligation to suppress emotions

3. Resistance to vulnerability or dependence on others for help

4. Motivation to succeed despite limited resources

5. Prioritization of care-giving or providing care to others in contrast to balancing that with self-care.


As women, we are nurturing by nature (most of the time); Adding the personification of a superhero to Black women makes it all the more difficult to mitigate mental barriers like depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Not only do we inadvertently place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, but society (including our men, families, and friends) reinforces them. We endure with the mind-set of “I’m a strong Black woman” and suffer in silence – no one saves us because everyone is counting on us to save them! We neglect our mental, emotional, and physical well-being until we crack under pressure. Black women are very likely to develop serious health issues and mental barrier due to unmanaged stress.


Know that philanthropy starts with self. You don’t have to be strong for everyone…in fact, you CAN’T if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. Furthermore, sometimes that self-care looks and sounds a lot like “no” which can be very difficult for someone who finds herself waist deep in the Black Superwoman Syndrome or worse, has other people in her life reinforcing it with constant requests. I encourage you talk to your therapist and learn effective ways to exercise that muscle to find your voice in “no.” Let’s remove the stigma of mental healthcare, stop passing down unhealthy images to our baby girls and gain real super-power!


Be blessed,

Britt

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