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Superwoman Syndrome and Superman Complex Make Anxiety Soar

The Superwoman Syndrome or Superman Complex cause anxiety. You can reduce anxiety by checking these symptoms to find out if you're trying to be superhuman.

Do you expect yourself to be Superman or Superwoman, a person with powers so great that you can do it all with no side effects like anxiety? If you are, you’re not alone. This pressure to do it all, be everyone to everything, is common enough to have terms attached to them: Superman complex or the Superwoman syndrome. Feeling pressured to live your life in a superhuman way can and does contribute to anxiety. You can use your very human powers to fight the Superwoman syndrome or Superman complex and decrease anxiety.

Do You Suffer from Superman Complex or Superwoman Syndrome?

The first step in reducing the anxiety that can come with the Superwoman syndrome or a Superman complex is to recognize what these superheroes are like and when you’re emulating their traits.

Both of these anxiety-causing phenomena involve feeling a desire or a pressure to be perfect; indeed, they’re both an extreme form of perfectionism in which someone believes he/she must do it all and do all of it perfectly without fail. The Superman or Superwoman believes failure to be anything that isn’t 500 percent beyond what is required of a “normal” human being.

You might be suffering from a Superman complex or the Superwoman syndrome if you:

  • Are high-achieving
  • Adhere to unrealistically high standards for yourself
  • Can’t or won’t acknowledge a need for rest and breaks
  • Are a workaholic
  • Believe you must be “on” all the time
  • Do whatever it takes to provide for and take care of everyone you feel responsible for
  • Measure your self-worth in terms of productivity
  • Believe you can be superhuman; others might not be able to handle it, but you can/must
  • Have an unhealthy sense of responsibility
  • Experience these things in all realms of your life: work, relationships, parenting, volunteering, running your household, etc.

These traits underlie the superhuman belief that you can’t fail in anything that you do. Failure, says this syndrome, would be devastating and simply isn’t an option. What is superhuman is the amount of pressure and stress that people impose on themselves when they live with a Superman complex or Superwoman syndrome.

The Superwoman Syndrome or Superman Complex Will Make You Anxious

Anxiety is a very human response to the pressure someone places on him/herself to be Superman or Superwoman. It’s stressful to take on all aspects of your life equally, at full speed, all the time. Needing to be superhuman is a cause of anxiety, and anxiety will continue to increase as long as you’re playing the role of Superman or Superwoman.

If you’re not convinced that trying to be superhuman is causing problems (this irrational belief is part of the phenomenon), engage in some self-reflection. Do you find yourself feeling:

  • Empowered or powerless
  • In control or overwhelmed
  • Confident or inadequate
  • Realistic in your interpretations or guilty
  • Energized or exhausted
  • In a state of flow or pulled underwater
  • Happy or unhappy
  • Calm or anxious

And do you recognize these symptoms of anxiety, including but not limited to:

  • Persistent worry and fear
  • Racing thoughts
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sleep problems
  • Self-doubt
  • A need for control
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

If, after reflecting on these questions and symptoms, you find that you do experience a Superman complex or Superwoman syndrome, it just might be time to consider shifting some things around in your life to enhance wellbeing and reduce anxiety. Next week’s post will examine some ways to do just that.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2017, September 14). Superwoman Syndrome and Superman Complex Make Anxiety Soar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2017/09/anxiety-and-the-superwoman-syndrome-superman-complex



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Della Goodman
February, 1 2021 at 2:07 pm

Tanya I am in a relationship with a wonderful superman but Covid-19 is taking it's toll. We're both 65 (retired haha )I can't seem to help him, I try to lighten his load and he does the extra mile anyway. It's difficult because its a boss/ employee relationship (besides love) I have the money and the business and he has the brains and brawn. I am looking for professional help for us both.

February, 3 2021 at 11:09 am

Hi Della,
You and your husband are experiencing something extremely common right now. The pandemic is definitely taking a toll on relationships. Research is showing that professional help can be incredibly beneficial for helping couples work through the challenges piled on by Covid. Online therapy can be as effective as in-person. Find therapists through online directories such as ChoosingTherapy.com (or just search "online therapy directories." Also, platforms like Talkspace, Growing Self, and Couples Therapy Inc are among services that offer couples counseling. They're all different, so spend some time exploring them with your partner to see what might be the best fit. The best therapist is the one that you feel comfortable with and that you can both work with.

Craig Yee
June, 2 2018 at 1:03 pm

Thank you Tanya for this article. This is exactly how I am and how I’m feeling. I have so many stressors in my life and everytime I think I am good or in control, another thing pops up that pushes me down. I call this “Charlie Brown and Lucy complex.” Thing is is that I can’t seem get above water and if I do it’s not for long. It’s not just me putting pressure on myself I also feel like It’s others and it’s very clear to me their expectations and demands. I need help to stop this vicious cycle before I go bananas. Any advice?

June, 4 2018 at 6:28 pm

Hi Craig,
The Charlie Brown and Lucy complex -- I love that. It's apt! This complex, this syndrome, is horrible and can feel suffocating. Worse than the suffocating feeling, I think, is the feeling of anxiety when stopping to take a gulp of air. Have you heard of acceptance and commitment therapy? It's an approach to mental health that helps people accept what they can't change (like certain pressures and expectations from others) as well as to define values and goals for life. Then, you use certain tools to work toward your goals while making changes that you can and learning how to deal with what won't change. I find it very, very useful and practical. Here's a link to a couple of articles I wrote about it. They explain it a bit and give some tips for using it. Maybe you'll get some ideas for dealing with Charlie Brown and Lucy! (Either directly from these articles or indirectly if they spark ideas of your own) Also, take time to stop and breathe. The increased oxygen is good for your brain, and it prevents you from suffocating under the weight of stress. :)
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/07/stop-avoiding-anxiety-acce…
https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2017/09/what-is-defusion-and-how-c…

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