The Wonder Woman syndrome

OK, ladies, I have a fondness for the red boots, myself, but trying to be Wonder Woman all the time can really take its toll. You end up feeling exhausted because, having proved you are so accomplished at the role, nobody expects you to need a day off.

Both Beyonce and Alicia Keyes have written songs that echo the sentiments of Karen White’s, “I’m Not Your Superwoman.” We may well have something to say when we have got to the end of our resources, after taking on endless responsibilities, both in business and our personal lives but instead of complaining, we need to appreciate that, often, we have set ourselves up to lose.

It’s not a conscious decision. Our nature is to be nurturing and it influences the way we behave on a daily basis. On top of that, we are conditioned to think that we are allowed to have a career, now, but we must still take most of the responsibility for running the home and looking after our children. And there is part of us that relishes our ability to multi task, to be able to keep all the plates spinning in what appears to be an effortless manner.

We are the product of the sexual revolution of the 60’s, when the roles of men and women in society changed dramatically. Consequently, we have been brought up to be very independent, not expecting to rely on a man to provide for us. Unfortunately, that has become our default response, so that we find it hard to accept or even recognise gestures of support when they are offered to us. There were numerous occasions in my past when I turned down a man’s gallant offer to carry a heavy bag for me. I used to smile, cheerfully, saying that, thanks very much, I could manage, and struggle on with my burden.  I wasn’t even conscious of what I was doing. I had been so used to looking after myself that I found it really hard to let someone else take over the job, if only for five minutes.

I heard a story the other day that illustrates how damaging Wonder Woman syndrome can be. The woman involved, a lawyer, had just found out that her husband had been having an affair for the last two years, which was devastating. This was coupled with the fact that she had just had minor surgery to remove a small growth from under her arm and she was waiting to find out whether it was malignant, or not. In the midst of this upset a senior partner asked her if she would be able to take over a challenging litigation, as the lawyer who had started the proceedings had been dismissed. She took on the case, though there had been no pressure for her to do so, adding even more demands to her heavy workload.

(There are) countless cases of women who have undermined their health because hey just don’t know when to stop

Two weeks later she collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where she was diagnosed with exhaustion. The doctor on the ward, who was a friend of mine, had been chatting with the woman and the whole story came out. “When I asked her what she thought she was doing, she just looked a bit confused and said she hadn’t thought at all, she was just on autopilot,” my friend recounted. She says she sees countless cases of women who have undermined their health because hey just don’t know when to stop.

It’s time for us to realise, in business, as well as the other areas of our lives, that we don’t have to say, “Yes,” to everything.  As well as having boundaries with other people, we have to take the time to hold OURSELVES accountable when we over stretch ourselves..

In making this transition, we will need to appreciate that there will be a period of adjustment, both for ourselves and for our colleagues and clients. We don’t have to announce our change of strategy by declaring that we won’t be taking on so much any more, as we’ve been doing too much, as that could be misconstrued as blaming the other party.  And we have to examine whether there is any tendency to blame in the situation and take responsibility for our own actions, so that we can change our behaviour.

There may be some fall out due your decision. Lazy people are never going to be happy that they have more work – even if it was theirs to do in the first place. If you are questioned in a reasonable manner, then by all means, discuss your new work ethic. If, on the other hand, snide remarks are made then just keep your dignity and ignore them – you know you have raised your game, not lowered it. You could, of course, make a joke out of the situation. Just aim to deal with the situation elegantly and firmly. The less you react, the quicker people will accept the new dynamics.

Be aware that if you have been addicted to Wonder Woman behaviour, it is quite likely that you will experience feelings of guilt as you begin to follow through with your new behaviour. This is just a reaction to all the conditioning that we have received since we were very young, when we were told that it was the responsibility of a good woman to look after everyone. It will take a little while but you will find, once the new pattern of behaviour has settled in you’ll find your are much more relaxed and at ease with yourself. (And, who wants to be a good woman when you can be Phenomenal, anyway?)

About the author

Felicity Lerouge is a coaching psychoneurologist and runs her own coaching consultancy and events company, Phenomenal Women Events. She has extensive experience in the field of personal development and is part of the Robbins’ Research International Senior Leadership team, coaching at events, worldwide. In order to stay at the cutting edge of her profession, she is studying for her PhD in coaching psychoneurology and has just achieved her PhD(c).

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