Do you ever feel the need to:
Suppress your emotions and how you really feel?
Resist being vulnerable or dependent on anyone for help?
Succeed despite having limited resources?
Help others while, at times, sacrificing yourself?
If you answered “yes” to any of these statements, you may suffer from Superwoman Schema - a mindset that has added to the strength of black women but has also caused negative physical and mental health effects.
July is Black-Indigenous-People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month. Nearly 10% of Black people are more likely to struggle with serious mental health conditions than their White counterparts. Furthermore, black women are twice as likely to report feeling sad, hopeless, and worthless than White women (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).
Superwoman schema is a mindset that affects the mental and physical health of many Black and Brown women. It is defined as the strength that Black women feel forced to display as a result of personal and societal challenges. The concept of the “Black Superwoman” was built during the post-slavery era to combat racism, discrimination, and the stress of society. Life often forced Black women to be the nurturer, breadwinner, mother, lover, and friend all-in-one; therefore, this need to “do” and “be” it all emerged into the idea of the Black superwoman. Although this mentality has helped Black women survive and remain resilient through hardship, it has also caused these same women to feel obligated to remain silent when in distress, bear under stress without complaining, wear a false mask of strength, and take care of others while failing to take care of themselves. All of these things result in a “health nightmare”. What Black women fail to realize is that this superwoman complex adds to a myriad of health problems such as mental health disorders, poor eating, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, autoimmune disease, and poor birth outcomes.
“…[B]lack women in particular, are so well socialized to push ourselves past healthy limits that we often do not know how to set protective boundaries that would eliminate certain forms of stress from our lives.” - Sisters of the Yam, bell hooks, pg. 55
While it is a benefit to be strong and resilient in a society that continues to base our value according to skin color, it is even more important to embrace a lifestyle that prioritizes our individual health and well-being. Mental health issues may present themselves through a variety of feelings such as sadness, nervousness, irritability, guilt, or restlessness. It is important for Black women to know that help is available and to reach out whenever it is needed. Start by asking friends, family, a spiritual leader, or your healthcare provider for help whenever needed.
Feeling tired or asking for help is never a sign of weakness.
Women must also realize that it is impossible to “pour from an empty cup”. Self-care demands that we take care of our physical and mental well-being first before helping anyone else. We are no good to anyone else unless we take care of ourselves.
Free yourself by taking off the cape and taking control of your own mental and physical health.
US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. (2019). Mental and behavioral health - african americans. Retrieved from https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24.