Beating the Superhero Syndrome

Beating the Superhero Syndrome

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SALT LAKE CITY — It is time to hang up our capes.

We are a frazzled species, stressed to the max — and our bodies are showing it. We wonder why we have high blood pressure, headaches and stomach problems, and as we wonder, we are usually running to meet the next deadline or obligation.

Jobs, kids, projects and other responsibilities seem to rule our lives. The list of commitments seems to be impossibly long, and yet everything seems to get done. Is this impressive? Yes. Is it admirable and noteworthy? Absolutely. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is a dark side to this, as there is a high cost we pay for overextending our time and energy.

Many people have this distorted view that we are supposed to be able to do everything for everyone. We often set our basic needs aside to make sure we meet the needs of a boss or a loved one. Even using the bathroom can be a task we put on the back burner in order to finish other tasks that we deem more important. This would be fine if we actually were superheroes. But since we are not superhuman and our basic human needs are not disappearing any time soon, it is time to start reprioritizing.

Here's how to hang up your cape and beat Superwoman syndrome.

Make the word 'no' a part of your vocabulary

For some, saying "no" can be very difficult. This results in taking on a lot of obligations and requires us to develop the talent of juggling the multiple responsibilities to which we've committed. Another word for this is "multitasking."

Think of this in terms of actual juggling. If you were to physically juggle multiple items, eventually you would become physically exhausted. The outcome is the same for juggling commitments: you end up physically and mentally exhausted at the end. No one can juggle forever, so eventually you end up dropping one or more balls. Then on top of feeling exhausted, you feel bad about not being able to follow through. To support this point, a quick Internet search brings up several studies that have shown that multitasking is actually less productive than focusing on one task at a time.

Saying "no" is not selfish or rude. Actually, it is one of the kindest things you can do to communicate, up front, that you will not be able to follow through with something so the person asking can ask for help elsewhere. As uncomfortable as it may be, being consistent and setting limits with others (and yourself) gets easier with practice.

Saying "no" is not selfish or rude. Actually, it is one of the kindest things you can do to communicate, up front, that you will not be able to follow through with something so the person asking can ask for help elsewhere.

Leisure time is not laziness

Some people have the belief that they need to be productive at all hours of the day. Some feel that if they are not working toward something at all times, they are somehow going to let things fall behind so severely that they will never be able to catch up. Others believe that being productive at all times is necessary for success. Neither are actually true.

On the contrary, if we are not well rested, we cannot possibly be at our best and do the most thorough and quality job. The phrase "work smarter, not harder" comes to mind when thinking about this concept. Doesn't it make sense to be as efficient as possible? When we neglect our time to relax, unwind and have fun, we are preventing ourselves from being as efficient as possible.

I encourage my clients to frequently "waste time" by relaxing, spending time with loved ones, and doing things they enjoy. The reality is that the time does not end up being wasted. It helps them to rejuvenate and have the energy to tackle necessary and desired tasks in a much more productive fashion.

Embrace imperfection

That's right: We are not, nor will we ever be, perfect. The sooner we can embrace that fact the better off we will be. We can always strive toward improvement, but many times we are not realistic in our expectations of ourselves. On top of that, when we don't meet goals we can be pretty hard on ourselves, which just adds to our already high stress levels.

To start the process of embracing imperfection, think about how great it is that you are willing to postpone certain tasks in order to spend more time with loved ones. Notice that your friends and family are not perfect either and that does not make them any less lovable. Adjust your expectations of yourself to be more realistic, and when you don't meet your goals, practice being encouraging to yourself as you make additional modifications to them.

The bottom line: Instead of trying to be a superhero, go see one in a movie and count that as some of your leisure time.

Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She specializes in treating complex trauma with EMDR. Learn more about her by visiting or email

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