Our world is changing, and there is no better time than now to make some personal development changes as well. In the recent past, I have been beyond overwhelmed with the idea of maintaining the perception of MY personal strength. I personally, have no desire at all to maintain this whole idea that I am “soooo strong”. Let me explain. For as long as I can remember, I have been plagued with the “Strong Black Woman” persona. Nope, it isn’t at all self-proclaimed, it is more so a box that I'd settled into over the years, as people have repeatedly affirmed me with the phrase “Robin, you are sooooo strong”, in response to me enduring and managing trauma. So, I endured…. What began; I’m sure, as a meaningful compliment to uplift me, has proven to be more of a damning statement for me than anything. Just as I think I am about to be vulnerable, open up, and just rest in my weakness, I am challenged with this statement of affirmation that I have no interest in but, feel obligated to fulfill for several reasons. Is it just me? If not, please keep reading.
When others affirm me as strong, I used to feel one of two things. Either empowered to press on, or disheartened because I’m too mentally and emotionally exhausted to fulfill the expectation. Regardless, in the past when someone told me that I was strong, I almost immediately felt like my trauma wasn’t worthy enough of me resting. I’ve found myself enduring and struggling in certain situations and emotions longer than I should’ve. Primarily because I didn’t want to disappoint friends, family, coworkers etc., or I simply wanted to be a great example of a Strong Black Woman for my daughters.
For years black women have been expected to bear the brunt of operating in many different roles simultaneously, and manage our (other people’s) emotion, while enduring or coping through trauma and exhaustion. We don’t “get to” take a day off of parenting, working, friending, "churching", serving, supporting, teaching, uplifting etc. or when we do, it’s forced by something even more traumatic such as sickness, a pandemic, or worse… terminal illness or death. We are expected to be “on”, regardless of our current circumstance. When obstacles come our way, we are expected to be STRONG, endure and persevere without rest, otherwise we are seen as being weak, lazy or less than.
I think much of this Superwoman/Strong Black Woman persona is self-imposed, while the other half of it are the racial and gender inequalities black women face; especially in the workplace. Self-imposed because we wear the "S" on our chest with pride, feeling the need to overachieve to avoid being seen as less than, undeserving or unworthy. Working tirelessly to keep the “S” on our chests, when no one even notices and acknowledges it in the workplaces. As a black woman from Ohio, who has been working for over 20 years, I have recognized the trend that I must work longer, harder, and tirelessly in order to even be thought of as a valuable contributor to the workforce. I have spent a lifetime being the minority in my field, and have experienced the racial and gender inequalities but, in all honesty, I did not quite know what to do with it besides “prove myself”. Going above, beyond and virtually responding to these inequalities by fighting myself daily to avoid being labeled as the “Angry Black Woman” (ABW). In essence, asserting yourself by speaking out in the workplace regarding the racial and gender disparities, almost always gets you the ABW label. As strong as our family, friends and acquaintances proclaim us to be, our strength and leadership is only minimized to us being “angry”.
The fact of the matter is though, as a black woman, your degree, certification, experience and other accolades come secondary to what people think of you. When was the last time you had a peer or annual review? Think about the primary compliments given by your peers and supervisors? Tenacious? Dependable? Resilient? Tireless Worker? How does that translate to your lifetime in the workplace though? For me a few things I can correlate those compliments to is returning to work 3 weeks after giving birth, 4 weeks after major surgery, and 2 weeks after major emergency surgery. Or, missing my children’s important school events, family funerals, weddings etc. If you cannot relate, congratulations! You are definitely the exception, and not the rule, and one of the lucky few. For me though, this has been my reality. The harsh reality is that the treatment that we receive as black women in the workplace is biased and unfair. Unfortunately, we have no tangible proof that this is what we are experiencing. We just know it to be true due to experience and observation. What’s the most disheartening is that many people; women especially, work their fingers to the bone, and run themselves into the ground, earning unfair wages and working for companies that do not care about them (us), nor acknowledge as human beings.
Family and Friends
Maybe you are an entrepreneur, or work isn’t where you use your “Superpowers”. Do many of your friends come to you for advice, prayer, or just to “vent”? I’m talking to the point where you do all the pouring and you often feel a bit exhausted afterward? Some of the greatest things that I learned when it comes to life; especially relationships, are boundaries and capacity. If there are no boundaries in place, your relationships will dictate to you how they will flow. When boundaries are in place however, you have an idea what to expect from the relationship AND you feel secure enough to be honest and open. How does this relate to Super Woman Syndrome??? Because, when you are able to be open and honest in your relationships, it is much easier for you to; #1 take on only those conversations, events and demands that you have the mental and emotional capacity to take on. #2 you are able to experience the power of your “NO” without ever worrying about the negative affect it may have on your relationships. I cannot definitively say that this particular issue is a “black woman” issues, but I can say that in an attempt to be a support to our family and friends, we often sacrifice our own peace, finances and time, often giving more than we have to give. Often known as pouring from an empty cup.
Yes, we are blessed to be a blessing, and we should be intentional in refilling our own cup daily but, that does not mean that you are obligated to take on other people’s junk. In the words of my former pastor; Pastor Huntley, “you are not a junkyard”. You are not always emotionally available to allow someone to dump their problems in your lap for sympathy, support or just a good old venting session. No, I am not saying you cannot be a supportive relative and friend but, I am saying know your capacity to take on certain conversations or issues. Be willing to set healthy boundaries and tell your loved one that you do not have the space for that type of problem or conversation right now.
Just like there is power in our yes, there is also power in our NO! One response is not more powerful or freeing than the other, the power lies within your ability to discern when to say yes, and when to say no.
Let’s Overcome This
S T O P I T R I G H T N O W!!!
Let that sink in…You are not super woman!!! I know, I know, “acting like” super woman can be exhilarating at times, and can make you feel stronger and accomplished but, guess what? Can I tell you something? Superheroes are not real!!! You are a whole grown real-life woman! That makes you much more strong, powerful and “valid” than some fictional “superwoman” character. You don’t need superpowers or “magic” to validate your strength! You are strong because we are made strong in our weaknesses. That is where our ultimate power comes from. (God through our weakness). Besides that, consistently depleting yourself mentally, emotionally and physically to uphold the superwoman persona typically returns null and void, especially in the workplace. They really don’t care as much as you think they do.
I do understand that it can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling obligated to stand in your strength, but please know that is not what we are called to do! Am I saying get slack and show up to work when you feel like it? Absolutely not. What I am saying is to relax and extend yourself grace and the time to rest and recover when needed. The whole “No Days Off”, and “Hustle Hard” mentality is for the ants and the birds but not for us sis. God calls us to rest and trust in him. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:29-31 NLT The only supernatural strength that we have access to, is through trusting God as we rest in him! All other attempts to be “super” are futile attempts to do the Lord’s work.
Prioritize your life appropriately so that it is in alignment with Christ first, and family second. Once you make a commitment to focus less on what your job, co-workers, or society thinks of you, not only will you break free from the exhaustive cycle of attempting to fulfill a role you weren’t created to fill, you will attract jobs/careers and relationships that will be in alignment with the priorities you have defined for your life.
Rest in your power...He sees you!