The Super(wo)man Trap
By Pamina Mullins
Do you pride yourself in your ability to tackle the tough stuff of life—single handed? Is your confidence in your abilities so ingrained, that it doesn’t occur to you to ask for help? And when help is offered, is your instinctive response no thanks, I got it?
I know this feeling well.
The formulaic feel-good patter of it’ll be alright, tell me what the problem is or the worst one of all--just surrender used to fill me with rage. I despised what I perceived as the passivity and co-dependency they represented, with a passion!
I did—for the longest time. I automatically assumed I would be responsible for others too. It never occurred to me for a moment that I could share the load. Why would I want to anyway, when I could handle it myself?
Until I hit a major life crisis, that is.
Yup, it’s oh so easy to get caught in your own Super(wo)man trap. Self sufficiency has never been more admired and valued than it is now. It is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it pervades our work lives, our relationships and our health choices. Asking for help can seem unnatural.
But self reliance is a positive quality, right? How could it possibly lead to self sabotage?
When it’s too extreme! When it’s out of balance!
Let me explain. When we’ve been super-self-sufficient for a long time:
• The burden of relentless responsibility can cause stress
• Personal needs go unrecognized, unspoken and unfulfilled and resentment sets in
• The bar gets higher and so does the risk of burnout
• Your ability to ask for help in a crisis is practically impossible
• Your strategy for success may be misguided, but you go ahead anyway
• It can breed resentment in a partnership, when the partner feels unnecessary or invalidated
• It can lead to being taken for granted in a relationship. When you’ve got it so often, people give up offering to help—then you get pissed off
• It creates or compounds learned helplessness in partners, teams and families
• It can cause you to re-invent the wheel, instead of co-opting existing expertise
• It wastes time and energy, when you could be using team energy
• It can give you tunnel vision, because of your inability to ask advice
• It keeps you stuck, instead of considering other’s opinions or perspectives
If you had a self sufficiency program installed through necessity (or perceived necessity) at an early age or through constant repetition, it becomes your default program. You don’t even realize you’re doing it. And it can be a survival skill of great value at that time. But when your environment or circumstances change, instead of being an asset—it can easily become a liability.
We all view life and other people through our habitual filters.
So, if you’ve spent a decade or two building a Super(wo)man identity, this image sticks; you identify with it, and others buy into this identity, because you’ve unconsciously taught them to. Even when you do become aware that your self sufficiency has become a problem, it can be tough convincing others that you’re not always willing or able to fulfill this habitual leadership role.
What can you do to change this dynamic?
Use the ACT Formula.
A — What are you Afraid of? Yes—you. You’re not afraid? Well, what stops you from asking for help then? Is it fear of rejection? Appearing vulnerable to others? Surrendering power or independence?
C — Let go of feeling you have to Control everything; that asking feels like giving up that control. Clearly if you are struggling, the answer is that right now you aren’t in control.
T — Learn to Trust yourself—enough to risk reaching out and trusting someone else to help you carry the load, or solve the problem. Pick the right person, right time and right place, take a deep breath and ask would you show me how to do this or when would be the best time for you to help me gain clarity on this? Reframe asking for help or input as a strength. After all, it takes courage and strengthens connections between people.
Are your Super(wo)man strategies not working so well for you any more?
Relax – this can be a good thing!
When you have no option, but to ask for help, it can feel like a DIY appendectomy at first—but it can also be enormously freeing; and make you way more productive!
Give yourself permission to ask what do I need and what or who can help me get it? Without beating yourself up admit that you’ve played a part in creating this identity. Let people know that there are times when you do need help. When you do it all yourself, you often breed laziness or neediness in others.
Because you’re so capable do you forget to show appreciation for someone else’s input?
It’s no big deal when you do it, so you don’t make it a big deal when they do it. But a little appreciation goes a long way, and will insure that next time you need help, they will be eager to oblige. In fact they will be thrilled! Thrilled to be included; thrilled to be validated and appreciated; thrilled to be part of your team.
Learning not to always handle it all yourself makes sense. If you have a team, what sense is there in doing everything yourself? What sense is there in not using the resources at your disposal?
I’ve learned to balance my self sufficiency—and believe me, it’s liberating beyond measure!
Are you shooting yourself in the foot by trying to be Super(wo)man?