This common “superwoman” mantra is actually holding us back

Written by Katy Harrington

Katy Harrington is Stylist’s commissioning editor and acting deputy digital editor.

Mantras can be helpful but what if you are stuck with one that’s not serving you well?

Mantras – a sacred utterance, a  sound, syllable, word or group of words, were originally composed in Vedic Sanskrit in India. Especially prevalent in Hinduism and Buddhism, mantras are believed to have a special spiritual power. 

Today, mantras have gone mainstream, becoming part of our modern lexicon the world over. They are invoked at the beginning and end of yoga classes, shared on social media, printed on calendars, tattooed on our bodies and part of everyday conversation. Celebrities and business people love to share their ‘mantras’ – the phrases or philosophies they live by. For many, they become deeply ingrained, providing a reminder of what is important to them daily. The potential benefits of having or repeating a mantra are cited as being improved mood and well-being and reduced anxiety.

But what about mantras that don’t serve us well? 

In a new Psychology Today article entitled Mantras That Keep Us Stuck, author, speaker, psychotherapist Andrea Mathews argues that some mantras “hypnotize us into repetitive patterns that deny us access to authentic choices.”

She writes: “We don’t know it, but we are often hypnotizing ourselves into doing the same thing over and over again throughout our lives. We use self-talk, a soft chatter in the brain, to repeat and repeat the same mistakes, the same interactions that get us into trouble, the same attractions, the same patterns of behaviour. And we don’t even know that we are talking ourselves into it.”

Mathews goes on to identify some of the more unhelpful mantras we repeat to ourselves, including the superwoman mantra. 

The superwoman mantra

If you have ever heard or used the expression: “If you want something done right, do it yourself”, then you are already familiar with the superman/superwoman mantra. 

But how is this harmful? “This mantra keeps her stuck doing it all, peopling her life with people who are passive and will let her do it all”, Mathews explains. 

Other mantras that hold us back

The article details other mantras that might be holding us back. 

For example, the ‘Runaway’ mantra, which manifests in an “I don’t need this stuff. Get me out of here” attitude. 

“This mantra keeps the runaway in a pattern of geographical or positional cures. She can’t stand emotions, won’t stay for the complexities of relational dynamics, and won’t be there for anyone, including herself”, Mathews expands. 

Others include the ‘Scapegoat’, i.e. the person who thinks they must prove themselves to be a good person at all costs.

“This mantra keeps her in a pattern of sacrificing for others to the point of utter exhaustion, if need be, because she is chasing that ultimate feeling of worthiness—a feeling she never can allow herself to attain. She is trying to be good in order to not feel like the bad person she down-deep perceives herself to be”, Mathews writes. 

There is also the ‘Victim Identity’. This takes hold in form of thoughts like: “You have to take care of me, because it is impossible for me to take care of myself—life is just too hard for me.”

Mathews says this mantra can keeps people “stuck in seeking out either relationships in which she will be rescued or relationships in which she will be victimized—or both. The mantra reflects a belief that she’s had it harder than anyone else and she just must be taken care of in order to survive.”

The good news is that we can change the narrative and stop taking on too much if the mantras is not helpful. Mathews says; “If and when you find these mantras in your own self-talk, you might want to seek out a therapist who can help you find its origins and begin to change your mantra.”

Andrea Mathews is a licensed professional counselor based in the USA. She has over 30 years experience in the mental health and human services field. For the past 23 years, she has provided cognitive and transpersonal therapy for a variety of issues and diagnoses in a solo private practice.

Her book Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self is available from Amazon. 

Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

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