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A Self-Compassionate Superwoman: Navigating the Blood, Sweat, and Tears of Academia

Rachel D Mapenzi, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


As women continue to pursue advanced careers, the salience of meeting traditional gender role expectations continues to persist (Killy & Borgen, 2000; Komarovsky 1946, 2004; Lips, 2006; Sommers, 1985). As a result, some women may feel pressure to strive towards excellence in their careers in addition to other life roles, which is described as the superwoman complex (SWC; Whitty, 2001). Given that graduate and professional degrees are the highest form of academic excellence, requires superior performance, and can include gender-related obstacles, women may experience increased amounts of stress and pressure as compared to their male colleagues. When considering these elevated academic pressures in conjunction with other life roles (e.g., balancing work and family), female graduate and professional students may struggle to take a break from the pressures and be kind towards themselves. Self-compassion refers to the ability to evaluate one’s pain, failures, and deficiencies in a non-judgmental manner and can reduce stress and consequences to perfectionistic tendencies (Neff, 2003). The current study employed phenomenological methodology to understand the meaning of female graduate and professional student’s unique experience with the SWC and self-compassion while pursuing advanced degrees. The purpose of this phenomenological study is to describe the experience of the SWC in female graduate and professional students’ lives. Additionally, the current study is particularly interested in understanding female graduate and professional students’ experience of treating themselves with compassion as they navigate the pressures to be excellent in multiple roles. Findings and implications were discussed.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology|Womens studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Mapenzi, Rachel D, "A Self-Compassionate Superwoman: Navigating the Blood, Sweat, and Tears of Academia" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI22589178.