The phrase "Southern Women's Syndrome" refers to an observation made while providing therapy services to women in North Carolina. Women came for therapy presenting with extreme anxiety and feelings of guilt and obligation. As we explored their feelings and the source of those feelings, it was noted that they grew up with the understanding that everyone and everything else came before their own needs. Their ingrained value system told them that they were only valuable for what they did for others.
One of the traits of Southern Women's Syndrome is an extreme difficulty or inability to say "no" to any request by a family member or friend. While altruism and doing things for others is a wonderful and necessary component to living in community, balance is needed for good mental health and enjoyment of life. Women experiencing Southern Women's Syndrome find that they are constantly being overwhelmed by their sense of obligation. The automatic response to any request is "yes" when it might not be a good idea to do so. There seems to be a lack of consideration to the other tasks that are already in front of them or anything that the individual might want to do for her self.
People from anywhere can be affected by the concept of Southern Women's Syndrome. It is referred to as Southern Women's Syndrome because the concept was identified while working with women living in the South (specifically North Carolina). While exploring this concept with women who lived in NC but had not grown up in the South, many women were able to identify with the struggle of standing up for themselves, creating time for self-care, and participating in activities based on own preferences instead of constantly deferring to the preferences of others.
Women experiencing Southern Women's Syndrome feel overworked and under appreciated. They often say in therapy that they always help others, but when they need help, no one is to be found. They say it feels lonely constantly helping others while getting no support from others and their own needs being dismissed. They become anxious and very unhappy in their lives when they can't seem to please everyone and do everything that others ask of them. They feel selfish when they do anything for themselves. They feel unworthy of receiving positives from other people. They take on more and more obligations and find they become less and less effective.
Know that it is important to have balance in your life. Putting others first is a wonderful ideal. If you don't take care of yourself, you are less able to care for others. Learning to say "no" when it is appropriate is an important skill. Believing that you deserve to do somethings that you want to do every now and then is necessary to keep you energized. Learn how to express your needs, create social support, and set appropriate boundaries so that you can know that your happiness is just as important as the happiness of others.