By Colette Fitzpatrick
“You are suffering from a serious case of IWS,” I say grimly to a friend over coffee.
She looks up, alarmed, “From what?!”
“Irish Woman Syndrome,” I explain, before attempting to cheer her up and tell her off for, once again, putting the needs of absolutely everyone else before her own.
What is IWS?
IWS is what I have dubbed it recently but it isn’t just an Irish issue or a women’s issue – though both of these adjectives go a long way towards worsening the severity of the symptoms – and it isn’t a new concept, by any means. It is something that a lot of us suffer from, especially Irish women. It is the constant apologising for “putting people out”, taking up space and not doing “enough”. It is the minimising and using of the word “just” before every statement or question. It is the irrepressible urge to do well in every facet of your life, while juggling the emotions and problems of those around you.
Do I have IWS?
If you have done any of the following, you are probably suffering from IWS:
– Apologised profusely for asking a favour that you would extend in a heartbeat.
– Thanked someone endlessly for doing something that is a common courtesy, not even a kindness.
– Gone above and beyond in physical or emotional labour that will go unnoticed.
– On the occasion it was noticed, you waved away effort humbly and established the expectation that it is the norm.
– Stayed silent when someone disrespected you or really hurt your feelings to avoid “causing a fuss”.
– Ignored your own urgent physical or mental needs to provide for those of others.
Why IWS is actually very serious.
On a serious note, IWS may be an unofficial term but is a real issue. The Irish woman traditionally gets on with things without a fuss. It is an expectation that has worn on and worn down generations of women. It leads to silence, isolation and stress that can exacerbate or bring on mental health problems. According to Irish Life, 13% of Irish women deal with mental health problems; more than double the number of Irish men.
While not speaking up or sharing burdens is a serious concern for men, it can be an issue for women as well. The physical health of Irish women is threatened by IWS, as well, especially as they age. The diagnosing and treating of illnesses is often looked over as women are simply “too busy”.
Ultimately, IWS dooms us and our daughters to perpetuate the same thing that generations of Irish women have endured: great emotional labour, endless expectation, isolation, and very little to say for it. So, maybe, it is time to really address the reality that we can never be all things to all people and that the strong Irish matriarch should never forget to take care of herself.
If you’re looking for something else to read, why not check out some of our most recent posts on what it’s really like to act as a juror on a rape trial and the true cost of free contraception?