The Psychology of Women

Welcome back again!  Thanks for all the interest in my blog, and for your thoughtful responses!

This week I’d like to look at the flip side of last week’s topic.  We discussed women’s fear of independence last week, a fear that limits some women’s lives.

The flip side of that topic to me is the idea that women may be overly blamed for being “dependent” when they value other people and spend much effort sustaining their relationships.  Caring for others is not unhealthy!

There is a relatively recent school of thought called Relational Theory that focuses on the importance to women of relationships with other people.   This theory proposes that connection to other people is a key ingredient for women in order to have a sense of well-being.

Older theories about human development said that healthy maturation required going through a separation process during adolescence, away from childlike dependence on the parents toward eventually becoming independent adults. Relational theory says that the psychology of women may not fit with these older theories and that women value relationships more than independence.  Women are not unhealthy just because we value relationships.  It is a big part of who we are.  We thrive on connections with others, and are more likely to be depressed and dissatisfied with our lives if we lack or lose our connections.

Of course it is always dangerous to generalize.  Men need to be connected to others, too.  Some women do not seem highly motivated for relationships.  But the idea is that men tend to be more achievement-oriented and women are more relationship-oriented.

So why would this concept be important to know?  What relevance does it have for women today?

For one thing, women who lack support from others are much more likely to be depressed.  If a woman is isolated and lacks a confidante, she may benefit from actively seeking support. Research has shown that the presence of a confiding relationship has been found to protect against depression!

In addition, if a woman loses support or a key relationship, this is a big stressor for her and may lead to depression.  This could happen through divorce or a breakup or death, as well as through a move or other events that lead to estrangement or separation from supporters. In such situations, it is important to pay attention to relationships and strive to develop a good support network.  It is best not to rely just on one person for support, but instead to have a set of people.

Another consequence of this need for relationships is that women put much of their energy into maintaining relationships with others and care-taking activities, and are likely to be stressed if their relationships are not going well or if their loved ones are not doing well.

So does this ring true to you?   Can you suggest ways in which relationships help or hurt women?  How can we use this knowledge to prevent depression in different circumstances?

Please share your thoughts!

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3 thoughts on “The Psychology of Women

  1. Hmmm… just some idle musings here… So let me see if I have this aright: if men more than women achieve psychological health (and avoid depression) by successfully developing autonomy and relational separation, and women more than men achieve psychological health (and avoid depression) by forming and sustaining relationships but not autonomy, then if we test this model by joining two such immiscible stereotypes in marriage – – does this explain the US divorce rate of 50% for first marriages, 60% for second marriages and 74% for third marriages?.

  2. You pose an interesting question, Jonathan! I think there are several more points to be made on this topic. One is that the relative emphasis on relationships versus autonomy is not absolute. Men need and benefit from supportive relationships, too. And as we discussed last week, women do need their independence. Yet the message I was trying to share is that women may have an especially strong need for connection in order to thrive. They would be wise to seek multiple sources of support. A network of friends is a vital ingredient for the mentally healthy woman!

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