Date of Degree

6-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Margaret Rosario

Committee Members

Eric Scrimshaw

Lissa Weinstein

Diana Diamond

Forbes Singer

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology

Abstract

Research on lesbian, gay and bisexual populations has reported higher levels of emotional distress among bisexual adults than their gay and lesbian peers. Findings also demonstrate substantial variability in distress levels within populations of bisexual adults. Little research has examined reasons for this variability. Theoretical explanations for distress among bisexuals include foundations in Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Minority Stress Theory, though these theories have not addressed the variability across outcomes. The current study proposes a new theoretical model to explain variability in levels of distress across bisexual women. According to this theory, levels of psychological distress in bisexual women are explained by capacity to tolerate the inherent paradoxes and contradictions in self-perception and the ability to healthily and accurately view of others. To test this theory, 50 adult women between the ages of 26 and 36 with ongoing attractions to both women and men were assessed using quantitative and qualitative methods to gain insight into the range of distress levels within this population and predictors of distress. Psychological distress in bisexual women was hypothesized to be related to: 1) level of object-relatedness (complexity, integration, and coherence of object representations or mental images, including representations of self, self as a sexual being, mother and father with respect to bisexuality); 2) capacity to tolerate paradox (un- resolvable aspects of the self that do not inherently lead to conflict); 3) secure attachment to romantic partners and friends, and degree to which these relationships create a sense of safety and a space for playfulness; 4) and community support for bisexuality. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that the capacity to tolerate paradox would mediate the relationships between level of object-relatedness and psychological distress and between security of attachments and psychological distress. The relationship between capacity to tolerate paradox and psychological distress was expected to be moderated by level of community support. Findings included support of object-relatedness as a precursor of the capacity to tolerate paradox as well as the inverse relationship between the capacity to tolerate paradox and psychological distress. Implications for future research on bisexual individuals are discussed.

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