Date of Degree

9-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Steven Tuber

Committee Members

Diana Punales

Lissa Weinstein

Paul Wachtel

Benjamin Harris

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology

Keywords

psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, gender, feminine norms, depression, anxiety, women

Abstract

Background: Investigators have theorized that women may experience internalizing disorders such as depression and anxiety more frequently than men in part because of unique socialization processes that women undergo. One aspect of early socialization thought to contribute to women’s propensity for depression and anxiety is the way women are brought up to relate to themselves in relation to others, often placing greater importance on the needs, desires, and value of others, at times at a psychological cost to themselves. This study attempts to elucidate the relationship between gender socialization, relational self-concept, and internalizing symptoms in women.

Methods: Two hundred and fifty-one participants completed self-report questionnaires assessing the above relationship. The study tested a model in which a number of constructs indexing the way women relate to themselves in the context of interpersonal relationships, i.e. their relational self-concept: (1) self-worth: evaluations of one’s worth relative to that of others, (2) boundaries: the ability to see one’s self as separate in the context of interpersonal relationships, (3) rank: beliefs about the relative ranking of one’s needs and desires over those of others and (4) emotional reliance: the tendency to rely on others for the maintenance of one’s self-esteem —would partially mediate the relationships between feminine ideology (conformity to norms of femininity) and internalizing symptoms (depression and anxiety).

Results: The results partially supported the study’s hypotheses: Higher conformity to feminine norms was associated with lower self-worth, lower boundaries, lower ranking, and higher emotional reliance on others. Higher conformity to feminine norms was also found to be significantly associated with higher levels of anxiety symptoms. Contrary to the study’s hypotheses, there was no statistically significant relationship between feminine ideology and depressive symptoms. Also contrary to the study’s hypotheses, the relationship between feminine ideology and internalizing symptoms was not mediated by any of the proposed relational self-concept variables. A follow-up analysis investigating the study’s hypotheses among different racial/ ethnic groups, supported the proposed mediation model: Emotional reliance mediated 15.3% of the relationship between feminine ideology and anxiety symptoms and emotional reliance mediated 52% of the relationship between feminine ideology and depressive symptoms among Latinas.

Conclusions: Current findings demonstrate the continued importance of investigating the relationship between feminine ideology and psychological functioning in women. Findings indicate that the cultural promotion of traditional codes of femininity may be associated with problematic ways of relating to the self in relation to others, placing women in certain cultural groups at greater risk for depression and anxiety.

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