Arianna Huffington, published an article in the Huffington Post on 9/17/09 titled “The Sad, Shocking Truth about how Women are Feeling.” Huffington discusses the multiple reasons that contribute to the current increased feelings of unhappiness in women vis-à-vis men, as reported by the United States General Social Survey. According to this survey, women’s unhappiness seems to be a life long phenomenon that starts early in life and reaches its peak in late middle age. Conversely, men’s happiness seems to increase as they age.
These are hard statistics to understand, as they seem to be counter-intuitive. One would have thought, in fact, that women’s increased social and economic gains and choices during the past 40 years or so should have made them happier, not more unhappy than women in the past.
But, are women’s lives so greatly different now compared to earlier times? Of course there are many evident changes, but what’s going on underneath?
In order to answer this question, I think it is more helpful to focus on the similarities between women’s roles then and now, rather than on the differences, as most people do. For instance, Marcus Buckingham who is a regular blogger to the “Huffington Post,” makes the point that one of the reasons why women today are more unhappy than men is because they have more choices than they used to. According to Buckingham, “Choice is inherently stressful, and women are driven to distraction.” (“Blue is the New Black”, by Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 9/20/2009.)
I think statements like this miss some basic points that may not be apparent when we just look at numbers. I suggest that we need to dig deeper if we want to understand what’s really going on in women’s lives today, and look at motivations, conflicts, wishes and internalizations that contribute to making women unhappy.
I have been working with women in psychotherapy and counseling over the past 35 years. I have seen them sad, depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless, angry and frustrated. They come to my office seeking counseling for stress, anxiety, depression, relationships problems, and substance abuse. They are ashamed of needing help, and often feel like failures because they cannot maintain a positive attitude at all times. Their guilt is almost palpable when they share their unhappiness in our psychotherapy sessions. Often they feel guilty because they don’t love and enjoy every minute of their lives with their loved ones, particularly their children, as they believe they should and are still expected to do. So, women even feel guilty for feeling unhappy!
Where are all these feelings coming from? What is it that keeps women from enjoying the new freedoms they have achieved, the opportunities and choices now available to them?
There are, of course, many reasons for women’s unhappiness, and discussing each of them would be beyond the scope of this post. So, in the next two posts I will focus on specific aspects of women’s lives, as they come to light in my psychotherapy and counseling sessions with them. I will make the argument that positive changes in women’s lives may actually be more apparent than real.
I invite all of you to click on the “comment” button below to respond. I feel this is worthy of discussion!