Jean Baker Miller and Psychology of Women
Published on Friday, February 10th, 2012 at 5:56 am and is filed under Woman Psychology
The psychological development of women
In the 1970’s in psychology and psychotherapy along with ongoing publications in traditional concepts – psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, behaviorism – there are new materials and approaches: psychologists, psychotherapists have begun to investigate the influence of the sex factor in the psychological development of women. They were divided in 2 groups, one of which focused on improving existing theories, working with the concepts of “fathers” of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Another group suggested that the emergence of new values, categories and terms may result in a study of the life experience of women who psychologist, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts ignored before.
Thus the work of Jean Baker Miller “Toward a new psychology of women”, published in 1976, offered a new perspective on the psychology of women which was questioned as a concept of the traditional theories. Around the same time, sociologist Carol Gilligan has collected empirical data, reflecting the fundamental differences in the psychological and moral maturation for women and men, based on the work “In a different voice” (1982) she showed her point of view. Gilligan wrote:
”If the real experience of personal development of women does not correspond to what is written about it in books, then the official psychology enrolls the woman into the category affected by the psychological strain. However, this
Women psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists, quickly appreciated the works of Jean Baker Miller and Carol Gilligan, but it took more than a decade, until the mainstream in psychotherapy and psychology did not begin to recognize, respect and assimilate these original approaches, which confirmed the value of all new studies.
Approach to the psychology of women centered on the relationship
In the context of centered approach on relationship to the structure of psychology of women, Jean Baker Miller studied three main themes: cultural environment, relationships and personal growth paths.
The cultural environment
Developing the own model and taking into account the practice of psychological assistance, Jean Baker Miller paid special attention how women’s lives are affected by the cultural environment. In patriarchal society women are usually forced to adapt to nonreciprocal relationship.
They feel anxious, suffer, are stressful in relationships and fear of them, feeling unable to influence on important events of personal and public life and as a results they are forced to look for help of a psychologist – to address the psychological counseling or a therapist. This affects the representatives of cultural minority and ethnic groups, which are subject to racial discrimination, harassment based on sexual orientation, socio-economic status and age.
“Trying to delve deeper into the psychology of women and to describe the particularities of the psyche, we began our work with the research group, consisting of white, heterosexual, educated middle-class. Because our study covered only one group, we are aware that their results can not be regarded as the ultimate truth. For a final clarification of the issue, we continue the study of lesbians and women of color and came to this conclusion: women who belong to minorities in the process of developing the quality of life are different from what have white women who are privileged. Due to this connection, we want to emphasize that the source of personal growth can serve as the difference between people.
However, in our society, the role of these differences are underestimated: they are usually organized in a hierarchical manner and are characterized by such terms as “normal” and “desirable” or “deviant” and “undesirable”. As a result, instead of benefit and contribute to personal growth, differences cause stress and fear of relationships, distrust of people to each other and their alienation from each other, all of which causes the appearance of neurosis or depression. According to Alexander Kaplan, who belongs to the majority often “reserves the right to determine what similarities among people are essential and how to get to know people… people are understood where they fit into the conventional hierarchy of values determined by the dominant culture”. In fact, understanding the differences between people – is one of the best ways to develop the human personality and interpersonal relationships.
“It is important to evaluate the differences. Understanding the adoption of one person by another is indeed an excellent tool for improving the quality of the relationship and helps to feel its significance. The development occurs due to the fact that trying to understand you I expand my mind and say something new to myself” (Jordan, 1986, p. 89)
Centered on the relationship the model of Stone emphasizes the fact that communication with people plays a leading role in a woman’s life and seclusion and isolation are the main causes of suffering and reasons to seek for psychological advice. We share this view and believe that the psychological development of women is going through her relationships with people.
The core of Jean Baker Miller’s model was the recognition of the importance of interpersonal relationships in life and psychological development of women. Instead of engaging into the struggle for independence and autonomy, women look for love and often participate in contacts with people. A mature woman primarily is engaged in it not for herself but for others, for children.
All human experience indicates that:
1. Personal development of women takes place in the relationship;
2. Getting along with people has the greatest impact on psychological comfort;
3. The movement towards reciprocity in the relationship occurs throughout life, as a result of mutual empathy, responsiveness and impact of these relations on individual development;
“Humanity is stuck on a limited and distorted view on itself – from piercing the deepest emotions to the vision of human possibilities – only because of the subordination of women” (Jean Baker Miller, 1976).
The need of communication, emotional contract is paramount in everyone’s life. The reason for most of human misery, neurosis and depression is a lack of connections with people, the psychological isolation – and that these complaints are most frequent in psychological counseling. Jordan described the feeling of isolation: people do not believe in the possibility of being understood by others (1989).
“When people are not able to overcome the obstacles to contact with others, resulting stiffness and withdrawal can cause a severe punishment. They are often accompanied by feelings of shame and the sense that a person is not worthy of communication, despite the deep longing for it. If a person is afraid of pre-crash in interpersonal relationships, her desire to join them generates tension and prevents the free expression of feelings and thoughts” (Jordan, 1989).
For reflection. The importance of relationships
In order to better understand how important are interpersonal relationships in your life try the following exercise:
1. Think about 5-7 relationships that play an important role in your life (parents, grandparents, friend, teachers, classmates, etc)
2. Describe how the relationship with these people influenced your psychological development. How do you change with this relationship – in a better way or worse? What is your personal contribution to the relationship?
3. What impact these relations will have on your future? How they can affect your self-esteem, career, communication, goals and values system?
Path of development
The third pillar of Jean Baker Miller ‘s model was recognition of the fact that a woman’s ability to engage in interpersonal relationships and maintain their quality is quite necessary for healthy psychological growth and development. Unfortunately, this statement goes against the point of view that some personal qualities of women who do not represent the values and vice versa, are disabled and require psychological counseling. For example, a shortage is considered a woman skill to express emotions and then the great importance she gives to interpersonal relationships. In the psychological literature often are met insulting statements about women, for example “hysterical” or “too sensitive”. These terms can be found even among the criteria for the diagnosis of “mental illness” in the official American psychiatrists to “Guide do Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders of human activity”, which once again proves the against attitude to women.
Blaming this bias, Kaplan suggested a benefit referred to 2 new features related more to the man’s psychopathology, “mental disorder of independent personality” and “mental disorder of limited personality” (1983).
“Recently we began to investigate the traditional psychological model of human development as interpreted incorrectly personal experiences of men. For example, Bergman (1991) observed that society puts pressure on the boys, forcing them to give preference to competition, the strength and independence. As for women they focus on responsibility for others and care about them. Woman is oriented to interpersonal relationships, while men are more inclined to solitude. Particularly difficult is for teen girls in puberty when they try to maintain adequate self-esteem and to listen to your inner voice, they risk being rejected by society, where women need of interpersonal relationships and love is still not understood”.
For reflection. Relationships with parents
In order to better understand your relationship with parents, try the following exercise:
1. Describe the other person your recent contact with your mother (father). Then describe it again, but presenting as your parent is in the room and listens to you. Did your story change? How? Why?
2. Replay to another person or a small group the role of one of your parents. Tell us about his life from his point of view, paying attention to major events and important periods of life. Think about how events in the life of your mother (father) have influenced your feelings and your understanding of this man.