So you find yourself in the hospital, in labor with your first child. You are also a college student. You have an online exam that must be completed before the end of the day, during the same time your contractions are 3 minutes apart. All you can think about is the life you want to provide for your soon-to-be born little one. So, you breathe through each contraction, non-medicated, and putting the pain aside, you continue your way through the exam. You finish, get a passing grade AND manage to bring another life into the world. What an astonishing accomplishment! Bravo! Right?
This is a true story of a young woman taking a required exam while in the process of giving birth to her daughter. Her story made the national news. As a society, we seem to celebrate these types of women’s accomplishments, contributing to the stress and expectations women face today related to the roles of career/education, family, children, care-taking and much, much more. Women live in a society where unrealistic standards are placed upon them regarding all of the above roles and then expect women to gracefully balance them all. This can result in significant stress and anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction in one’s self and in life.
Women continue to enter the workforce - some because they have to and others because they want to. Many are in marriages that they would consider less than ideal. Many are single, some because of divorce, and are tired of what the journey of being single brings. Women deal with infertility along with the pressure of raising children. Some women choose to stay in emotionally abusive relationships because they are too afraid of being alone. They deal with the betrayal of affairs that either they or their husbands have had. Stay-at-home moms deal with isolation and see the “end” of the road for them as they watch their last child leave home and find their way in the outside world. Women also tend to compare themselves to other women for what they have, who they are and what they may look like.
Women tend to seek independence, but not without the need for connection with others. Many women tend to respond during stress by caring for others and seeking relationship support. Throughout their lifespan, women tend to gather strength from their connection with others, and bring this relationship capacity to both family and work settings. Problems develop, however, when an individual has difficulty transitioning from one life phase to another or remains in an unhealthy, self-destructive relationship.
Women are sometimes highly critical of their abilities and appearance, likely influenced by the standards our culture and society place on women. An excessive focus on appearance can contribute to the development of eating disorders, a distorted body image, or withdrawal from social activities. Self-doubt, shame, and a reluctance to appear assertive often limit women from asserting themselves in academic, social and work settings. Women who have been sexually abused or raped often struggle with the aftermath of shame, anger, and distrust. In the media, air-brushed, photo-shopped images assault women with unattainable standards of beauty.
Women face health issues specific to their sex. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and aging sometimes bring emotional challenges with them. Challenges also arise when women encounter problems with infertility, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder or a range of sexual concerns. In addition to gynecological illnesses, some medical conditions affect women with greater frequency than men, such as fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, and thyroid disorders.
Women continue to advocate for equal rights and fair treatment in the work force. Discrimination can range from the more subtle but long lasting effects of lowered academic expectations for girls in science and math, to the more striking emotional and physical scars of domestic violence. Women continue to earn less on average than men earn in comparable jobs. Expectations of achieving successful careers often conflict with the demands of being a “caretaker” - whether it be caring for children or aging family members. Working mothers may struggle with feelings of guilt, while stay-athome moms may question whether they gave up too much.
By focusing on one’s inherent self-worth, women can begin to recognize and heal from feelings of always being second-best, and learn to be completely comfortable with who they are. This kind of self-assurance can give women greater control over both personal and professional relationships. If the woman taking the psychology exam would have asserted herself, she certainly wouldn’t have received national attention, but it would have created much less stress for her and her daughter during labor and delivery. By taking control and dealing with some of these issues, women can learn to make better decisions both professionally and personally and will learn to build a life that is consistent with one’s wants and needs which will lead to improving overall quality of life.