Understanding The Psychology Of Women

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Understanding the varying psychological aspects of being a woman or girl is crucial in allowing us to understand how society treats women, the expectations put on women, any problematic stereotypical gender roles, and how these areas may impact the overall mental health of women.

There are many ways society and culture affect women

Early views on female psychology

In 1925, Sigmund Freud published a paper stating that women “oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own”. These views were controversial even then, but one of his close associates, another psychologist named Karen Horney, disagreed with his views on female psychology. 

Her research suggested that differences between male and female behaviors are the result of society and nurture as opposed to nature. She also worked with patients to identify the root causes of anxieties, encouraging them to work through real-life problems in addition to looking at a patient’s childhood.

Although her refusal to agree with Freud’s ideas led to her department removing her from her role at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, Horney’s practices still influence many therapeutic approaches used in psychology and psychiatry today. 

Examining current research

Today, psychologists continue to suggest that women may experience the world differently than men because of how a patriarchal society affects them as opposed to natural differences due to gender. There may be distinct economic differences, such as the gender pay gap, or social differences, such as an expectation for women to be primary caregivers. These are examples of systemic sexism.

When exploring women's experiences compared to men's, it may be beneficial to learn about what experts call "neurosexism," which is described as "the sexist assumption that all differences between men and women are a direct result of neurological difference." 

In other words, neurosexism is the inaccurate belief that biological differences in the neurology of genders cause differences in character and behavior. Current neurological research shows no conclusive brain differences between the sexes. Women and men have the same cognitive and neuro capacity.  

This scientific fallacy began in the 19th century when researchers discovered that the average brain of a woman weighs five ounces less than the average male brain. However, we now know that brain size is caused by body mass and does not correlate with intelligence. Furthermore, one study found "no intrinsic gender differences in children's earliest numeric abilities."

Therefore, the difference between genders at the adult stage can often be explained by cultural influences and social conditioning.

Opposing views 

In Louann Brizendine's 2006 book, The Female Brain, the author suggested that differences in hormones—starting in the womb—create drastically different brains between genders. 

These hormones may impact several parts of the brain, including the anterior cingulate (decision-maker and worrier), the prefrontal cortex (emotions), and the insula (gut feelings). Brizendine believed these differences in the brain may account for differences in behavior and character.

Brizendine's book was popular, but book reviewers and scientists were heavily critical of its theories. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other scientific sources contested the lack of scientific research in the book.

In response to the criticism, Brizendine admitted, "Males and females are more alike than they are different. After all, we are the same species." The differences between brains in terms of sex may feel debatable to some, but scientific research shows more similarities than differences.


Is there a “female personality type?”

Different genders may build their personalities from the same pool of traits. For example, many of us may be influenced by our parents and siblings in early childhood and beyond. As such, there may be few differences between personality types in genders, but children may be socialized to prioritize different traits.

When studying personality, researchers often use male and female participants with the same personality inventories. There are several research studies on this topic. 


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a test developed to identify different personality types. The test reveals information on 16 different personalities, each result being a combination that includes one of the four following qualities:

  • Introversion/Extroversion
  • Intuiting/Sensing
  • Feeling/Thinking
  • Perceiving/Judging

Employers often encourage this test to be done in the workplace because they may believe certain personality types are more successful or well-suited to specific jobs than others. However, there has also been ethical controversy about how these tests have been used.

The US military did a study to see if they could predict which women would be successful at the US Naval Academy, and they found that the ESTJ types were more common among graduates. On the other hand, the ISFP and ENFP types were more common among dropouts. Overall, however, the researchers found Myers-Briggs to be inadequate for measuring the potential success of naval academy students.

Additionally, Myers-Briggs is not focused on gender. The test results will be the same for a woman and a man who respond in the same way. 

Alpha vs. beta

In the last decade, the alpha theory has become a hot topic. It's popular in magazines and websites and in some scientific research.  

Although different genders may occupy different roles in modern society, our brains are proven similar, so it may make sense that strong-willed career women are wired for more dominant behavior than the "alpha theory" might assume.

Alpha characteristics are said to include the following:

  • Sexual
  • Career-oriented
  • Dominant
  • Confident
  • Assertive
  • Confrontational
  • Funny
  • Strong
  • Competitive

The "beta personality" may have positive qualities as well and does not necessarily mean inferiority. Theorists state that those who are "beta" are: 

  • Easy-going
  • Good listeners
  • Passive
  • Nurturing
  • Gentle
  • More likely to show affection

Although alpha and beta female qualities exist, these traits may exist on a continuum. Some women may have more alpha qualities, while others may have more beta qualities, and others might be in the middle. 

Researchers in 2010 explored this spectrum using an alpha female personality test to discover more about women as leaders. They found that leadership, strength, and low-introversion qualities were "positively related" to self-esteem and emotional intelligence." In 2019, The Harvard Business Review conducted research and found that women scored higher than men in most leadership skills usually attributed to "alpha" characteristics. 

Challenges that women may face

As humans, we may all face challenges in life. The following are some issues that may specifically affect women. 


Despite the advancements of women in all types of endeavors, some people still describe women as weak, domestic, or "decorative." Many individuals may not see women as humans or only consider them to be mothers or sexual objects. Dealing with these stereotypes as a woman may eventually create a devastating psychological impact. 

Recognizing women as individuals with unique qualities, skills, ideas, and motivations may be essential in our society and culture. Stereotypes can also affect everybody. Men also face harmful assumptions that lead to stereotypes and negative consequences. However, these stereotypes are different and do not take away from the stereotypes that women face. 

Intimate partner violence and abuse 

All genders may experience relationship issues. Some of the most common relationship challenges are as follows:

  • The absence of loving feelings
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Extramarital affairs
  • Ineffective communication
  • Power struggles

However, women may experience intimate partner violence and abuse more often than men. This type of violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States, and the statistics about women who are most at risk can tell an important story. Studies show that abused women are more likely to suffer health complications like heart problems

Women who are abused may be more likely to: 

  • Have a partner who has a substance use disorder
  • Have a partner whose employment is sporadic or who has recently become unemployed
  • Have a partner with less than a high school education
  • Have been abused by an ex in the past

Reproductive challenges

Deciding whether to become pregnant may impact the rights and responsibilities of the carrier, including their physical health and well-being. 

Historically, women are often held accountable for their reproductive decisions because they often carry children in their wombs, while men may have more choices to avoid reproductive choices or the children potentially resulting from them. Additionally, they are often under pressure to put the rest of their lives on hold to have a child and become a mother. They could also face feelings of guilt for continuing to work their job after having a child.

Women and depression

According to a study, women experience depression more often than men. The global prevalence of depression for women was 5.5% in 2010, but it was only 3.2% for men. 

Researchers have studied the differences between depression among the genders and have learned that: 

  • Women had more internalizing symptoms, while men expressed more externalizing ones in depression 
  • Women had more depressive disorders related to hormonal changes, but there were few treatments designed especially for women

In certain studies, women have been found most at risk for depression when they were part of one or more of the following groups:

  • Ethnic or racial minorities 
  • Teens 
  • Professionals
  • LGBT 
  • Older adults (over 55) 
  • Low-income 
  • Physically abused 
  • Individuals with an eating disorder 
  • Individuals with a substance use disorder 

Women and anxiety

Women may also be more prone to anxiety. Although history may focus on biological differences between genders, society is often responsible for many of the challenges that contribute to women's mental health issues, including:

  • Intimate partner violence 
  • Violence against girls and women 
  • A lack of reproductive freedom and rights 
  • A lack of affordable daycare
  • Pay inequity
  • Expensive healthcare
  • Other challenges 

These issues may be a factor in the heightened anxiety of women. Additionally, studies show that women are two to three times more likely to develop PTSD than men, often due to sexual and physical abuse. 

There are many ways society and culture affect women

Treatment options

Although more research may be needed to discover the best treatments for women with anxiety or other mental health concerns, experts have identified three types of therapy that may be particularly helpful for women.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a short-term treatment for people with various mental health issues, including mood disorders, anxiety, and eating disorders. It's also proven effective for people with postpartum depression, depression during pregnancy, and other mental health crises.

What is interpersonal therapy? This treatment often aims to reduce psychiatric symptoms, improve interpersonal relationships, and increase social support. 

Interpersonal counseling deals with distress as a function of interpersonal crisis, inadequate support, the strengths and vulnerabilities people may possess in attachment, biology, psychology, and social, cultural, and spiritual factors.

Feminist therapy

If you feel marginalized by a predominantly patriarchal society, feminist therapy might be an option for you. This type of counseling often aims to recognize the voices and experiences of women and may seek to help them overcome gender, sexism, and stereotyping difficulties. It may also recognize the value and strength of all women.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven treatment for many women. With the right in-person or online therapist, we may change the thoughts that drive our unhelpful behaviors. We may also set behavioral goals and work toward them, and we can learn coping techniques and communication skills.

Online therapy

Life can feel challenging for everyone at times. Genders may have similarities in genetic makeup, but it can help to speak to someone who understands the unique psychology of your gender or the stereotypes that you face. 

Speaking with an online therapist about the effects of stereotyping and gender roles may help you manage your mental health when faced with discrimination. According to a study by Young Women Trust and University College London, young women who experience sexism are also five times more likely to experience clinical depression. Moreover, online therapy has been shown to provide positive results in treating depression and anxiety.

If you need the help and support of a therapist with this knowledge, you can discuss your concerns with a licensed counselor on an online platform such as BetterHelp for convenient online therapy on your schedule. 


While many individuals have a lot in common, we can also have unique strengths and struggles. Counseling may be a powerful way to receive support for challenges you face. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for support. 

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