Understanding Female Psychology
Updated December 20, 2018
Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT
The idea of learning about female psychology secrets may seem appealing whether you're trying to date the woman of your dreams or be the woman of your dreams. No matter what your perspective or position in life, understanding what women are all about is an important part of being human.
- Female Psychology: The Female Brain
If you think women think differently than men, you're right! Perhaps, that's because the differences between male and female brains psychology researchers have found are phenomenal. Here are some of the ways the female brain is exceptional.
- The anterior cingulate, the part of the brain that's both the decision-maker and worrier, is larger in women.
- The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages emotions, is larger in women. It also comes of age earlier.
- The insula, responsible for gut feelings, is not only larger in women, but it's also more responsive.
- The hypothalamus starts working toward hormonal changes earlier in females.
- The amygdala, the brain piece that generates the most intense emotions and instincts are larger in men.
- The hippocampus, key to long-term memory, is larger in women.
- The corpus callosum, a band of fibers that connects right and left hemispheres of the brain, is the same in both when adjusted for cerebral size.
- Female Personality Types
Women and men, despite the differences between them, build their personalities from the same pool of traits. They're both influenced by their parents and siblings in early childhood and beyond. Female personality type's psychology researchers study is typically the same types as for men, but which are more common and the ways they're expressed may be different. Researchers typically use both male and female subjects when studying personality. Both are usually given the same personality inventories.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a test developed to identify different personality types. The test results reveal 16 different personalities, each a different combination with one each of the following pairs:
Often, employers encourage their staff to take this test, because there has been some evidence that certain personality types are more successful or well-suited to specific jobs than others. There's been some controversy about how useful these tests are, though.
The U.S. military did a study to see if they could predict which females would be successful at the U.S. Naval Academy. The ESTJ types were more common among graduates. The ISFP and ENFP types were more common among dropouts. Overall, the researchers found Myers-Briggs to be inadequate for measuring the potential success of naval academy students. They concluded that other tests should be used in the future.
The Alpha Female
In about the last decade, the theory of the alpha female has become a hot topic. Not only popular magazines and websites but also serious scientific researchers have weighed in on the subject.
The alpha female is often defined as a woman who is dominant, powerful, successful, socially skilled, sexy, and the center of attention. The alpha female characteristics psychology experts point to include:
The Beta Female
The beta female, the lesser-known sister of the alpha, has many positive qualities as well. Some of their personal qualities include:
- Good listeners
Although there are both alpha and beta female qualities, everyone is on a continuum. Some women have more alpha qualities, some have more beta qualities, and others fall somewhere in the middle. Researchers have begun to plot this spectrum, using an alpha female personality test to discover more about women as leaders. More research is needed to explore the unique ways women express different personality types.
Women's Greatest Challenges
Women are different from men in another important way. They commonly face many challenges that men rarely experience. Other difficulties aren't exclusive to women but affect women in different ways and for different reasons. The following are a few of the problems that make female psychology unique.
Stereotyping Of Women
Many different groups in society are burdened with being stereotyped, but none more than women. Despite the advancements of women in all types of endeavors, women are still often categorized as weak, domestic, and "decorative." While men are gladly accepted into the upper echelons of nearly every business, women are still fighting to break that ever-present glass ceiling.
What do women need from each other and the men in their lives for relief from the stereotyping? They need to be recognized as individuals with their qualities, skills, ideas, and motivations. They need opportunities to show what they can do.
Both men and women have relationship issues. Some of the most important problems for couples are:
- The absence of loving feelings
- Unrealistic expectations
- Extramarital affairs
- Ineffective communication
- Power struggles
While these are certainly challenging for both men and women, women are more likely to have unrealistic expectations but less likely to have extramarital affairs. Power struggles often hurt women more in certain common circumstances:
- When the man is physically stronger.
- When the man has greater earning power.
- When the man receives more support for dominance.
Men and women can work out their relationship issues. A couples' counselor can guide them in identifying problems, developing better communication skills, and resolving power struggles in mutually beneficial ways.
Domestic abuse happens to women more often than men. Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the U.S. The statistics on which women are most at risk of injury due to domestic violence tell an important story. Women most at risk are those who:
- Have a partner who abuses alcohol.
- Have a partner who uses drugs.
- Have a partner whose employment is sporadic.
- Have a partner who has recently become unemployed.
- Have less than a high school education.
- Are abused by an ex.
Notice that of all these risk factors, the only one that says anything about the woman herself is education level. This is not a reason to be abused. Instead, it may be due to the lack of resources the woman has to escape the abuse.
Domestic violence is a grim reality that many women deal with every day. Even women who thought they would never let it happen to them can find themselves being abused. So, what can anyone do about it? Friends, relatives, and others who are aware of the abuse can be proactive in watching for signs of trouble. They can make it clear to the abused woman that they're there to help. They can encourage them to call a domestic abuse hotline.
Women and men both have reproductive issues. For women, the issue of whether to become pregnant or not affects her rights and responsibilities as well as her physical health and well-being. Although men may take more responsibility these days, women are ultimately held accountable for their reproductive decisions. Men have the luxury of avoiding responsibility if they choose.
Does this mean that women are better parents than men? Not necessarily. It means that women's bodies do the work of pregnancy while men simply wait for the blessed event. A woman involved in a sexual relationship needs respect and consideration for her reproductive choices.
Women and Depression
Women suffer from major depression more often than men. For women, the global prevalence of depression was 5.5% in 2010, while for men, it was only 3.2%. Researchers studied the differences between male and female depression. Here are some of their results:
- Women had more internalizing symptoms while men had more externalizing ones.
- Women had more depressive disorders related to hormonal changes, yet there were few treatments designed especially for women.
- Studies tended to ignore the hormonal differences to generalize results for both men and women.
- Women most at risk for depression included women who are: ethnic minorities, teens, professionals, lesbians, older, suffering from eating disorders or substance abuse, poor, or physically abused.
Women and Anxiety
Women are also more prone to anxiety. Just like with depression, women's anxiety may be at least partly related to hormonal factors. Little research has been done to discover how women's anxiety is different from men's. One study found the following facts about female anxiety:
- Women are more often prescribed psychotropic drugs for anxiety.
- Women's bodies react differently to anxiety meds than men's.
- Hormones are likely an important factor in the cause of female anxiety.
The biological bases of depression and anxiety in women certainly need to be addressed in research and treatment. At the same time, issues that contribute to women's mental health issues need to be dealt with in society. In the meantime, women can face their challenges on their own when they can or with help when needed.
Female Psychology Treatment Options
Although more research is needed to discover the best treatments for women, counselors can already help them using several different types of therapy. Three therapies that have been helpful for women are interpersonal therapy, feminist therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Interpersonal therapy is a short-term treatment for women and men with a variety of mental health issues, including mood disorders, anxiety, and eating disorders. It's also proven effective for women with postpartum depression, depression during pregnancy, and other mental health crises.
What is interpersonal therapy? This type of treatment aims to reduce psychiatric symptoms, improve interpersonal relationships, and increase social support. It deals with distress as a function of interpersonal crisis, inadequate support, and all the strengths and vulnerabilities you possess in the areas of attachment, biology, psychology, social, cultural, and spiritual.
If you feel marginalized by a still predominantly patriarchal society, feminist therapy might be right for you. It recognizes the voices and experiences of women. It seeks to help women (and men) overcome difficulties related to gender, sexism, and stereotyping. It recognizes the value and strength of women and assumes they are capable of making rational and effective decisions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is well-proven as a treatment for both men and women. With the right therapist, you can change the thoughts that are behind your unhelpful behaviors. You can set behavioral goals and work towards them. You can also learn coping techniques and communications skills in CBT.
Life is hard for everyone at times. Women's strengths, as well as problems, are sometimes much different than men's. If you or a woman you know needs the help and support of a therapist, you can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com for convenient online therapy on your schedule.
You can also choose therapy if you find women too hard to understand. Your therapist can shed light on your difficulties and help you develop stronger relationships with the women in your life. Understanding female psychology can make an enormous difference in the quality of life for both men and women.