Understanding Female Psychology
Updated November 18, 2019
Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Understanding female psychology is an important way for women to understand themselves and each other. However, it can also help men to understand women. No matter what your perspective or position in life, understanding what it means to be a woman is an important part of being human.
In this article, we'll talk about some of the psychological differences and similarities between men and women, so you can reflect on some of the unique challenges affecting women today.
Examining the Current Research
As we talk about female psychology, we'll talk about the differences between men and women, but we want to be careful to avoid what experts call "neurosexism." Basically, neurosexism is the inaccurate belief that biological differences in the neurology of men and women cause differences in character and behavior. Current neurological research shows that these biological differences are not as significant as we thought they were in the past.
This scientific fallacy began in the 19th century when researchers discovered that the average female brain weighs five ounces less than the average male brain. However, we now know that brain size is caused by body mass and that brain size does not directly correlate with intelligence.
In fact, current research shows there is little difference between girls and boys as newborns, if any at all, so the way a brain is wired from birth doesn't seem to have much of an effect on gender differences. Instead, the differences we see between adult men and women can be explained by cultural influences or social conditioning. With this current research in mind, we'll discuss some of the key ideas behind female psychology in this article.
More About the Human Brain
In Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain, the author writes that differences in hormones starting in the womb create drastically different brains in men and women. These hormones ultimately affect many parts of the brain, including the anterior cingulate (decision-maker and worrier), the prefrontal cortex (emotions), and the insula (gut feelings). Brizendine suggests these differences in the brain may account for differences in behavior and character.
Her book was popular and sold well, but book reviewers and scientists were heavily critical of its theories. The New York Times and The Washington Post 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."
Ultimately, the differences between male and female brains are up for debate, but scientific research tends to find more similarities than differences.
Female Personality Types
Women and men build their personalities from the same pool of traits. They're both influenced by their parents and siblings in early childhood and beyond. As such, there are few differences between male and female personality types, but children may be socialized to prioritize different traits.
When studying personality, researchers typically use both male and female subjects, and both genders are usually given the same personality inventories. Read below to learn more about female-specific research on personality.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a test developed to identify different personality types. The test results reveal 16 different personalities, each a combination that includes one the four following qualities:
Employers often encourage their staff to take this test because there is some evidence that certain personality types are more successful or well-suited to specific jobs than others. There's also been some controversy about the usefulness of these tests.
The U.S. military did a study to see if they could predict which females would be successful at the U.S. 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, so other tests should be used to predict this behavior in the future.
- The Alpha Female vs The Beta Female
In the last decade, the theory of the alpha female has become a hot topic; it's not only popular in magazines and websites, but also in serious scientific research. Although men and women tend to occupy different roles in modern society, women's brains are similar to men's brains, so it makes sense that women may be wired for more dominant behavior than conventional thought might assume.
Alpha female characteristics include:
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, these traits exist on a continuum, and everyone falls somewhere. Some women have more alpha qualities, some have more beta qualities, and others are somewhere in the middle. Researchers have begun to plot this spectrum, using an alpha female personality test to discover more about women as leaders, but more research is needed to explore the unique ways women express different personality traits.
As humans, each and every one of us faces challenges in life. The following are a few of the issues that specifically affect female psychology.
Stereotyping of Women
Despite the advancements of women in all types of endeavors, some people still describe women as weak, domestic, and even "decorative." It can be difficult to deal with these stereotypes, and this is an excellent topic to discuss with a trusted friend or a qualified therapist. How do we stop this stereotyping outside of counseling? Women need to be recognized as individuals with unique qualities, skills, ideas and motivations. They also need opportunities to show what they can do.
It's important to note that stereotypes affect everybody. Men also face harmful assumptions that lead to stereotypes and negative consequences.
Both men and women have relationship issues. Some of the most common problems for couples are:
- The absence of loving feelings
- Unrealistic expectations
- Extramarital affairs
- Ineffective communication
- Power struggles
While these issues affect both men and women, women are more likely to have unrealistic expectations in relationships, but they're less likely to have extramarital affairs. Furthermore, power struggles often hurt women more than men when the man in the relationship:
- Is physically stronger
- Has greater earning power
- Receives more support for dominance
Luckily, most men and women can work out their relationship issues. A couples' counselor can guide couples to identify problems, develop communication skills, and resolve power struggles in mutually beneficial ways.
Women suffer from domestic abuse more often than men. Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States, and the statistics about women who are most at risk tell an important story. These include women who:
- Have a partner who abuses alcohol or drugs
- Have a partner whose employment is sporadic or who has recently become unemployed
- Have less than a high school education
- Have been abused by an ex
Domestic violence is a grim reality that many people deal with every day. Even people who thought they would never let it happen to them can find themselves in an abusive situation. How can we help? Friends, relatives, and others who know of the abuse can be proactive in watching for signs of trouble. They can make it clear that they're there to help, and they can encourage someone struggling with abuse to call a domestic abuse hotline.
Women and men both have reproductive issues. For a woman, deciding to if she wants to become pregnant can affect her rights and responsibilities, not to mention her physical health and wellbeing. Although men may take more responsibility these days, women are ultimately held accountable for their reproductive decisions because they have to carry the baby. Men have the luxury of avoiding certain responsibilities 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 generally prepare for a child's arrival. As such, men and women involved in a sexual relationship need to consider their reproductive choices carefully.
Women and Depression
Women suffer from major depression more often than men. For women, the global prevalence of depression was 5.5 percent in 2010, but it was only 3.2 percent for men. Researchers have studied the differences between male and female depression. Here's what they've learned:
- Women had more internalizing symptoms while men had more externalizing ones.
- Women had more depressive disorders related to hormonal changes, but there were few treatments designed especially for women.
- Studies tend to ignore hormonal differences between men and woman to generalize results for both sexes.
- Women most at risk for depression include women who are ethnic minorities, teens, professionals, lesbians, older, poor, physically abused, or suffering from eating disorders or substance abuse.
Women and Anxiety
Women are also more prone to anxiety. As with depression, women's anxiety may be at least partly related to hormones, but there is little research on the difference between anxiety in men and women. One study discovered the following:
- Women are more often prescribed psychotropic drugs for anxiety.
- Women's bodies react differently to anxiety medications.
- 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 with research and better treatment options. At the same time, society needs to deal with many of the problems that contribute to women's mental health issues, including domestic abuse and other challenges described in this article.
Female Psychology Treatment Options (h2)
Although more research is needed to discover the best treatments for women who struggle with anxiety or other mental health issues, counselors have identified three types of therapy that are particularly helpful for women.
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 to be 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 of the strengths and vulnerabilities people possess in the areas of attachment, biology, and psychology, along with social, cultural, and spiritual factors.
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, and it seeks to help women (and men) overcome difficulties related to gender, sexism, and stereotyping. It also recognizes the value and strength of women, assuming they are capable of making rational and effective decisions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment for both men and women. With the right therapist, you can change the thoughts that drive your unhelpful behaviors. You can also set behavioral goals and work toward them, and you can learn coping techniques and communications skills.
Life is hard for everyone at times. Women and men may be similar in many ways, but sometimes it helps to speak to someone who understands the unique psychology of women. If you need the help and support of a therapist with this knowledge, you can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp for convenient online therapy on your schedule.
Therapy may also be helpful for you if you're struggling to understand women. Your therapist can shed light on your difficulties and help you develop stronger relationships with the women in your life. Ultimately, a better understanding female psychology helps everyone.
Below are a couple reviews of counselors from BetterHelp who have worked with clients experiencing a range of life's challenges.
"Mark is an amazing therapist. He listens so well and has such valuable insight on male and female perspectives and issues while also not passing judgment. I have only just begun, but he has already given me so many great takeaways to improve my relationships and situations. I am filled with gratitude, and I would highly recommend him to anyone!!"
"Dr. Benton is an amazing counselor. She's very patient and provides good feedback on anything you wish to discuss with her. She has a lot of experience in her work and offers many different approaches to her therapy methods to best serve her patients. Though I was a bit apprehensive about online counseling, she has helped me through a lot and I cannot recommend her enough."
While men and women share much in common, both sexes also have unique strengths and struggles. Online counseling is a powerful way to receive support for any challenges you may face, and BetterHelp can help you find the right therapist for you. Take the first step today.