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Symonds, A. (1972). Discussion. Contemp. Psychoanal., 8(2):224-227.

(1972). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 8(2):224-227


Alexandra Symonds, M.D.

THESE COMMENTS are stimulated by Dr. Moulton's reference to the failure of women to fulfill their promise after gaining admission to many spheres from which they were previously barred. She quotes Cynthia Epstein's statement on the tendency of highly trained women to "underperform, underachieve and underproduce." For example, many more women choose a career in nursing rather than medicine, or choose to be nursery-school teachers rather than college teachers. How do we account for this fact? As analysts we know that external discrimination does not adequately explain it.

As a result of cultural pressures from birth, most women accept the neurotically dependent, self-effacing solution in life. (I use the terms dependent and self-effacing as described by Karen Horney.) In fact, this is the character pattern that most cultures consider normal and refer to as "feminine." It is not a superficial social facade, but rather a profound, deeply rooted neurotic personality pattern in which the individual subordinates himself to others, becomes dependent on them, and spends most of his energies searching for help, protection, and love. When this happens, certain impulses and behavior are taboo, and others are highly valued. The qualities of love and lovableness become of highest importance, and from childhood on, he or she works hard at developing the type of personality which, it is felt, will be most acceptable to others. The individual tries to be agreeable, sympathetic, and compassionate, avoiding friction or disagreement. Since he anxiously needs love and acceptance from others, he will go to any lengths to get it. Above all, such an individual must not antagonize anyone. Therefore, he rigidly represses any impulse which may be construed by others as hostile.

Inevitably, certain unfortunate complications develop. By suppressing all impulses that could be regarded by others as hostile, he also suppresses spontaneity and has great difficulty with self-assertion. This will show itself in small ways as well as large.

If a group is trying to decide which movie to go to or which restaurant, the self-effacing person will not express his preference.

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