Women's depression can be seen as rooted in what has become known as the "traditional core." The traditional core is a woman's cultural conscience, or a core of values and thinking that evolves from parental and societal messages about how women should behave. For example, the traditional core typically instructs women to take care of themselves only after taking care of all others, to consider the work of men to be more important than that of women, to always be thin, to never grow old, etc.
It is important to remember that while the traditional core can have a strong negative side, it also can be a real source of strength. For example, the traditional core reminds us of the value of home, family and community. It helps women to slow down from the pace of an increasingly frenetic world to focus on what's really meaningful, such as family celebrations, playing with our children, etc. The traditional core also thrives on a strong sense of connection to other people; these relationships enrich our lives and make us healthier people.
The traditional core survived for centuries because it was convenient for both men and women. However, by the 1960's the traditional core began to unravel, as society changed. Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique" struck a chord with women who had been struggling to identify the "problem that had no name." Traditional feminine roles were leaving many women feeling emotionally bankrupt and bored. Women began entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers either due to economic necessity or choice, or both. The divorce rate escalated and many women found themselves single parenting. While women may feel enthusiastic about taking a stand and violating the traditional core, most of us also feel uneasy and anxious.
The traditional core is a fertile ground for depression as women struggle with the values of the traditional core and the realities of modern life. It is not surprising that women experience feelings of anger, resentment, low self-esteem and depression as we struggle to find the "right" answer during a time of such cultural collision. Most of us compromise in ways we wish we didn't have to, no matter what we do.
Numerous depressions can spring from the traditional core. These depressions, while a source of pain, can also be seen as an opportunity for learning. They constitute a kind of red flag that change is necessary if we are to enjoy optimal mental health.
These depressions can be categorized as follows:
It is important to discover and understand both the negative and positive qualities of this powerful traditional core. Such understanding of our cultural heritage and present cultural experience can make us more aware. We can develop healthy coping strategies and make better decisions when we reach critical choice points during our lives (eg. concerning romantic relationships, children, work, schooling). Depression can imprison female creativity, but it can also serve as a catalyst for change.
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