Health: TALES FROM THE THERAPIST'S COUCH - We're All Both Male and Female, after All

Article excerpt

A woman in her late thirties is in analysis because of her grief following the end of a relationship. Her partner of 10 years left her because she has no desire to have children. She is powerful in her area of work, and proud of her considerable achievement. As she talks she is frequently intolerant of her recent inability to control her emotions.

A man in his late thirties seeks out therapy due to issues related to avoidance at work. He has twice turned down openings for promotion because of anxiety about the qualities of leadership the posts required. Although he enjoys his job, he is aware that an inability to be assertive lurks beneath his lack of ambition, which in turn can lead to a moody discontent. He is a gently spoken man, extremely able at intuiting the needs of others.

Switch the genders around in these imaginary yet familiar thumbnail sketches and the woman above becomes an ambitious, mildly workaholic man without much time for the world of emotions; the man a caring, intuitive woman who puts others needs before her own. Nothing, in fact, very much out of the ordinary. As a culture we are more comfortable with what we classify as masculine behaviour being exhibited by men, so-called femininity by women. When the shoe is on the other foot, the image jars with the normative.

But what exactly does it mean to be masculine or feminine? Although hugely variable between cultures and over time, currently, in our own society, many would probably associate maleness with power, strength, logical thinking, law and order, femaleness with relatedness, intuition, spontaneity, strong feeling, nurturing.

Freud and Jung, although going separate ways over their theories of the unconscious, both agreed that there is a psychic bisexuality inherent in each of us from birth. Jung referred to the two aspects as Logos and Eros, and argued that we need each if we are to become fully rounded individuals. Unfortunately, the social pressure to come to terms with our identity as either a man or woman often results in a tendency to develop either masculine or feminine traits, rather than aspects of both. Many analysts believe that this loss constitutes one of childhood's most severe wounds.

A woman learns as a little girl that ruthlessness and loudness are criticised, while looking after others is applauded, so unconsciously follows the path of approval; a boy is teased for being "girly", and discovers he has more friends and less bother if he acts tough. …