Midlife Transition and Women's Spirituality Groups: A Preliminary Investigation

Article excerpt

The purpose of this preliminary study was to describe midlife transition, spirituality, and healing of relationships for members of women's spirituality groups. Ten women completed the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (R, Paloutzian & C. Ellison, 1982) and a 45-minute interview about spirituality, religion, life transitions, relationships, and beneficial aspects of women's spirituality groups. Qualitative analysis found themes to describe spirituality: connection with a Higher Power, personal choice, connectedness with nature and people, healing, and support. The women viewed spirituality and religion as separate, yet connected, entities. Benefits of women's spirituality groups included the groups' being therapeutic, providing valued relationships, and providing social support.

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There has been growing interest in psychological literature (e.g., Hunt, 1995; Kimmel & Kazanis, 1995; Neu, 1995) about women's spiritually groups. Many of these groups exist outside of mainstream religious organizations, and very little research is available about their function and helpfulness in women's lives. In addition, until recently, very little research has focused on midlife transition for women and the special needs of women at this stage of life (Fodor & Franks, 1990). In response to this gap in the research literature and because many women's spirituality groups are composed of midlife women, the current study was designed to investigate spirituality for women who were in midlife transition.

Although some people do not make distinctions between spirituality and religion, they are actually quite different processes. For the purposes of this study, spirituality is defined as a creative force that is essential, gives life, and connects the physical to the nonphysical (Harris, Archer, & Waltke, 1980; Kittel & Friedrich, 1985). In contrast, religion is defined as the external activity of worshipping God (Kittel & Friedrich, 1985). Mattis (2000) provided some evidence of this distinction between the two terms when women in her study defined spirituality and religion differently. They viewed spirituality as including a connection to a higher power, life as being more than science defines, relationship with one's inner self and others, and life direction. In contrast, her participants viewed religion as the way that spiritual beliefs and practices were lived. Mattis concluded that, for her participants, spirituality was multidimensional. Similarly, Borysenko's (1999) sample of women described spirituality as earthy, relational, mystical, intuitive, and compassionate. The women reported gathering in groups to share their stories, pray together, and partake in rituals that helped them cope with transitions in their lives.

Because spirituality can be nebulous and difficult to define, Paloutzian and Ellison (1982) attempted to gain clarity and specificity about it through their Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWB). They viewed spirituality as including two elements, and, thus, the SWB scale has two subscales that measure a vertical dimension of people's relationship with God (Religiosity) and a horizontal dimension of people's understanding of the purpose of life and their life satisfaction (Existential; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). The Existential subscale is especially relevant for this study because it assesses life satisfaction without being specifically religious and thus captures some of the qualities of spirituality described by women in Mattis's (2000) study.

Women in midlife transition often describe this stage of life as a time of mental housecleaning (Borysenko, 1999). Sargent and Schlossberg (1988) addressed midlife changes through their transition theory of adult behavior. They suggested that adults change because they need to belong, find renewal, and take stock of their lives. Similarly, Edelstein (1999) suggested that women in midlife transition go through a process of first relinquishing their old, unhealthy relationships and beliefs and then reconnecting with their self while trying to understand how that self connects to others. …