WOMEN'S DIFFICULT TIMES AND THE REWRITING OF THE LIFE STORY

Authors


  • This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH-43948. It was first presented as the Carolyn Wood Sherif Award lecture, Division 35, American Psychological Association, San Francisco, 1991.

  • I am deeply indebted to the women of the Mills Longitudinal Study and to the graduate students and staff at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research who have contributed in many ways over many years to the Mills Project. I thank Noelle Caskey for helpful comments on this paper.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ravenna Helson, Institute of Personality Assessment and Research, University of California, 2150 Kittredge Street, Suite 2C, Berkeley, CA 94720.

Abstract

Eighty-eight women in their early 50s described their most difficult time since college, the one that had most affected their subsequent lives. The age at occurrence and theme of the difficult times were related to each other, to gender role (whether or not the women were mothers), and to the self-system as assessed by similarity of each woman's California Q-sort description to Q-sort prototypes of ego-identity status. The themes of Independent Identity and its sequelae (Put-downs at work and Abandonment) were related to adequacy of ego identity and occurrence of difficult time between ages 36 and 46. California Psychological Inventory and other data from the women at ages 27, 43, and 52 helped to explain why “rewriting of the life story” tended to occur around age 40. Work by feminist literary critics is used for additional perspective.

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