Self-silencing, depressed mood, and anger expression and the meanings behind self-silencing within intimate relationships
Carfagnini, J. Brooke
Master of Arts
DisciplinePsychology : Clinical
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The present study investigates the silencing the self theory (STS, Jack, 1991) which proposes that more women than men are depressed (Benazzi, 2000) because of their greater tendency to self-silence in relationships to preserve harmony and to adhere to the traditional female role. The silencing the self theory as a model of depression in women suggests that the standards of behaviour, which are informed by culture, ethnicity, family, and situational context, are internalized as moral precepts for appropriate female behaviour and responsibilities within relationships. These influence the cognitive schemas of some women such that they silence certain aspects of themselves in favour of the relationship and of others. Particularly when women perceive that there is little choice in their situation or when their relationship efforts are not reciprocated, their self-silencing activities contribute to lower self-esteem, greater self-negation, and a sense of the loss of self, resulting in a divided self that is outwardly compliant but inwardly angry. This leads to occasional anger outbursts and displacement and eventually to increased vulnerability for depression as the relationship further deteriorates. Although men have been found to self-silence more than women, the link between self-silencing and depression in women is stronger (Thompson, 1995) suggesting that self-silencing might hold different meanings for the two sexes. The present study used quantitative and qualitative paradigms to investigate (a) relationships among self-silencing, anger suppression, anger expression, and depression and the differences between women and men, and (b) sex differences in the meaning of self-silencing among high self-silencers. Results showed that compared to men, women were more depressed, and more active in their silencing to attain and maintain harmony within their relationships than men. However, the consequences of silencing within one’s intimate relationship advanced by the STS model (self-silencing, anger suppression, divided self, then depression) were not upheld as unique to women. Only the tendency to judge the self by external standards predicted depression in both sexes with no significant sex difference. The qualitative findings strongly suggested that self-silencing in men is not for the purpose of control or maintaining power in favour of the man within the relationship. However, the findings did support the idea that silencing in men is an avoidance or withdrawal behaviour that may have unintended detrimental consequences for the relationship and for the individual man. Overall this study did not support the silencing the self theoiy as a gender specific or uniquely female pathway to depression for women.