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NONASSERTIVENESS TRAINING AND THE FEMALE STRESS SYNDROME: THE HIGH PRICE OF SUGAR AND SPICE

The results of nature and/or nurture are swift. By eighteen months of age, girls already show more control over their tempers than do boys. But this sort of control can have a price.

Anxiety that is not directly related to a specific external cause often stems from fear of one's own unacceptable internal impulses. If girls are treated as though their aggressive, assertive, and achieving impulses are unexpected and even undesirable, we can logically anticipate a high anxiety level in young girls as they struggle to control these natural impulses.

Maccoby also quotes studies indicating that both teacher evaluations and self-reports show girls higher than boys on anxiety scales.

Although self-control can be an important ingredient in the development of mature coping strategies, the repression of strong impulses consumes energy and contributes to frustration, depression, and the Female Stress Syndrome.

In high school, Lea had been a star. She was editor of the school yearbook, president of the Spanish club, and captain of the girl's basketball team. Her friends, parents, and teachers all told her that she was special hardworking, social, and pretty.

Off went Lea to college, where the entire freshman class, she soon learned, was special! Each member had also been a star. Without social, parental, or teacher feedback, Lea began to lose her confidence and her ability to cope. Once that happened, she felt that she was losing control over her ability to achieve and concentrate. High demands, low control, and no positive reinforcements: stress!

Lea was in and out of the infirmary all that year. She had a free-floating fearfulness and kept pinning her sense that something was wrong on her body. Soon, in fact, she did develop mononucleosis and actually moved into the infirmary. This relieved her anxiety for awhile, since she felt, again, as if she were home and under someone's watchful eye. Her impulses to quit school, be taken care of, or, at the very least, stop putting her energy into trying to be so special, were again safely under control. She had learned to perform for others when she was young, and now was on her own . . . passive and purposeless.

Lea's case is not uncommon. Society sends girls a strong message: "Control yourselves!"

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