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A Girl's Experience's picture

A Girl’s Experience

A Book Review after Reading: Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph.D

In the famous Shakespeare play Hamlet, Ophelia, due to her emphatic love for Hamlet, loses her sense of self and lives only for the sole reason to please his desires. When she fails to meet these expectations, she is torn apart and commits suicide by drowning herself. Like Ophelia, this book deals with the topic of adolescent girls and their social/cultural issues that they have to deal with, trying to impress and live through others’ expectations rather than their own, and coping with various different psychological confusion and disorders resulting from these experiences. These issues, are discussed from different viewpoints, explaining each in comparison and contrast between different generation gaps and sex gaps.

The American media has a large effect on the social culture of where American girls of age 12 to 19 are maturing in and form many of the standards that determine the expected output from the common American girl. Girls are forced to deal with drugs, sex, violence, thinness, academics, etc. along with friends at school, relationships with teachers and most of all, their family. Also with the influences of the rapidly developing technologies of the media (internet, television, etc.), these boundaries of which the girls are nurtured in are constantly changing, causing a large probability of confusion to cloud the mental state, resulting in many developmental mental disorders. Between generations there is an increased number of girls with depression, eating disorders from negative body image and self esteem, and true/false self conflict. But not only is there a boundary of comparison drawn between the age generation gaps between women in the population, there is also a huge boundary drawn between different sexes. The treatment that society has comparing males and females is very different. Both in education, the media and the cultural discourse in general create different boundaries of growth for the different sexes, thus, causing different outcomes between males and females. Here, once again, it is more common to find an adolescent girl who deals with mental disorders triggered by negative self image than an adolescent boy dealing with the same issue.

The book presents many different case studies that Dr. Pipher has encountered through many sessions of therapy with different girls and shows a set of observations that seem to trigger these similar outcomes. She notices that much exposure to pressured, conflicting boundaries, such as sex, drugs and being accepted into a group atmosphere versus being yourself, causes much confusion in the girls’ minds and as a defense mechanism, personalities become introverted, avoiding conversation and social contact, thus encouraging only more confusion to cloud the mind on her own. This eventually leads to constant thoughts of failure to meet others’ expectations, negative self-image, depression and sometimes even self punishment and abuse.

All of these issues that are dealt with, happen more to girls of adolescence versus girls who are of pre-adolescence. During adolescence, many physical changes occur in the female body and there are many hormonal changes that trigger a different mindset of female survival instincts. Due to the hormonal changes, the input filter of the nervous system is changed, causing the brain to release a variant mental response, resulting in a completely different output than before the changes. Thus, girls in adolescence are under the influence of different chemical waters bathing the nervous system, which give a different output for each input compared to other females of different age (different chemicals for different ages/generations) and males (males are influenced by completely different chemical hormones).

But with the constantly changing social expectations from generation to generation, parents (especially mothers) find it difficult to relate to the issues their daughters have to deal with. Although the bathing waters of their nervous system may have been the same when they were the same age, the material of the input is completely different than any experience they had to deal with when they were younger. This results in conflicts between mothers and daughter s.

The resulting response and development of the nervous system is dependant on both factors, the input experience and the bathing chemicals of the nervous system. Although many can argue that the input experience may all be fabrications in the brain and of human’s consciousness and I-function, the chemical basis can determine whether or not the result can be highly detrimental and confusing to the self or completely innocuous to the mind.

*Book Read:

Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: G.P Putnam's Sons, 1994.


Paul Grobstein's picture

Ophelia and the bathing waters

Yep, hormones do indeed change the experience for a given input. And so not only other people but a person oneself may find things a bit confusing as hormones change. So how should mothers and daughters (or anyone else) deal with this?