The Eternal Struggle

Women and men have many things in common. However, because physically they are both different, women are liable to show their emotions more readily than men, basically in order to remain in their natural comfort zone.

With the advent of sexual equality, this had led to distress being expressed in psychosomatic illnesses, suggests a neurologist.

The drive to equality in all things may have instigated more women to suppress their emotions and behave more like men, with the result that more women are now suffering psychosomatic illness that’s likely to cause them an imbalance in their normal behaviour.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan said: ‘The majority of patients who display psychosomatic illnesses were women, which was due in part to how they express their distress.’

Speaking at the Telegraph Way with Words festival at Dartington Hall, she said it did not mean women were ‘weaker’ but that they were ‘suffering differently’ to men of the same age. When asked if there was a ‘feminist aspect’ to the statistics, she said she ‘agreed wholeheartedly with the theory that emotional stress, often seen as “feminine”, could be expressed in physical symptoms as women are taught to behave like men to get on’.

Psychosomatic illness refers to disorders with genuine physical symptoms which cannot be explained by medical tests, and can include seizures, paralysis of limbs and blindness. Dr O’Sullivan, a consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and the Epileptic Society, estimated that one in three people referred to a neurological clinic has a psychosomatic illness, but said it has not always been taken as seriously as other conditions.

‘Most of my patients are women, and I think there are a couple of reasons why that happens,’ she said. ‘One reason is because there are different ways that men and women are allowed to express emotion. I think men and women are both suffering but they are suffering differently.’

‘It does depend on social acceptability of how men and women express their distress,’ Dr O’Sullivan added. ‘It does not mean, as people sometimes think it means, that women are weaker. Men drink more. Men are more likely to commit suicide.’

Dr O’Sullivan said she hoped psychosomatic illness will be taken more seriously, with further research to investigate it. Patients are resistant to accept such a diagnosis, she said, for fear people believe they are making it up or deliberately faking symptoms.

Writing for the Telegraph earlier this year, she said: ‘When we are unwell, we tell ourselves that if we adopt a positive mental attitude, we will have a better chance of recovery. I’m sure that is correct. But society has not fully woken up to the frequency with which people do the opposite – unconsciously think themselves ill.’

Women bosses make men feel threatened and are often met with more disruptive subordinates than male counterparts, according to a study by Bocconi University in Milan. Even men who believe in gender equality said they felt their masculinity was at risk.

As one who has always surrounded himself socially, and at work, with women, I found them to be a great asset to any institution,  particularly when they refuse to behave like men and use their ingrained femininity and understanding to resolve a problem without the usual panic and impatience that men display when under pressure. They don’t need to imitate men in order to succeed. This is a dangerous mix which should be rejected out of hand as it causes more division in our society and robs us of the positive differences that bring a sparkle to our daily existence.

Men, on the other hand, should respect women, not fear them and accept them on an equal footing – for without them life is dull and becomes rather meaningless.

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