Lesbian lives: Personal ideology, mental health and self identity

Beth Shaw, Marquette University


Personal ideology is a component of personality that guides an individual's understanding of where value lies in life. Information on lesbians and personal ideology is a sparsely researched domain. Due to this group's position as a stigmatized minority, it is likely that a lesbian's personal ideology plays a significant role in how she adapts and functions within a society grounded in distinctly heterosexual norms. In this study, Silvan Tomkins' (1963, 1965, 1987) polarity theory of ideology was used to examine how personal ideology functions in the lives of lesbians. Two hundred twenty-six self-identified lesbians were surveyed to address two primary goals: (1) to investigate how individual differences in personal ideology impact the mental health of lesbians, and (2) to explore how personal ideology manifests in the self identities or life stories of lesbians. Data was collected using both quantitative and qualitative methods to gather information on ideology, mental wellness, and self-identity in a lesbian sample. A grounded theory approach was used to examine exemplar narratives and develop hypotheses regarding the manifestation of the two defining dimensions of personal ideology in lesbian stories, namely, humanism and normativism. Descriptive analysis reveals a snapshot of mental health concerns and reasons for seeking mental health treatment in a lesbian sample. Results of the study generally did not support predicted hypotheses in that differences in levels of humanistic and normative ideology were not significantly related to mental health variables. Moreover, hypotheses generated from grounded theory analysis of ideological exemplars were not supported upon examination of the remaining narratives, and thus, did not reflect true normative/humanistic differences in lesbian expression of life episodes. Alternative explanations and directions for future research are discussed.

Recommended Citation

Shaw, Beth, "Lesbian lives: Personal ideology, mental health and self identity" (2009). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3357978.