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Gender role conflict and separation-individuation difficulties: their impact on college men's loneliness.

O'Neil's gender role conflict paradigm (GRC; O'Neil, Helms, Gable, David, & Wrightsman, 1986) has contributed significantly to our understanding of the psychology of men and masculinity (Good, Borst, & Wallace, 1994; Smiler, 2004; Thompson, Pleck, & Ferrera, 1992). In this paper, the relationship between the GRC paradigm and men's separation-individuation difficulties and loneliness is investigated. O'Neil, Good, and Holmes (1995) stated that gender role conflict is a psychological state in which socialized gender roles have negative consequences on the person or others. Gender role conflict occurs when rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles result in restriction, devaluation, or violation of others or self. The ultimate outcome of this kind of conflict is a restriction of the human potential, either of the person experiencing the conflict or upon another. O'Neil's GRC paradigm is based upon the Masculine Mystique and Value System (O'Neil, 1981, 1982). These are a set of complex ideal masculine values that males are socialized to accept; although, ultimately, they are based on rigid masculine stereotypes and are responsible for creating men's fear of the feminine (O'Neil, 1981; 1982).

The fear of the feminine is a key concept in the GRC paradigm and is thought responsible for producing six patterns of role conflict: restricted emotionality; socialized control, power, and competition; homophobia; restricted sexual and affectionate behaviors; obsession with success and achievement; and health care problems. Eventually, these patterns were operationalized through factor analysis into four subscales that constitute the Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS): Restricted Emotionality, Success, Power, and Competition, Conflict between Work and Family, and Restricted Affectionate Behavior Between Men (O'Neil et al., 1986). An extensive body of research connecting the GRCS to men's psychological distress and dysfunction has been produced (see O'Neil, 2002). It was hypothesized that the GRCS would be a significant predictor of psychological distress in this study as well. This study explored the GRCS as a predictor for male psychological distress as measured by separation-individuation difficulties and loneliness. This study is the first to examine these relationships.

Loneliness, Gender Role Conflict, and Separation-Individuation Difficulties

Loneliness was chosen as the measure of psychological distress to investigate with our sample because it potentially fits with the theoretical notion of the gender role conflict paradigm. In traditional male socialization, men are taught to strive for a near insular mode of existence through self-reliance and/or a wish to keep others at a distance in order to hide conflicts about their masculinity (Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Brannon, 1985; Pollack, 1995). In addition, research has shown that the GRCS is connected to interpersonal difficulties that may lay the foundation for loneliness to emerge. GRC has been related to men's rigid interpersonal behaviors and extreme interpersonal conduct including hostility, mistrust, detachment, and dominance (Mahalik, 2000). The GRCS's Restricted Emotionality subscale has been significantly associated with adult men's problems with intimacy (Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995; Fischer & Good, 1997; Good et al., 1995; Sharpe & Heppner, 1991; Sharpe, Heppner, & Dixon, 1995), the lack of interpersonal competence/closeness, less intimate self-disclosure (Bruch, Berko, & Haase, 1998), and shyness (Bruch, 2002; Bruch et al.). In addition, studies have assessed how women's perceptions of their partner's GRC are related to their own relationship satisfaction and psychological health (Breiding & Smith, 2002; Rochlen & Mahalik, 2004). Rochlen and Mahalik (2004) found that women's predictions of high scores for their partners on the Restricted Emotionality subscale significantly predicted lower relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, women's reports of their partners' high Success, Power, and Competition subscale scores predicted greater depression and anxiety and lower relationship satisfaction. Taken together, research suggests that gender role conflicted men face various intrapsychic and interpersonal difficulties that could result in the development of loneliness. Therefore, it would be significant if gender role conflict was a significant predictor in this type of psychological distress.

It is also expected that separation-individuation difficulties would influence the relationship between GRC and loneliness. Drawing on psychoanalytic observations about male roles, problems with attachment and/or separation-individuation may be a normative maturational process involved in developing one's sense of masculinity. Gender specific challenges for males have been highlighted in this process and have been referred to as disidentification (Blazina, 1997, 2001a; Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Greenson, 1968; Pollack, 1995, 1998). According to this process, originally discussed by Freud (1905) in the context of the Oedipal Complex but later expanded upon by Greenson (1968), the initial masculine identity task is to disidentify with mother and all things feminine. The second task is to counteridentify with an older male role in an attempt to solidify the masculine identity. Contemporary theorists have criticized the disidentification process as a normative but unhealthy process whereby males are emotionally traumatized, hindering their ability to form and sustain intimate relationships (Bergman, 1995; Blazina, 1997, 2001a; Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Pollack, 1995, 1998).

Research has connected males' attachment and separation-individuation difficulties with GRC. Males' attachment to both parents and GRC has been studied in a number of studies (Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Cachia, 2001; Covell, 1998; DeFranc & Mahalik, 2002; Fischer & Good, 1997; Napolitano, Mahalik, & Kenny, 1999; Schwartz, Waldo, & Higgins, 2004). These studies suggested a positive relationship between gender role conflict, attachment difficulties, and separation-individuation problems. For instance, Blazina and Watkins found that, as GRC increases in college men, so do their attachment, separation, and individuation problems with parents. Napolitano et al. (1999) found that college men who reported significantly less GRC and stress, as well as greater attachments to both parents, had a better resolution of identity development. Research that assesses variables like attachment and separation-individuation (presumably the legacy of the formative years) shows how these issues continue to affect men in adult life. Therefore, it would be a significant theoretical finding if separation-individuation difficulties along with GRC predicted loneliness.

In the present study, psychological separation from parents was measured through conflictual independence and attitudinal independence from each parent. These two dimensions of psychological separation have been found to be highly robust and conceptually congruent with the notion of separation-individuation (Blustein et al., 1991). However, this is the first study to examine them in relation to GRC masculinity. Conflictual independence is defined as freedom from excessive mistrust, guilt, resentment, and anger toward parents; whereas, attitudinal independence refers to having one's own set of attitudes, values, and beliefs that are unique from one's parents (Hoffman, 1984).


From the previous literature review, the current research tested the following hypotheses:

1. The Gender Role Conflict Scale will be a significant predictor of psychological distress (loneliness).

2. Separation-individuation difficulties (operationalized as conflictual independence and attitudinal independence from both parents) would be a significant predictors of loneliness.



The participants were 179 men ranging in age from 17 to 70 years old (M = 17.45, S.D. = 11.26). The sample was drawn from an urban university setting in the Southwest. Subjects volunteered to participate in the study in exchange for extra credit in their university course. The demographic make-up was as follows: 53% Caucasian, 20% Hispanic, 13% Asian, 10% African-American, and 4% listed as "other" ethnicities.


Participants were asked to fill out a series of questionnaires that included: the Gender Role Conflict Scale, The Psychological Separation Inventory, and the Differential Loneliness Scale. The order of administration was counterbalanced. Participants were given a packet with an anonymous code number assigned at random. Next, they filled out the questionnaires in small groups ranging from 2 to 10, and then returned them to the packet before giving them to the research assistant.


Gender Role Conflict Scale. This scale (GRCS; O'Neil et al., 1986) consists of 37 statements concerning men's thoughts and feelings about gender role behavior. Men report their agreement or disagreement with each statement on a Likert-type scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Participants receive scores for each subscale: (a) Success, Power, Competition, (b) Restrictive Emotionality; (c) Restrictive Affectionate Behavior between Men; and (d) Conflict between Work and Family Relations. (In this study, the Conflict between Work and Family Relations subscale was not used: subjects received scores for the other three GRCS subscales.) Examples of items for each subscale include: Success, Power, Competition (13 items), "I worry about failing and how it affects my doing well as a man"; Restrictive Emotionality (10 items), "I have difficulty expressing my tender feelings"; Restrictive Affectionate Behavior between Men (8 items), "Affection with other men makes me tense." Subscale scores are obtained by summing the responses to the individual subscale items; higher scores indicate greater GRC. Adequate validity and reliability have been reported for this widely used measure (Good & Mintz, 1990; Good et al., 1995). Internal consistency reliability scores ranged from .75 to .85, and test-retest reliabilities ranged from .72 to .86 for each factor.

The Psychological Separation Inventory. The PSI (Hoffman, 1984) was used to assess men's perceptions of psychological separation from mother and father. The PSI is a 138-item, Likert-type self-report inventory with scales representing four dimensions of psychological separation. Of the four scales, two were used in this study: Conflictual Independence and Attitudinal Independence. Conflictual independence is defined as freedom from excessive mistrust, guilt, resentment, and anger toward parents. Examples of items include: "I wish my mother wouldn't try to manipulate me;" and, "I feel like I am constantly at war with my father." Whereas, attitudinal independence refers to having one's own set of attitudes, values, and beliefs that are unique from one's parents (Hoffman). Examples of items include: "My values regarding honesty are similar to my mother's;" and, "My beliefs regarding how to raise children are similar to my fathef's."

Both subscales have excellent internal consistency (CI = .90; AI = .88) and Hoffman (1984) reports adequate test-retest reliabilities. Validity of the subscales can be inferred from the PSI relationship to academic adjustment and emotional problems (Hoffman, 1984; Hofffman & Weiss, 1987; Lopez, Campbell, & Watkins, 1986). Higher scores on both subscales indicate more difficulties with separation-individuation.

Differential Loneliness Scale. This self-report instrument (DLS; Schmidt & Sermat, 1983) was used to assess levels of loneliness. This is a 60-item measure used to assess overall loneliness, as well as specific subtypes such as romantic-sexual relationships, friendships, family relationships, and relationships with larger groups. Examples of items include: "Most everyone around me is a stranger;" and "I have few friends with whom I can talk openly."

For our study, we focused on the total score of loneliness. The reliability of the test is high, ranging from .90 to .92, and test-retest coefficients range from .85 to .97 over one month (Schmidt & Sermat, 1983). The validity of the measure has been established against other measures of loneliness.


Descriptive information for the sample is presented in Table 1. The intercorrelations for gender role conflict, loneliness, and separation-individuation difficulties are presented in Table 2. From the correlation matrix, we find increases in gender role conflict significantly related to loneliness scores. Further, loneliness significantly correlated with separation-individuation difficulties. In particular, conflictual independence from mother and father related to increases in loneliness scores. Contrary to what was predicted, attitudinal independence from father scores significant but inversely related to loneliness. The regression analysis presented in Table 3. found that gender role conflict and separation-individuation difficulties (conflictual independence from mother and father) were significant predictors for loneliness.


The study examined the relationship between gender role conflict, separation-individuation difficulties, and loneliness. Hypothesis one suggested that gender role conflict would be significantly related to men's loneliness. This hypothesis found support in the present study. The theoretical underpinnings of O'Neil et al.'s (1986) GRC paradigm has the potential to explain why some men develop chronic loneliness. Therefore, having the GRCS as a significant predictor is an important finding both for the researcher and the clinician.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's (1962) explanation of the etiology of chronic loneliness is consistent with our stated rationale for GRC being related to men's loneliness. To experience loneliness, even in the midst of available others, ultimately suggests an alienation from parts of oneself. In the potentially painful process of integrating all the parts of ourselves into a cohesive sense of self, there are sometimes aspects within the psyche that are deemed to be too "bad" for acceptance. And, while they may not be innately bad, socialization and family environments make some characteristics strictly off limits or taboo. The result is that these unacceptable parts are left alienated and unintegrated because there is a fear that the bad aspects will leave too dark a shadow on the self. To keep these unacceptable parts repressed, cut off, or denied, ushers in a sense of isolation from them in the psyche. This, in turn, can impact the level of authenticity, genuineness, and connection one experiences in relation to oneself. The resulting internal self-isolation is the root of more chronic loneliness. One cannot truly feel the presence of others because there is a disconnection from oneself.

On a clinical level, we suggest that high GRC men may undergo a similar process in wrestling with gender roles and the possible subsequent result of feeling lonely. That is, aspects (e.g., behaviors, thoughts, feelings, etc.) deemed as "unmanly," and therefore unacceptable, can provide the basis upon which self-isolation and subsequently loneliness develops. Fantasies of riding off into the sunset alone may be more about self-preservation in an attempt to keep this difficult material in check. Opening up to others may be experienced as leaving one vulnerable to attack or cause some internal reshuffling of conflicted material. While these conclusions are speculative in nature, in future studies it would be important to see if the link between perceived self-isolation and loneliness exists. Adding to this is the importance of establishing that lonely gender role conflicted men actually do have available others. That is, how much of the intrapsychic defense style affects the interpersonal quality of connection with self and others? It is possible that some gender role conflicted men not only feel isolated from themselves, but also push others away because of interpersonal difficulties related to intimacy, competency in revealing themselves, or an emotionally constricted inner world. Future research conducted both by the researcher and clinician should be directed toward answering these questions.

It terms of a limitation, it should be noted that in the present study only focused on an overall loneliness score. It may be that gender role conflicted men may be susceptible to certain types of loneliness (e.g., family, peers, romantic partner, etc.), which could warrant a more defined research investigation. In addition, in this study the researchers omitted the Conflict between Work and Family Relations subscale (CBWFR) within the GRCS due to concerns about the length of the questionnaire packet and some stated concerns about its validity (Good et al., 1995; Heppner, 1995; Moradi, Tokar, Schaub, Jome, & Serna, 2000). For instance, Good et al. (1995) found that the CBWFR did not correlate with another male role measure and had a lower correlation with the overall GRC scale. However, as mentioned, issues of family seem to be an important area in which to do further examination in relation to GRC and loneliness.

In regards to the second hypothesis, there was mixed support that separation-individuation difficulties would significantly predict loneliness. As predicted, both conflictual independence with mother and father related to separation-individuation problems. Because this subscale measures freedom from excessive mistrust, guilt, resentment, and anger toward parents, it would make sense that an emotionally supportive atmosphere would decrease loneliness. Though one cannot draw a causal connection, male maturation issues (i.e., separation-individuation difficulty), gender roles, and psychological well-being, seem intertwined. Blazina (2001) suggested the concept of the "masculine self" that is the socially constructed identity resulting in a gendered sense of being a man. The masculine self can be thought as being omnipresent, potentially affecting various divergent social roles from father to worker to husband to son. Further, because the masculine self is socially constructed, Blazina argued that it is subject to the same developmental precursors, conditions, and liabilities that many have argued as vital for the healthy development of one's overall sense of identity. In order to be healthy and robust, the masculine self needs experiences like empathic attunement, the right balance of emotional support and challenge, and an atmosphere that allows for authenticity. Without such crucial developmental experiences, Blazina (2001,2004) argued that the masculine self would become conflicted and fragile, limiting the individual's potential. If separation-individuation difficulties do appear amidst the gender roles ones, this would seem to impact psychology health. Clearly, more research is needed.

By contrast, the results also showed an inverse relationship between attitudinal independence from father and loneliness. That is, the more the male had attitudes independent from his father, the less likely he would experience loneliness. In traditional psychoanalytic theory, the father is seen as a healthy bridge to the outside world as well as the potential role model for the boy (Greenson, 1968). Therefore, this finding seems to contradict clinical lore about the importance of the father in a boy's healthy masculine development. Bergman (1995) has noted that boys may wish to model themselves after their fathers and yet, if the father has experienced his own gender role related wounds, he may not be able to supply the type of relationship his son desires. The boy may be left in a quandary with regard to masculine identity development and the ensuing emotional residual, which may include loneliness. The son may have to be psychologically separate from his father (including his notions of masculinity) in order to overcome the potential for loneliness. The research on the role of attachment to father and GRC has been mixed.

DeFranc and Mahalik (2002) assessed college students' attachment and separation issues as well as their perceptions of their fathers' GRC. Men who perceived their fathers as having less GRC and stress and who viewed themselves with somewhat less GRC and stress reported significantly closer attachments to both parents, particularly fathers. Other studies have assessed GRC's relationship to father mutuality (Marrocco, 2001) and attachment to parents (Covell, 1998; Swenson, 1998) with nonsignificant or mixed results. This is of importance in both the research and clinical realms to better understand how boys' attitudes toward their fathers affect their senses of psychological well-being. We would suspect that as we continue to uncover the complexities of attachment, separation-difficulties, and masculinity, other factors are also involved. In this regard, the theoretical study of the relationship between GRC and early developmental issues related to male roles and identity has only just begun. Researchers are delving into the discussion of GRC in the context of separation, individualization, disidentification, and conflictual independence (Blazina & Watkins, 2000; DeFranc & Mahalik, 2002; Fischer & Good, 1997; Schwartz, Waldo, & Higgins, 2004). So, the findings in the present study are important in the context of furthering this exploration.

Other limitations of this study include a sample that consists mainly of college-age students. There are certainly limitations with this type of sample. For instance, there are certain developmental considerations, such as separation-individuation issues, that seem to fit well with young adults. However, it would be important to see if these same dynamics are seen in an older population where one might expect matters of separation-individuation to be more resolved. This is especially true as some studies have noted differences in GRC as a function of age (Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995). In this same vein, the GRCS is a self-report measure that is more likely to tap into self concepts and perceived norms. Therefore, more behavioral assessments of masculinity that provide objective data may be of help in future studies. Another limitation is that one measure was used to represent O'Neil et al.'s gender role conflict paradigm. It is important to consider using other measures that closely approximate the GRC paradigm. Further, with the development of the Gender Role Conflict Scale-Adolescent version (Blazina, Pisecco, & O'Neil, 2005) it may be possible to replicate the present study's findings in a younger sample. This would be an important step in studying the developmental aspects of gender roles in younger males.


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Tennessee State University


University of Houston

Christopher Blazina and Anna G. Settle, Department of Psychology, Tennessee State University; Rachel Eddins, Division of Student Affairs, University of Houston.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Christopher Blazina, Department of Psychology, Tennessee State University, 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209. Electronic mail:
Table 1
Descriptive Statistics for Gender Role Conflict, Male Role Norin,
Loneliness, and Independence Scales

Scale Minimum Maximum M (SD)

Gender role conflict 62.00 210.00 130.85 (28.99)
Loneliness 1.00 41.00 15.32 (9.26)
Conflictual indep. from mother 25.00 99.00 46.69 (16.21)
Conflictual indep. from father 25.00 101.00 44.04 (16.72)
Attitudinal indep. from mother 14.00 69.00 39.45 (11.73)
Attitudinal indep. from father 14.00 70.00 38.19 (13.89)

Note. Gender Role Conflict = Sum of Gender Role Conflict Scale;
Loneliness = Sum of Differential Loneliness Scale; Conflictual indep.
from mother = Sum of Conflictual Independence from Mother scale;
Conflictual indep. from Father = Sum of Conflictual Independence from
Father; Attitudinal indep. from mother = Sum of Attitudinal
Independence from Mother scale; Attitudinal indep. from father = Sum
Attitudinal Independence from Father scale.

Table 2
Inter-Correlations between GRC, Loneliness, S-I Difficulties

 Lone. GRC indep-mother

Lone. 1.000 .340 ** .446 **
GRC 1.000 .215 **
 indep. mother 1.000
 indep. father
 indep. mother
 indep. father

 Conflictual Attitudinal Attitudinal
 indep-father indep-mother indep-father

Lone. .447 ** -.119 -0.181 *
GRC .255 ** .022 -.005
 indep. mother .612 ** .023 .171
 indep. father 1.000 .147 * .035
 indep. mother 1.000 .584 *
 indep. father 1.000

Note. GRC = Sum of Gender Role Conflict Scale; Lone. = Sum of
Differential Loneliness Scale; Conflictual indep. mother = Sum of
Conflictual Independence from Mother scale; Conflictual indep.
Father = Sum of Conflictual Independence Father; Attitudinal indep.
mother = Sum of Attitudinal Independence from Mother scale; Attitudinal
indep. father = Sum Attitudinal Independence from Father scale.

* p < .05 level (2-tailed). ** p < .01 level (2-tailed).

Table 3
Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Loneliness

Variables b se(b) b T p model

Step 1
 GRC .109 .023 .340 4.81 .000 .115
Step 2
 GRC .072 .021 .226 3.425 .001 .295
 Conflict-indep .145 .046 .200 3.161 .002
 Conflict-indep .130 .045 .234 2.876 .005

Note. GRC = Sum of Gender Role Conflict Scale; Conflictual indep.
mother = Sum of Conflictual independence from Mother scale;
Conflictual indep. Father = Sum of Conflictual Independence Father.
[DELTA][R.sup.2] = .179 for Step 2 (p < .001).
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Author:Blazina, Christopher; Settle, Anna G.; Eddins, Rachel
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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