Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Suzanne C. Swan

Abstract

There are several research studies which suggest that, when confronted with stress or trauma, Black women in the United States seek help less than other populations, particularly White women. Part of the reason for this reluctance towards help-seeking may be explained by the American cultural stereotype of the Strong Black Woman (SBW). The Strong Black Woman is one who overcomes all obstacles, remains strong despite problems, and sacrifices herself for others. Research on the Strong Black Woman stereotype is scarce, but the limited research that exists found that the stereotype consists of 3 factors: Mask of Strength, Self-Reliance/Strength, and Caretaking. Mask of Strength refers to emotional invulnerability and hiding one’s struggles, Self-Reliance/Strength is the practice of trying to be strong and self-sufficient, and Caretaking is the act of caring for others and emphasizes helping others. Additionally, studies have found that many Black women endorse the characteristics of the stereotype as applying to themselves, referred to here as self-endorsement. While aspects of the stereotype are positive, studies have also found some negative effects of self-endorsement. Previous studies have found that self-endorsement of Strong Black Woman positively correlated with depression, eating disorders, and lower intention to seek help. The current study hypothesized that Black female college students’ self-endorsement of SBW would negatively affect the relationship between experiencing traumatic life events and help-seeking in response to those events. Contrary to the hypotheses, the SBW scale did not significantly predict help-seeking or intention to seek help. Instead, the three SBW subscales had both positive and negative effects. Specifically, the Self-Reliance and Caretaking subscales positively predicted help-seeking, such that higher scores on those subscales were related to greater help-seeking after a traumatic event. In contrast, the Mask of Strength subscale negatively predicted formal help-seeking and intention to seek help, indicating that participants who believed they need to appear strong at all times tended not to seek help after a traumatic event, and to state that they were not likely to seek help in the future. The findings indicate that a more nuanced approach is needed when studying SBW or working in clinical settings with clients who endorse the stereotype. It may be helpful to bolster certain aspects of the stereotype, such as the desire to be a good caretaker, while redefining other aspects, such as emotional invulnerability.

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