Christina Huffington, the daughter of media mogul Arianna Huffington publicly described on the Today Show recently how she coped with a “pit of loneliness” by using cocaine over a seven year period of time. This experience, of an addiction taking over or even ending a life, sadly echoes the experience of other celebrities and children of celebrities, but also, it is important to remember, those with no celebrity connection whatsoever.
The social reasons behind drug addiction differ slightly for men and women. For women, drugs and alcohol can become easy ways to dampen societal expectations about being perceived as ‘good enough.’ Christina Huffington described it aptly saying that the moment she first tried cocaine all of her insecurities “vanished.” She reported insecurities stemming from her parents’ divorce, anxiety around her boarding school experiences and difficulty living up to the high expectations she made for herself. Although she appeared to have it all—wealth, famous parents, attending an Ivy League University, she was privately alone in a dorm room, snorting cocaine six to seven times a day. Inspiring others Christina told the Today Show viewers “I know there are thousands of those girls out there, feeling like I did: alone, isolated, and guilty.”
Unfortunately, Christina is right her problem is much more widely spread than generally appreciated. Girls who struggle with low self-esteem often feel so poorly about themselves that they do not feel comfortable or safe talking with others about their struggle. Turning to drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors represent a quest to cope with a depleted and lost sense of self. Christina’s willingness and bravery to come forward and describe her heartbreaking struggle will no doubt help many girls and women to tamp down what can be a debilitating sense of shame and to be more open about their own experiences of being less than perfect.
Girls are perpetually, it can seem, bombarded by the ever present image in our culture of a woman effortlessly accomplishing multiple tasks with cool aplomb, work, school, sports, friendship, romance, caregiving and parenting, all the while appearing sexually attractive. It is an image that women are often socialized to approximate. For many girls, the more they perceive others valuing them, the more they experience themselves as lovable and worthwhile. By the time girls turn into women, some have become so accustomed to others not having any real appreciation for who they are on an emotionally intimate level that they lose confidence in their own ability to know themselves. These women often turn to external avenues for self-validation, drugs and alcohol offer easy and quick means to feel a modicum of relief.
Women disconnect in order to cope with the barrage of contradictions and inconsistencies society presents to them. Of course, at the same time, disconnecting and in effect giving up on maintaining emotionally intimate relationships, sometimes with anyone, takes them further away from the happiness they seek.
In raising girls, it is important to keep something in mind. Instead of continuing to encourage girls to constantly achieve, to be prefect and ‘to turn off the drama,’ we need to tune into what they are feeling. Take the time to ask ‘how are you feeling about that’ and wholeheartedly listen, without judgment, control or counsel, to what is said. In this way, she will be helped to validate herself, imperfections and all.
Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber