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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Gender, Mothering and Relational Work

Relationships are fundamental to the work of teachers, nurses and social workers. Women by and large staff these occupations which are also called 'relationship work'. In this article we compare the feminine ideal (often implicitly derived from a maternal ideal) with the ideal held by female relation workers. We suggest that taken for granted ideals of perfectionism in mothering are carried into relation work by the female relation workers themselves and the society at large. As a consequence, female relationship workers have a constrained portrait of themselves, leaving little opportunity and permission to explore the difficult emotional and situational complexities that they experience in their professional practice. Psychoanalytic and feminist perspectives allow challenging of these constraining implicit ideals. We argue the need for an expanded ideal that allows for negative feelings, creativity and uncertainty in professional relationships.