Mars and Venus have no idea

We are different – men and women. And we’re supposed to be and that’s not a bad thing. But it goes beyond in just how we interact in relationships. Our brains are different and here’s the reasons why.

Beyond the brain as a whole, male and female brains actually organize and function differently. Comparisons of 26,000 healthy brains of both genders showed that the female brain actually had significant, overall activity in 70 out of 80 areas tested. Women have busier brains.

The prefrontal cortex in our brain is the centre of executive control where your judgment, planning, organizing, self control/inhibition, empathy and conscious thinking are done. Making up 30% of your brain, women’s prefrontal cortex’s are larger than their male counterparts and in part, explain an increased ability for empathy, focus, self control. Also larger in women is the deep limbic system where we process emotions and bonding. Women have larger hippocampus which is the main memory centre of the brain while men have larger amygdalae – where they process fear or anger. These structural differences explain how traits have become more associated with one sex over the other. The emotional processing, insight, awareness, inhibition, nurturing and empathy typically more connected with women is so because of those larger areas and increased activity in those areas of the brain.

Men have larger parietal lobes which give them an enhanced ability for perception of space and direction and more volume in the hypothalamus which explains a greater interest in sex (for some). Women’s brains track gut instincts more based on brain volume. Men produce more serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps with soothing and calming)  by up to 52%.

These structural and functional differences in our brains, while simple, is more complex than just Mars vs Venus and offers women both strengths and weaknesses. The challenges help explain the greater propensity for depression and anxiety and overall worry, increased risk of caregiver burnout and emotional burnout in general and higher rates of insomnia, physical stress symptoms, autoimmune disease, and what I call hamster on a wheel – the busyness of the brain where thoughts just keep going like a hamster on a wheel that many of us feel they just can’t shut off…or even slow down.

Knowing the differences helps customize treatment in sessions. Recognizing that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to counselling and that these differences make for different perceptions in multiple life areas means that there can be a greater sense of resonance and understanding in the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. In general, knowing that there are measurable areas of difference between men and women creates greater understanding and acceptance in relationships of all kinds with each other.

Certainly it can be argued that the differences in the brain could be attributable to earlier stereotypes of influence during childhood development where certain traits are more encouraged or expected and therefore develop as such. But what we know in the adult brains of men and women is that this is what presents regardless of whether it came as the chicken or the egg.

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