Vol.5, No.9, 1467-1477 (2013) Health
The relationship between differentiation of self and
satisfaction with life amongst Israeli women: A cross
cultural perspective
Aya Biadsy-Ashkar, Ora Peleg*
Department of Counseling, The Max Stern Yezreel Academic College, Emek Yezreel, Israel;
*Corresponding Author: orap@yvc.ac.il, pelegora@gmail.com, b.aya85@gmail.com
Received 10 May 2013; revised 15 June 2013; accepted 20 July 2013
Copyright © 2013 Aya Biadsy-Ashkar, Ora Peleg. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The current study examined the relationships
between satisfaction with life and differentiation
of self among Jewish and Arab women living in
Israel. The sample included 268 participants: 114
Jewish women and 154 Arab women. For both
ethnic groups, satisfaction with life was nega-
tively correlated with emotional cutoff. Among
Arab women, satisfaction with life was found po-
sitively associated with I-position, marriage du-
ration and education. The examination of cross-
cultural differences yielded several findings: Arab
women reported higher l evels of emotional reac-
tivity and I-position than Jewish women. No cul-
tural differences were found in the levels of fu-
sion with others, emotional cutoff and satisfac-
tion with life. The current findings show that work-
ing women, who are highly differentiated, are sa-
tisfied with life to a greater extent tha n non-w ork-
ing women who are poorly differentiated. In ge-
neral, the research findings provide support to
the universality of the Family Systems Theory,
and to the argument that differentiation of self is
an import ant factor which may influence emotio-
nal wellbeing in all cultures.
Keywords: Differentiation of Self; Emotional
Reactivity; I-Position; Emotional Cutoff; Fusion with
Others; Satisfaction with Life
Differentiation of self has become one of the key con-
cepts of Bowen’s theory [1]. Bowen argued that differen-
tiation of self plays an important role in the individual’s
optimal functioning and well being and that it is univer-
sal, and accordant to all cultures [2]. The literature sup-
ports this argument. In a series of studies differentiation
of self was found positively associated with well being [3]
and satisfaction (e.g., marital satisfaction) [4], and nega-
tively associated with anxiety [e.g., 5-8] and stress [9] in
both individualistic and collectivist societies [10]). Yet, it
should be noted that due to cross-cultural differences that
were found with respect to the dimensions of differentia-
tion of self, it was suggested that The DSI-R might oper-
ate differently in Eastern and Western societies. To the
best of our knowledge, no cross-cultural research has exa-
mined the relationship between differentiation of self and
satisfaction with life amongst participants from collec-
tivist and individualistic societies, living at the same coun-
1.1. Differentiation of Self and Satisfaction
with Life
According to Bowen’s theory, at least four factors are
indicators of a person’s levels of differentiation of self:
emotional reactivity, emotional cutoff, fusion with others
and the ability to take an I-position [8,11]. Emotional re-
activity, describes a person’s tendency to react to stress
by irrational emotional flooding; fusion with others taps
the inclination to create complex and dependent relation-
ships with significant others; emotional cutoff, reflects
one’s tendency to end inter-personal relationships and
cut them off as a way of dealing with tension and con-
flicts in symbiotic relationships; “I” position taps the in-
dividual’s ability to stand up for himself and independ-
ently and autonomously express his/her will.
Poorly differentiated people tend to react with a high
amount of emotional flooding, focusing their attention
more on the emotional episode than on fulfilling tasks.
They are likely to create fused relationships, react to
stressful events by fusion or emotional cutoff, and expe-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77
rience unstable emotions and mood swings, finding it
hard to keep themselves on track for the benefit of cer-
tain goals or their own benefit in a reasonable and ratio-
nal manner [12]. On the other hand, highly differentiated
people are able to adopt a position in inter-personal rela-
tionships, adjust their feelings, as well as retain their per-
sonal identity within substantial and intimate relation-
ships, think, feel and act for themselves [3]. They are able
to distinguish between emotional and rational processes
and react efficiently and adaptively to stressful conditions
In a series of studies negative links were found be-
tween differentiation of self and various anxieties, such
as, trait anxiety [8], separation anxiety [5,6,12], social
anxiety [7], psychiatric symptoms, depression symptoms
[3,14,15] physiological symptoms [10,16], stress [17],
and over involved counter-transference behaviors [18]. In
addition, positive associations were found between dif-
ferentiation of self and psychological adaptation, the abi-
lity to solve social problems [19], mental wellbeing and
psychological health [3,14,20], marital satisfaction [4],
and life satisfaction [21,22].
Satisfaction with life, reflects a sense of contentment
and feelings of congruency between wants or needs and
accomplishments or resources, and can be taken as a
measure of quality of life [23-25]. It is one of the basics
of mental wellbeing that may affect the individual on se-
veral planes of life. It may influence rational and intel-
lectual functioning, as well as physical and mental health
Research examining participants from Western socie-
ties has corroborated Bowen’s [2] assertion that highly
differentiated individuals are more satisfied with their
life [28] and marital relations [6]. This association was
found to be different between the sexes. Amongst men
marital satisfaction was found negatively correlated with
emotional reactivity and emotional cutoff, while amongst
women marital satisfaction was found negatively associ-
ated with emotional cutoff only [4].
1.2. Differentiation of Self and Satisfaction
with Life: Cross Cultural Research
Only a few studies have examined the relations be-
tween differentiation of self and satisfaction within di-
verse ethnic cultural groups, yielding mixed results. One
of the first studies conducted among Filipinos partici-
pants, was aimed at examining the assumption that diffe-
rentiation of self would have a different meaning in the
Filippine collectivist context relative to an American in-
dividualistic context. Specifically, it was hypothesized that
a high level of fusion with others would be associated
with low symptomatology and that standing up for one’s
beliefs (I-positions) would be harder to maintain due to
strong allegiance to the family and community [3]. The
Filippine participants reported higher levels of “I” posi-
tion, and emotional cutoff, and lower levels of emotional
reactivity than their American counterparts. No cultural
differences were found in regard to fusion with others.
In another research examining differentiation of self,
Chung and Gale [29] stated that the need for autonomy
and the sense of belonging were shared throughout all
societies, but the value of differentiation of self and auto-
nomy was emphasized in individualistic societies, while
the values of belonging and closeness were perceived
more important in collectivistic societies. In addition, Ta-
mura & Lau’s study [30] showed that the Japanese tend-
ed to over-emphasize fusion with others, and lessen the
importance of the separation process, whereas the British
participants reported lower levels of fusion with others.
In a study which examined differentiation of self among
European-American students and Korean students, the
Koreans reported lower levels of differentiation of self
and “I” position, and higher levels of emotional reactiv-
ity, emotional cutoff and fusion with others, in compari-
son to their European-American counterparts [29]. In a
recent research study, Chung & Gale [31] found that
American families were encouraging their members to
develop a high level of differentiation of self than Ko-
rean families. It was also found that family functioning
was positively associated with differentiation of self.
Most of the dimensions of family functioning were nega-
tively associated with emotional reactivity and emotional
cutoff, and positively associated with “I” position within
both ethnic groups. These contacts were weak among the
Korean participants.
In a study conducted among Druze mothers in Israel
[12], no differences were found in the levels of differen-
tiation of self between Jewish and Druze participants.
Yet, Druze mothers reported higher levels of fusion with
others and “I” position than their Jewish counterparts.
Another recent study conducted among Israeli students,
showed that Arab students reported higher levels of “I”
position and emotional cutoff, and lower levels of fusion
with others and emotional reactivity than Jewish students
Only a few studies examined cross-cultural differences
in satisfaction with life. Thus, for example, it was found
that Asians put greater importance on the individual’s
level of satisfaction with life than did Europeans [25]. In
other studies participants from collectivist societies re-
ported a lower level of satisfaction with life than partici-
pants from individualistic societies [32]. It was argued
that among people from Western societies, satisfaction
with life was impacted by health and professional status,
whereas among people from Eastern societies satisfac-
tion with life was impacted mostly by social relation-
ships [33]. In a study carried out in Israel comparing Je-
wish and Arab women [26], Jewish women reported a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77 1469
higher level of satisfaction with life. Among Arab wo-
men, satisfaction with life was positively associated with
education and spouses’ support.
1.3. Jewish and Arab Women in Israel
The current study was conducted among Jewish and
Arab women in Israel. The Jewish women belong to We-
stern individualistic culture, whereas the Arab women
belong to a minority group and a society defined as Ea-
stern and collectivistic [34,35]. The Arabs, citizens of the
State of Israel, comprise 20.5% of the total Israeli popu-
lation (the majority are Moslems) [36], and are defined
as a group, which differs from the Jewish majority by
language, religion, culture, historic narrative, geographi-
cal areas and education system [35].
The Arab society is in the midst of a change from a
collectivistic to an individualistic society. The transition
can be observed in many areas, such as the individual’s
and women’s status, education, and the transition to a
limited, nuclear family [34,37]. At the same time the
Arab population has to adhere to social and familial
norms and values [37]. This is a stage of transition be-
tween tradition and modernity, where an attempt is made
to mimic Western culture’s norms, without actually in-
corporating them. On the one hand, this process has wea-
kened the collectivist familial life as well as the traditio-
nal culture’s values, but on the other hand it has not led
to the construction of a strong modern identity [38].
Another significant process that is occurring in these
societies is the change in the woman’s status. Today, more
and more women continue learning after high school and
develop careers while receiving support from their fami-
lies. This change has made the women in Asian societies
an active factor in workforce, and has also provided them
with financial stability and independence. However, still,
the Asian societies emphasize the traditional collective
values, preserving social ties, honor and devotion to their
parents, and commitment to social values and norms,
such as the woman’s concern for the home and the chil-
dren, while retaining the husband’s role as the head of
the family [29,39].
1.4. Summary, Questions and Hypotheses
The review of the literature reveals that the few studies
that have examined cross cultural differences in the lev-
els of differentiation of self and satisfaction with life,
yielded mixed results. Specifically, participants from
collectivists societies reported higher levels of fusion
with others [12,29] and emotional cutoff [3,10,29]. There
are no consistent findings regarding I-position and emo-
tional reactivity. For example, several researchers found
higher levels of I-position [10,12] and emotional reactiv-
ity [29] among participants from collectivist societies. In
contrast, other researchers found lower levels of I-posi-
tion [29] and emotional reactivity [3] among participants
from collectivist societies. In several studies participants
from collectivist societies reported a lower level of satis-
faction with life than participants from individualistic so-
cieties [26,32].
To date, no research has examined these differences
between two main ethnic groups living in the same coun-
try. Specifically, no research has examined the differenc-
es between Jews and Arabs living in Israel in this regard.
Therefore, the first aim of the present study was to assess
the differences between Jewish and Arab women in the
levels of differentiation of self and satisfaction with life.
The second aim is to assess the relationships between
differentiation of self and satisfaction with life.
The following hypotheses were thereby tested:
1) Arab women will report higher levels of I-position,
emotional reactivity, fusion with others and emotional
cutoff than their Jewish counterparts.
2) Jewish women will report a higher level of satisfac-
tion with life than their Arab counterparts.
3) Differentiation of self (emotional reactivity, I-po-
sition, emotional cutoff, fusion with others) will be posi-
tively associated with satisfaction with life among both
ethnic groups:
Satisfaction with life will be positively correlated with
I-position, and inversely correlated with emotional reac-
tivity, emotional cutoff and fusion
2.1. Participants
A volunteer sample of women was recruited to take
part in the research project. Prospective participants were
Arab and Jewish women from northern Israel. In order to
recruit Arab women, we chose two elementary schools
and two community centers in a northern Israeli city, and
two high schools in the “Triangle” as well. All the teach-
ers and guides were asked to participate. In order to re-
cruit Jewish women three schools and two community
centers were chosen in a northern city in Israel, and all
teachers and guides were asked to participate in the study.
Of 160 Jewish women, 125 returned the questionnaires.
Only, 114 were acceptable. Of 160 Arab women, 158
returned the questionnaires. Only 154 were acceptable.
The women who were excluded did not complete part of
the questionnaires. The final sample consisted of 154
Arab Moslem Women between the ages of 30 - 60 (The
mean age was 42.26, SD = 7.93), and 114 Jewish women,
between the ages of 30 - 60 (The mean age was 46.39,
SD = 8.14) (see Table 1). The study’s sample size was
determined by definition of power for regression with 7
variables, while the effect size factor = 0.15, α = 0.05,
power = 0.90. The sample size was at least 108 partici-
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A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77
Table 1. Demographic variables of the sample.
Arab women
(n = 154) Jewish women
(n = 114) Total
(N = 268)
N % N % N %
Education level
High school 77 50.00 53 46.50 130 48.50
B.A 61 39.60 38 33.30 99 36.90
M.A 15 9.70 18 15.80 33 12.30
Ph.D. 0 0 5 1.90 5 1.90
women 99 64.30 74 64.90 173 64.60
women 55 35.70 40 35.10 95 35.40
Marital status
marred 110 71.40 76 66.70 186 69.40
single 37 24 23 20.20 60 22.40
divorced 6 3.90 12 10.50 18 6.70
Widow 1 0.60 3 2.60 4 1.50
Residence place
village 52 33.80 8 7 60 22.40
city 102 66.20 81 74.10 183 68.30
moshav 0 0 16 14 16 6
kibbutz 0 0 9 7.90 9 3.40
pants for each group. All participants in the study met
our inclusion criterion of being in an intact family with
two biological parents living in the home.
2.2. Measures
2.2.1. Satisfaction with Life Index A (LSIA)
The Satisfaction with life Index A is a 20-item self re-
port measure designed for use with adults [40]. The in-
ventory was translated and adapted into Hebrew [41],
and into Arabic for the purpose of the present study, us-
ing Brislin’s back-translation method for cultural re-
search [42]. First, a neutral mother-tongue quality Ara-
bic-English speaker translated it from English to Arabic.
Afterwards, it was translated back from Arabic into Eng-
lish by another neutral mother-tongue quality Arabic-
English speaker. The inventory was piloted on 20 Arab
women. Items wording was corrected and clarified ac-
cording to their suggestions.
The questionnaire is composed of 12 items which are
positively worded, a sample item is “Today I am content,
just like I was when I was young”; and 8 items which are
negatively worded. A sample item is “Most of the things
I do are boring or monotonous”. Each item had three
possible answers to choose: “agree”, “disagree”, and “?”
(The “question mark” meant that the phrase was irrele-
vant for the participant). Participants are asked to record
their response on a three-point rating scale, with the an-
chors of (2) = “agree” for a positive item, and “disagree”
for a negative item, (0) = “agree” for a negative item and
“disagree” for a positive item, and (1) = ? For both po-
sitive and negative items. The scale item score is calcu-
lated from 0 (when participants answered all positive
items with “disagree” and all negative items with “agree”)
to 40 (when participants answered all positive items with
“agree” and all negative items with “disagree”). The cur-
rent study reported acceptable internal consistency reli-
abilities; Cronbach alphas were α = 0.75 for the Hebrew
version, and α = 0.76 for the Arabic version.
2.2.2. The Differentiation of Self
We assessed levels of differentiation of self using the
DSI-R [8], translated into Hebrew [4,17] and to Arabic
for the purpose of the present study, using Brislin’s back-
translation method for cultural research [42]. First, a neu-
tral mother-tongue quality Arabic-English speaker trans-
lated it from English to Arabic. Afterwards, it was trans-
lated back from Arabic into English by another neutral
mother-tongue quality Arabic-English speaker. The in-
ventory was piloted on 20 Arab women. Items wording
was corrected and clarified according to their sugges-
The inventory is a 46-item self-report measure that fo-
cuses on adults, their significant relationships, and their
current relations with family of origin. It includes four
subscales: emotional reactivity (ER), I-position (IP),
emotional cutoff (EC), and fusion with others (FO). A
sample item is: “People have remarked that I’m overly
emotional” (ER). The fusion subscale used in this study
was the updated version by Skowron and Schmitt [43],
translated to Hebrew using the “back translation” me-
thod [4]. Participants respond to items on a six-point Li-
kert-type scale, ranging from 1 (not at all true for me) to
6 (very true for me). DSI-R subscale scores were calcu-
lated by averaging the mean scores of the items in each
category. The DSI-R range is therefore 1 - 6, with higher
scores reflecting greater differentiation in IP subscale,
and lower scores reflecting greater differentiation in ER,
EC and FO subscales. Internal consistency (Cronbach’s
alpha) in the current study was 0.67 for DSI full-scale,
0.69 for emotional reactivity, 0.63 for I-position, 0.75 for
emotional cutoff, and 0.65 for fusion with others. The
Arabic translated questionnaire’s internal consistency was
as follow, 0.82 for DSI full-scale, 0.76 for emotional re-
activity, 0.60 for I-position, 0.66 for emotional cutoff,
and 0.63 for fusion with others.
2.2.3. Background Questionnaire
This questionnaire was constructed specifically for the
current study to yield information regarding age, marital
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A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77 1471
status, number of children, length of marriage, national-
ity and religion.
2.3. Procedure
The questionnaires were distributed to 160 Jewish fe-
male and 160 Arab female, all of them live in the north
of Israel. Each participant received a questionnaire and
filled it out privately. Of 125 questionnaires returned by
Jewish participants, 114 were valid. Of 158 questionnair-
es returned by Arab participants, 154 were valid. Upon
the receipt of the approval of school principals’ and the
community centers’ managers’ to conduct the study, as
well as the receipt of participants’ consent to take part in
the research, a meeting was held by two research assis-
tants in each center. The meetings with the working wo-
men were set up during their recess or after work. The
appointments with non-working women were set at the
community centers. The research assistants clarified the
aims of the study and promised discretion and anonymity.
Each participant received a questionnaire and filled it out
privately. The assistants were present while completing
the questionnaires to ensure comprehension and answer
questions. The time taken to fill out the questionnaires
was approximately 20 minutes.
Means, standard deviations and ranges of all study va-
riables are presented in Table 2.
In order to test the first hypothesis regarding cultural
differences in the levels of differentiation of self, and the
second hypothesis regarding cultural differences in the
levels of satisfaction with life, we opted for a series of
independent sample t-tests (see Table 2). As shown in
Table 2, significant cultural differences were found show-
ing higher levels of emotional reactivity and I-position
among Arab women. No significant differences were
found in the levels of fusion with others, emotional cut-
off and satisfaction with life, partially supporting Hypo-
theses 1, 2.
To test the third hypothesis regarding the relationship
between differentiation of self and satisfaction with life
among Jewish and Arab women, partial correlations
were run. As shown in Table 3, satisfaction with life was
positively correlated with I-position, and negatively cor-
related with emotional cutoff among both Jewish and
Arab women. Emotional reactivity and fusion with oth-
ers were negatively correlated with satisfaction with life
only among the Arab women. This means that among the
Arab women, higher level of satisfaction with life was
found among those who reported a higher level of I-po-
sition and lower levels of emotional reactivity, emotional
cutoff and fusion with others.
Table 2. Means, Standard Deviations, Ranges, and t-Tests
Arab women
n = 154
Jewish women
n = 114
Variable Mean
t (266)
4.00 1.73 3.51 1.82
ER (0.89) 5.91 (0.68) 4.91
3.08 1.08 3.00 1.00
EC (0.81) 5.50 (0.80) 4.50
3.74 1.67 3.74 2.00
FO (0.70) 5.33 (0.63) 5.33 0.01
4.09 2.27 3.89 2.36
IP (0.73) 5.73 (0.73) 5.82
25.53 4.00 24.31 8.00
LSIA (7.41) 40.00 (7.39) 40.00
**p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. Note: ER = Emotional reactivity; EC = Emotional
cutoff; FO = Fusion with others; IP = I-position; LSIA = Satisfaction with
life (N = 268).
Table 3. Partial correlations between differentiation of self
subscales and satisfaction with life.
Satisfaction with life
Differentiation of self
subscales Arab women
(n = 154) Jewish women
(n = 114)
ER 0.19* 0.18
EC 0.32** 0.50**
FO 0.17* 0.04
IP 0.29** 0.33**
*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01. Note: ER = Emotional reactivity; EC = Emotional
cutoff; FO = Fusion with others; IP = I-position; LSIA = Satisfaction with
life (N = 268).
The contribution of differentiation of self to the level
of satisfaction with life was examined in a series of hier-
archical regression analyses (Table 4). Given that cultu-
ral differences were found in two subscales (emotional
reactivity and I-position), two separate hierarchal regres-
sive analyses were run (for Jewish an Arab women sepa-
rately). Background scores of marriage duration, number
of children, age, education level and employment status
(1 = employed, 0 = unemployed) were entered into the
equation regression first. Participants’ satisfaction with
life served as the dependent variable. In the second step,
women levels of emotional reactivity, emotional cutoff,
fusion with others and “I” position were entered to ex-
amine the contribution of differentiation of self to satis-
faction with life (see Table 4).
As shown in Table 4, all regression models were sig-
nificant. Background variables and differentiation of self
accounted for 34% of the variance in satisfaction with
life for the Jewish participants, and 34% of the variance
for the Arab participants. The introduction of DSI-R sub-
scales asses an explained variance of 0.17 for Jewish
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A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77
Table 4. Results of multiple hierarchical regression analyses,
with women’s satisfaction with life as dependent variable and
background variables and levels of differentiation of self as
independent variables.
Arab women
(n = 154)
Jewish women
(n = 114)
Step 1
duration 0.29 0.10 0.43** 0.07 0.080.11
Children number 0.61 0.42 0.18 0.52 0.580.12
Age 0.08 0.09 0.09 0.04 0.09 0.04
Education 2.40 1.00 0.22* 1.02 0.830.12
status 3.56 1.36 0.23* 4.13 1.520.27**
2 = 0.22*** R
2 = 0.17**
Step 2
duration 0.27 0.09 0.41** 0.02 0.080.04
number 0.73 0.40 0.21 0.77 0.540.18
Age 0.10 0.09 0.11 0.01 0.09 0.01
Education 1.93 0.94 0.18* 0.67 0.770.08
status 2.81 1.29 0.18* 1.99 1.47.13
ER 0.71 0.75 0.09 0.15 1.07 0.01
EC 2.12 0.77 0.24** 3.63 0.840.40***
FO 0.80 1.03 0.08 0.49 1.170.04
IP 2.70 0.69 0.27*** 1.33 0.900.13
R² = 0.12*** R² = 0.17***
R2 = 0.34,
F(9,143) = 8.27***
R2 = 0.34,
F(9,143) = 5.88***
*p < 0.05; **p < 0. 01; ***p < 0.001. Note: ER = Emotional reactivity; EC=
Emotional cutoff; FO = Fusion with others; IP = I-position (N = 268).
participants, and 0.12 for Arab participants, creating a to-
tal R2 of 0.34. This change in R2 was significantly dif-
ferent from the first step. That is, the added contribution
of women’s differentiation of self explained further vari-
ance in women’s satisfaction with life scores (F(9,103) =
5.88, p < 0.001, among Jewish women and F(9,143) =
8.27, p < 0.001 among Arab women).
Partially supporting hypothesis 3, emotional cutoff
was inversely correlated with satisfaction with life within
both ethnic cultural groups. Correlations between satis-
faction with life on the one hand and emotional reactivity
and fusion with others on the other hand did not reach
significance. For Arab women, satisfaction with life was
positively correlated with I-position, as well as with sev-
eral background variables. Specifically, satisfaction with
life was positively correlated with marriage duration,
education and employment, showing that more satisfied
Arab women are educated, working and married. More-
over, the longer they are married, the more they are sat-
isfied with their life.
As for Jewish women satisfaction with life was posi-
tively correlated with employment. However, when em-
ployment was introduced to the regression equation to-
gether with differentiation of self it did not reach signifi-
cance (see Table 4).
To further examine the data, a series of two-tailed, in-
dependent sample t-tests, each with an alpha of 0.01,
were run to examine differences between working and
non-working women in the levels of differentiation of
self and satisfaction with life. Among Arab women the
t-tests yielded significant differences between working
and non-working women, showing higher levels of satis-
faction with life and lower levels of emotional reactivity
and emotional cutoff among employed women. Among
Jewish women, significant differences were found, indi-
cating higher levels of satisfaction with life and I-posi-
tion, and lower levels of emotional cutoff among emplo-
yed women (Table 5).
The present study sheds light on several notions of
Bowen’s theory, reinforcing the importance of differen-
tiation of self to well being. It provides partial support
for the assumption that differentiation of self is positive-
ly related to satisfaction with life among Jewish and Arab
women. Yet the findings yielded several cultural differ-
The first hypothesis regarding cultural differences in
the level of differentiation of self was partially supported.
Arab women reported a higher level of “I” position than
their Jewish counterparts, supporting previous research
studies pointing to higher levels of “I” position among
participants from collectivist societies [3,10,12].
As mentioned previously Arab women in Israel are
Table 5. Independent t-test analyses to examine differences
between working and non-working women.
Variable Non-working
women T value
Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
ER 4.24 (0.87) 3.87 (0.88) t (152) = 2.46*
EC 3.33 (0.77) 2.94 (0.80) t (152) = 2.86*
FO 3.89 (0.74) 3.65 (0.67) t (152) = 1.97
IP 4.05 (0.71) 4.11 (0.74) t (152 ) = 0.46
n = 154
LSIA 22.12 (7.21) 27.42 (6.85) t (152) = 4.50***
ER 3.58 (0.59) 3.47 (0.72) t (112) = 0.85
EC 3.34 (0.57) 2.82 (0.85) t (112) = 3.90***
FO 3.67 (0.60) 3.77 (0.65) t (112) = 0.80
IP 3.58 (0.65) 4.05 (0.72) t (112) = 3.47**
n = 114
LSIA 20.57 (5.47) 26.33 (7.53) t (112) = 4.68***
*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. Note: ER = Emotional reactivity; EC =
Emotional cutoff; FO = Fusion with others; IP = I-position; LSIA = Satis-
faction with life (N = 268).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77 1473
undergoing a period of change which is reflected in their
status, education, and transition to a limited, nuclear
family [34,37]. At the same time they have to adhere to
social and familial norms and values [37]. It is possible
that in order to improve their status, to struggle for equa-
lity and to develop their ego and identity, they have to
demonstrate determination, to stand up for themselves,
and to fight for their rights more forcefully and asser-
tively [44]. It should be noted that Israeli Arab women
are part of a minority, and therefore are likely to invest
more efforts in improving their own as well as their off-
spring’s education and standard of living [45].
Arab women reported higher levels of emotional reac-
tivity than their Jewish counterparts. This finding is con-
sistent with Chung and Gale’s [29] findings showing
higher levels of emotional reactivity among Korean stu-
dents than among European-American students. How-
ever it refutes other studies’ results indicating lower lev-
els of emotional reactivity among participants from col-
lectivist societies [3,10].
The reason for this result may lie in the Arab tradition,
according to which women, even if they develop a pro-
fessional career, are still the sole caretakers at home [46].
It was suggested that though the Arab society in Israel
has adopted modern individualistic society values con-
cerning women’s status, education and career-develop-
ment. The Arab woman is still required to follow social
norms, to live up to social expectations in regard to home
tasks [38], and to give up their desires. She is not encou-
raged to fulfill her own expectations and to make a ca-
reer [47]. This day-to-day duty of caring for family mem-
bers, and at the same time developing a career, may in-
crease Arab women’s levels of stress and anxiety, and
thus, boost emotional reactivity.
Another possible reason is based upon Haj Yahia’s [48]
assertion that despite the rise in the number of people
who need psychological help, the Arab society in Israel
still tends to perceive emotional and familial problems as
a “failure” or a “sin”, resulting in only a small number of
people who actually go to therapy and are assisted by
therapists. It is likely that the illegitimacy and inability to
get help does not allow to reduce emotional reactivity.
Interestingly no cultural differences were found in the
levels of fusion with others, refuting previous findings
[10,26,31]. As mentioned previously, the Arab society is
extremely exposed to the Jewish society in Israel, and
therefore is undergoing a process of modernization. It is
likely that the exposure to Western norms and lifestyle
has led to changes in personal and familial customs and
behaviors. Thus, for example, many young women work
outside the home, study at colleges or universities, and
therefore are less involved in the life of the extended
family [34].
No cultural differences were found in the levels of
emotional cutoff, corroborating Peleg et al.’s [12] find-
ings. An explanation suggested by Sharabi [38] is that
the encounters with Jewish women help Arab women to
express their wishes and desires, and to have direct dia-
logues, instead of disconnecting and cutting off.
The regression analyses yielded for both ethnic groups
negative correlations between emotional cutoff and satis-
faction with life. For Arab women positive correlations
were found between I-position and satisfaction with life,
partially confirming hypothesis 3. These findings support
previous studies, showing positive connections between
differentiation of self on the one hand, and emotional
wellbeing [20], satisfaction with life [21,22], and marital
satisfaction [4] on the other hand.
A possible explanation for the association between
satisfaction with life and I-position among Arab women
relies on Bowen’s theoretical approach [11], according to
which a high level of differentiation of self allows higher
levels of psychological adaptation, emotional wellbeing,
physical and mental health. This is due to the fact that a
well-differentiated person is better able to guard his in-
timacy and autonomy, function more efficiently, while
taking a stand in inter-personal relationships, showing
proficiency in problem-solving and focusing on goals
important to him/her. Possibly, all this might allow wo-
men to feel stronger and more substantial. Also it might
help them to struggle for their self fulfillment and self
appreciation as well as to create the basis for agreeable
and satisfactory familial and intimate relations [24,25].
As for the connection between emotional cutoff and
satisfaction with life, it is likely that a vicious circle
emerges: women with high levels of emotional cutoff
find it difficult to regulate their emotions when they ex-
perience intimate relationships. Given that they feel hi-
gher levels of tension and anxiety, they emotionally dis-
tance themselves in order to cope with feelings of anxi-
ety. Paradoxically, distance from others may in turn in-
crease feelings of loneliness and anxiety [14,49,50,51],
thus decreasing their satisfaction with life.
Interestingly, a significant effect was found for mar-
riage duration among Arab women, showing that the lon-
ger they were married, the higher their level of satisfac-
tion with life. This finding contradicts previous research
conducted among women from individualistic societies
[4,52]. It is likely that women from collectivist societies
tend to define themselves by their marriage, and believe
in marriage as a source of support and self satisfaction
[53]. Jewish women, conversely, belong to an individua-
listic society which emphasizes achieving satisfaction
and self-fulfillment not only by means of marriage, but
also by career-development [46], hobbies and social con-
tacts. This issue merits further investigation.
The analyses yielded another interesting effect point-
ing to higher levels of satisfaction with life among work-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77
ing women (Jewish and Arab) than among non working
women. This finding is consistent with previous studies
pointing to positive correlations between satisfaction with
life on the one hand and employment [52,54], and educa-
tion [26] on the other hand. A possible explanation for
this may be related to the accession of Arab women to
the labor market, as well as to the improvement in the
working women’s economic situation which allows a hi-
gher standard of living, which in turn may lead to a hi-
gher level of satisfaction [25,55]. In addition to econo-
mic welfare, being employed plays a big role in feeling
worthwhile, providing a feeling of self-fulfillment, self
pride and self confidence [56]. In contrast, women who
stay at home most of their time may feel less appreciated,
bored and moody [52,56].
In regard to differentiation of self, working women
(Arab and Jewish) reported a lower level of emotional
cutoff than non-working women, partially confirming
Kulick and Ryan’s [26] findings. In addition, Jewish
working women reported higher levels of “I” position
than non-working women. It should be noted that for
Arabs, working women reported higher level of I-posi-
tion too, but the result did not reach significance. It is
suggested that Working women are likely to deal a lot
with issues related to their working conditions, [45], try-
ing to achieve equal rights and to advance their career
[56] (e.g., asking for assistance and raise, tight schedule,
and superiors’ criticism). All these tasks require verbal
confrontation and may lead to a greater ability to manage
direct dialogues instead of disengaging and disconnect-
Arab working women reported a lower level of emo-
tional reactivity than non-working women. This finding
supports previous studies [12], showing that women who
performed many tasks (running a household and holding
a job) reported a lower level of anxiety concerning leav-
ing the children at home than women who performed
only their traditional tasks. It was suggested that mothers
who preferred to be employed and liked their job were
less anxious about employment-related separations [12].
These women hold more liberal views on mothering and
working and have husbands with similar views.
Another possible explanation is that the rapid moder-
nization that the Arab population in Israel is going through,
which portrays an increase in working women as one of
its expressions. Society may be lowering its expectations
from working women, and excusing them for not fully
living up to the household-family task-expectations. This
attitude may reduce pressure and anxiety levels among
working women, whereas non-working women, who are
exposed to society’s severe criticism in case they do not
function as perfect caregivers.
It is valuable to note limitations of the present study as
well as some future directions for research. First the pre-
sent study relies solely upon the use of self-reports mea-
sures. Although self-report measures of internalizing symp-
toms appear to be less problematic [57], sole reliance on
self reports measures allows for confounding of shared
method variance. Thus, it would be useful for future re-
search to include the reports of others (e.g., spouses, off-
spring), which could allow for multiple informant com-
parisons [58]. Second, due to technical problems, our
sample cluster was biased and therefore not systematic.
Therefore the findings may not be generalized to more
diverse ethnic populations. Sample size may have also
affected our results, such that power to detect study dif-
ferences may have been limited. Thus, this issue merits
further investigation with greater sample sized, male par-
ticipants and additional cultural groups. Third, it is pos-
sible that there are additional variables influencing the
research findings. Thus, for instance, it would be worth-
while to explore degrees of support women get from
their husbands and families in general, and with regard to
their work specifically. In a collectivist culture, it is also
important to look at community and family pressures
leading to social desirability, as well as the women’s tra-
ditional and modern roles. Fourth, the internal consisten-
cy of differentiation of self sub-scales was not high,
mainly in the Arabic version. Comparison of DSI-R scores
in samples from different cultures may raise a problem,
since mean scores for the entire population may differ
from one culture to another. Thus, for example, in Skow-
ron’s and Friedlander’s study of the US [8], the mean
scores of DSI sub-scales are different than those in [3].
Cross-validation of these findings in participants of Arab
and other Eastern and Western groups is needed to deter-
mine whether differentiation of self operates in similar
ways across different cultural groups. Specifically, it is
suggested to average the mean scores of a series of stud-
ies in each culture. Finally, the sample included two main
groups: The Arab women represent the collectivist soci-
ety and the Jewish group represents the individualistic
society. It should be noted that the variability in each
group may be high, since there are many Jewish families
characterized by collectivist patterns, and Arab families
who live in big cities and mange modern and individual-
istic lifestyle. Therefore it is recommended to further re-
search this issue in future research.
These limitations notwithstanding, the current research
is one of the few studies investigating Bowen theory be-
tween two cultural groups. On the whole, the current fin-
dings add to the extant literature demonstrating that dif-
ferentiation of self is an important factor which may in-
fluence emotional wellbeing in all cultures, thus provid-
ing validity to Bowen’s [11] intergenerational theory as
well as to its universality. It is important that scientists
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
A. Biadsy-Ashkar, O. Peleg / Health 5 (2013) 1467-14 77 1475
should further research this issue to better understand the
role that differentiation of self plays in the lives of peo-
ple in general, and in collectivist cultures specifically.
In addition, this research offers new insights into the
association between differentiation of self and satisfac-
tion with life among Arab and Jewish women, as well as
among working and non-working women. Specifically, it
is suggested that emotional cutoff is the main variable that
may harm satisfaction with life, and that the use of I-
position is very important among Arab women. Method-
ologically, two questionnaires were translated and adapt-
ed into Arabic, thus, enabling research to be conducted
among Arab participants.
Importantly, a number of clinical implications can be
derived from the findings of this study. It is suggested
that highly differentiated women are more satisfied with
life. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that when
women experience dissatisfaction, the treatment should
be focused on improving their level of differentiation of
Other important issues that should be addressed in the
therapy are marriage duration, education and work, espe-
cially among Arab women. Future research is needed to
clarify the associations among differentiation of self,
marriage duration and culture. Finally, the current re-
search findings provide food for thought in terms of the
practical ways in which different ethnic group may be
assisted. One matter is the importance of not making a
sweeping recommendation but rather directing the spe-
cific issues related to differentiation of self to a specific
target audience.
The authors which to thank Helene Hogri for her valuable help in ed-
iting the paper, to Edna Guttman for the statistical assistance, and to
Rana Bshara for helping in collecting the data.
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