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Why Women are Reluctant to Join Women's Therapy Support Groups and How I Make My Group's Safe

In today's world, women carry the weight of numerous expectations and responsibilities, juggling the roles of caregiver, career-driven individual, and the pursuit of personal growth. In the midst of this intricate dance, many women experience everyday stresses that take a toll on their emotional well-being. A significant challenge they face in seeking help, however, is the reluctance to join support groups, rooted in a deep fear of exposing their imperfections and inadequacies. 

In this article, we will delve into why women are hesitant to join support groups, how this fear is intertwined with the all-encompassing emotion of shame, how I create safety in my groups, and how the antidote to shame is empathy. 

The Fear of Imperfection

Women often grapple with the fear of revealing their imperfections to others. This fear manifests for various reasons, but it largely revolves around the notion of not living up to societal expectations and the fear of judgment. Here are some key factors contributing to this apprehension: 

Societal Expectations: 

Women have traditionally been expected to be the caregivers and nurturers of society. This expectation can create a belief that admitting to imperfection or inadequacy is a sign of failure and self-centeredness, which further discourages seeking help. 

The Stigma of Vulnerability:

In our society, there exists a pervasive stigma surrounding vulnerability and emotional expression. Women, like men, may be reluctant to expose their emotional struggles due to the fear of being labeled as "weak" or "overly emotional."


Many women grapple with the unrealistic standards of perfectionism, setting impossibly high bars for themselves. When they fall short of these expectations, it can lead to a sense of shame and inadequacy.

Comparison Culture: 

The pervasive culture of comparison, especially through social media, can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. Women often feel the pressure to live up to curated images of perfection projected by others.

How I Create a Safe Space in My Women's Groups

Clear Guidelines and Boundaries: 

I establish clear rules and expectations for group members. This includes rules for confidentiality, respectful communication, attendance, and participation. Clear boundaries help create a safe and predictable environment.

Screening and Orientation: 

Group members are carefully screened to ensure they are a good fit for the group and that their needs align with the group's goals. This is also a good time for potential members to ensure the group fits them. 

Therapeutic Goals: 

I clearly define therapeutic goals or objectives for the group. These goals should align with the needs of the participants and provide a roadmap for the group's work.

Size and Composition: 

The group's size and composition are critical. All of my women's groups allow for a maximum of 8. This proves to be a manageable size where each member can participate and receive adequate attention. 

Group Cohesion: 

The development of trust and cohesion among members is crucial for a safe therapy group. I facilitate activities and exercises that promote bonding and understanding between group members.

Emotional Safety: 

I encourage open and honest communication, ensuring that members feel safe expressing their thoughts and emotions without judgment or fear of reprisal. Each session you decide if you do or do not want feedback from the group or myself. Feedback can include reflection, validation, encouragement, guidance, resource suggestions, and/or witnessing. You can always choose to pass in sharing.

Conflict Resolution: 

A method for addressing and resolving conflicts that may arise within the group. Conflicts are a natural part of group dynamics and can be opportunities for growth if managed effectively.

Regular Meetings: 

Consistent attendance helps maintain the stability and predictability of the group. Members know when and where we will meet and can rely on the group as a consistent part of their lives. Members who miss too many session are asked to leave because it creates a sense of instability in other members. 

Feedback and Evaluation: 

I welcome feedback to assess the effectiveness of the group process and make necessary adjustments. It's important to ensure that the group remains aligned with its goals and that members are benefiting from their participation. You are always invited to address any issues that arise for you, either in group, one on one, or through email. 

The Impact of Shame

Shame is a deeply powerful and painful emotion. We rarely allow ourselves to feel it. It often gets confused with guilt (guilt is functional, shame is not). It's the fear of disconnection, the fear that we are not worthy of love and belonging because of our imperfections. Shame is the driving force behind the reluctance to join support groups, as it compels women to hide their vulnerabilities and insecurities. 

The Cure for Shame

Empathy is the antidote to shame. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and share our stories, especially in a supportive group setting, we create opportunities for empathy to flourish. Empathy is a powerful force that heals, connects, and transforms. Here's how empathy works in the context of women's struggle with shame: 

Shared Understanding: 

Support groups provide a safe space where women can connect with others who have faced similar challenges. This shared understanding leads to empathy, as individuals recognize their common humanity and experiences. With shared understanding we feel less alone and isolated. 

Validation and Connection:

The empathic responses of others in a support group validate the feelings and experiences of women. This validation diminishes feelings of isolation and shame, fostering a deeper sense of connection. We all crave belonging, sometimes more than food. 

Empowering Vulnerability: 

Empathy empowers women to embrace vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. It encourages us to acknowledge our imperfections and seek help without judgment. 

Cultural Sensitivity: 

Support groups that incorporate cultural sensitivity are particularly effective in addressing shame rooted in cultural expectations and identity. They offer a nurturing space that respects and understands diverse backgrounds. 

Embracing Vulnerability and Joining Support Groups 

To overcome the fear of joining support groups and embrace the power of vulnerability, consider the following steps: 


Begin by accepting that imperfections are part of being human. Embrace your vulnerabilities as a source of strength and connection, rather than weakness. Imperfection is impossible to achieve and always sets us up to fail. A constant feeling of failure impacts not only our wellbeing but our relationships with others. 

Start Small: 

If you're apprehensive about group therapy, consider individual therapy or confide in a trusted friend or family member. This can be a stepping stone toward seeking support. You can also ask a close friend, family member, or someone you want to get to know more to join you in a group.  

Seek Empathy: 

Look for support groups that emphasize empathy and shared understanding. These groups provide a nurturing environment to express your true self without judgment. Most therapeutic groups have a screen process before group starts. During the screening not only is the therapist making sure you are a good fit but you get to ask questions to ensure the group is for you. 


Recognize the power of storytelling. Sharing your experiences with others not only helps you but also encourages others to share their struggles, fostering a community of empathy and healing. Sharing your story out loud can be a powerful part of the healing process. A place where you voice can be hear after being silenced for so long. 

Professional Guidance: 

Consult with a mental health professional who can help you navigate your journey through vulnerability and shame. They can provide the necessary tools and support to heal and grow. A qualified and experienced therapy who specializes in perfectionism can aid in your personal growth and healing process. 

Take the Leap:

You deserve support. If you have gotten this far in the article then I encourage you to take the leap. If you decide group is not for you then you can always stop at any time. If your therapist has suggested you find a women's group, then trust that you are ready. 

Many of the women I have worked with have feared being seen as weak. The pressure to be perfect and always have it together is crushing. Shame often stands in the way of vulnerability and connection. I want you to know that by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and seeking support through empathy-rich support groups, we can find healing, strength, and a deep sense of belonging.  Showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a courageous act that empowers us to transform our lives.