A Psychologist Debunks The ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ Myth (2024)

Imagine a dimly lit room with shelves full of old stuff and worn-out furniture with numerous cats hanging from anything suspended, running around and breaking things. In the middle, on a rocking chair, sits a graying old lady happily knitting away, oblivious to the chaos ensuing around her. This scene is familiar from movies and TV shows that often depict the “crazy cat lady” as a single, messy woman whose main companions are her cats.

Characters like Eleanor Abernathy, the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons known to speak gibberish and throw her army of cats at anyone who annoys her, personify this oddball archetype.

Another well-known portrayal of the crazy cat lady is Angela Martin from The Office, who famously confessed, “I usually try to take leave when I get a new cat, but I am out of vacation days, and this company doesn’t recognize cat maternity, so I have them on nanny cams... She (princess lady) means more to me than anyone else.”

Angela embodies this stereotype, demonstrating a deep devotion to her cats over human relationships.

Placing the “Crazy Cat Lady” Stereotype Under The Microscope

The “crazy cat lady” myth portrays single women who own multiple cats as eccentric, neurotic or socially isolated. It suggests that women prioritizing their cats over human relationships may have difficulty connecting with others and suffer from mental illnesses.

The term is often used in a derogatory or dismissive manner. While some people have a strong affinity for cats and may own several, the myth unfairly stigmatizes cat owners and single women.

A 2019 study revealed that cat owners are no more depressed, anxious or inclined to relationship issues than dog owners or those without pets, dispelling the myth of the “crazy cat lady.”

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The initial goal of the study was to investigate parenting behavior. However, after researchers observed similarities in parents’ physiological responses to puppies and human babies, it expanded its purview to explore emotional responses and mental health patterns among pet and non-pet owners.

Pet owners exhibited heightened sensitivity to distress sounds from cats and dogs compared to non-owners. Specifically, cat owners demonstrated a particular sensitivity to sad “meows.”

The crazy cat lady stereotype is likely rooted in societal biases against unmarried women seeking unconventional lifestyles. Misconceptions about feline behavior and cat ownership—such as believing cats are inherently grumpy, unfriendly and unsocial—may also contribute to this negative portrayal. However, the reality of cat ownership and its benefits challenges these misconceptions.

1. Cats Mirror Their Owners, Not The Other Way Around

Another study found that cats may mirror or be influenced by their owners’ behavior and personality traits, impacting their behavior, health and overall well-being. This study suggests that the personality of its owner can influence a cat’s behavior. For example, owners who are more anxious or nervous may have cats that show signs of stress-related sickness.

On the other hand, outgoing owners are more likely to have less anxious or fearful cats. Additionally, owners who are friendly and easy to get along with tend to have more satisfied and healthy cats.

Lastly, owners who are organized and responsible may have cats that are less anxious and aggressive but more friendly. This shows that a cat’s behavior and well-being can be linked to the personality of its owner.

2. Cats Are More Than Pets

Cat owners come from all walks of life, ages and family structures, representing diverse demographics, and they often report feeling emotionally connected to their feline companions, finding comfort and joy in their presence.

According to one study, researchers surveyed over 1800 cat owners in the Netherlands about their beliefs and behaviors related to their cats. They found that 52% of cat owners reported their relationships with their cats as family, 27% thought of their cats as children, and only 14% thought of their cats as pets. When individuals view their pets as family, it improves their overall well-being.

Contrary to the belief that cats are a consolation prize for single women, many cat owners feel empowered and cite various reasons beyond just loneliness for having cats. Owning cats can be a source of companionship and social connection, especially for single individuals.

In another study, individuals with cats stated that they encountered fewer negative emotions and feelings of isolation than those without cats. Interestingly, single individuals with cats experienced bad moods less frequently than those with a cat and a partner.

Stereotypes are rarely a true reflection of what a figure actually is and represents. Choosing what makes you happy, whether it is adopting a cat or something else entirely, is the only way to live authentically and in alignment with your inner world. And, whenever there is doubt, empirical evidence can help you make an informed decision, uninfluenced by stigma.

Do your fears of becoming a “Crazy Cat Lady” and that of singlehood coincide? Take the Fear Of Being Single Scale to learn more.

A Psychologist Debunks The ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ Myth (2024)

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