According to the American Psychological Association, one-third of Americans say they have had an illness they believed was primarily brought on by stress. To narrow it down even more, it has been well documented women are more likely than men to suffer from anxiety and depression. Why is that? Because women process their emotions differently than men by overanalyzing and rehashing negative feelings, which can lead to harmful self-talk and blaming of oneself for circumstances that she may not even have any control over- like the loss of a father. Whereas men don’t want to ruminate their feelings of depression and anxiety, they find ways to “not think about” what is going on in their life choosing to ignore their feelings. They often turn to alcohol, illegal drugs or physical activity to forgo their pain.
One of the hallmarks of a fatherless daughter is to take care of everyone else before she takes care of herself. This “caregiver” role is second hand for her, because she has been doing it all of her life by taking care of herself, mother, siblings and possibly father emotionally, physically or financially. She never wants to hurt anyone else the way she has been hurt; thus, the fatherless daughter has a tendency to hold things in and not deal with the pain. She is telling her body to go at it alone, and she is not important. Unfortunately, these unresolved feelings of hurt, anger, resentment and abandonment fester and have the potential to wreck havoc on her both emotionally and physically.
In the survey for our book, “The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives” (Avery, June 2016) we asked women, “What, if any, ways were they impacted by your father loss?” They answered in the following ways: (90%) emotional, (31%) physical, (66%) mental, (35%) spiritual, (53%) psychological, and (10%) medical. We also uncovered women who suffered the loss of their emotional bond with their fathers due to, but not limited to death, divorce, addiction, incarceration, abuse, or desertion were more likely to stuff their feelings down unknowingly only to have them resurface later in life when the possibility of another abandonment arises.
Because a fatherless daughter does not want to acknowledge the root of the pain, she will literally make herself sick with worry by constantly thinking about what has happened to her. The unresolved feelings that have been percolating just under the surface will begin to manifest physically if not dealt with emotionally.
Modern science also agrees: what we think influences what we believe, and what we believe influences how we feel. The great Deepak Chopra, MD has done a lot of work around this subject. He believes that only 5% of gene mutations are fully penetrant, (meaning cause a disorder) leaving 95% of genes acting off influence. Your genes are along for the ride being coded based on what we believe, not solely on biology. We have choices around diet, exercise, food and stress management to change what happens to our bodies. Our cells work for us based on how we are feeling at any given time of the day. If we are in a constant state of turmoil every cell is our body will follow suit. Chopra says, “You are speaking to your genes with every thought, word and action.” Think about what you are encoding. Is it turmoil or tranquility?
More and more disease states are being connected to depression. Heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in women, has been linked to depression. Johns Hopkins even did a longitudinal study to see if depression and cancer were related. They found that participants with a history of depression were four times more likely to develop breast cancer. There are a handful of studies that connect depression to both back and neck pain as well. It makes total sense, if you are being weighed down by old pain, of course your body will tire of carrying the emotional load. Isn’t that what you are telling it to do? Are you saying to yourself, “I am tired? I can’t take this anymore?”
Emotional baggage is not our friend. The less you can verbalize how you are feeling the more your body will signal you to get it out because your body and mind are not in sync. Think about someone you know whom constantly battles verbalizing their real feelings about their father loss. How does their body handle holding it in? Do they suffer from hoarseness or bronchitis because they can’t say how they truly feel? Do they constantly have tension headaches, an upset stomach or reflux because of their resentment or unresolved issues towards their father? Are they heartbroken over the death of their father causing their blood pressure to rise and their immune system to tank?
If the answer is yes, don’t worry (anymore!); healing can begin by simply acknowledging your thoughts may be triggering your illness. By honoring your feelings, you can literally free your body of old traumas weighing you down and compromising your health. By replacing old coping habits which are no longer working like isolation, defiance and negative thoughts with new and improved ones you will be able to start making the necessary changes to heal your body, mind and spirit. Speaking your truth can literally trigger your body to work in tandem with your thoughts. Simply put, you have the ability to heal yourself.
5 Ways to Take Control of Your Health
- Say how you feel. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist about what is bothering you.
- Replace your negative coping skills with positive ones. The 5,000 women we surveyed cited the following top 5 positive coping mechanisms as helping them cope with their father loss: (50%) listening to music, (37%) humor/laughing, (34%) journaling, (30%) religious/spiritual practices and (30%) times with animals/pets.
- Put yourself first by learning to set boundaries with your time and emotional bandwidth. If it feels like too much, it probably is. You don’t have to put on the cape everyday by saving everyone else before you tend to yourself.
- Get into nature. Change your scenery and soak in some vitamin D. Your body will thank you for it and so will your tan.
- Start on the path to forgiveness. Resentment and defiance are heavy baggage to carry around everywhere. It does not mean that you have to say it was okay, it just means that you don’t have to let your pain rule your life anymore by making you feel sick and tired.
Devoting time to working on yourself versus everyone else is hard “heart work” for a fatherless daughter, but the one thing she has mastered is resiliency. For when she knows better, she does better, and when she decides to do better, she can take over the world…one cell at a time.