When we are children, we depend on parents — and parental figures — completely. Their worldview shapes our worldview. Their actions shape our actions.
As we grow older, our relationship with our parents continues to influence our opinions, our mood and even our choice in romantic partners. According to research, these parental relationships — or at least father-daughter relationships — can actually change the way our body processes stressful stimuli.
In 2012, researchers at Oklahoma State University published a study in the Journal of Family Psychology. In this study, they chose to examine whether or not a woman’s relationship with her father can impact the way her body processes stress.
The researchers examined a biological stress circuit known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis helps the body coordinate a series of interactions among glands, hormones and the hypothalamus, a brain region responsible for stress behavior and other biological processes. Altered activity in the HPA axis is associated with increased levels of both physical and psychological stress.
Before measuring each woman’s HPA axis activity, the scientists divided the participants into two groups. The first group of women described their father-daughter relationships as characterized by rejection, chaos and coercion. The second group of women described their father-daughter relationships as characterized by warmth, autonomy, support and structure.
The women in the first group — those who had tumultuous relationships with their fathers — demonstrated lower levels of cortisol in the morning than women from the second group. Since cortisol is one of the key hormones involved in the HPA axis, this indicates that women with negative father-daughter relationships had altered HPA axis activity. The women with poor father-daughter relationships were also more emotionally volatile than the other group of women.
This is not the first time researchers have found a link between father-daughter relationships and mental health. Another study published in 2012 in the North American Journal of Psychology found that women who remembered their childhood interactions with their fathers as positive demonstrated greater self-esteem and life satisfaction. A study published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that father absence in early childhood predicts adolescent depressive symptoms, especially in girls.
Of course, childhood experiences — both positive and negative — can impact a person’s mental health down the line. Since fathers (and mothers) play such a large role in a child’s life, it’s no wonder that they can exert such a powerful influence. Fathers, take some time to foster a good relationship with your daughters. Chances are it’ll help them out in the long run.
The teenage years are notoriously difficult. As though the normal stress of being a teenager weren’t enough, mental illnesses also often pop up during this time of life. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego treats all co-occurring conditions concurrently — a technique known as dual diagnosis — to best help our patients make a full recovery. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.