Monday, August 27, 2007
Self-censoring linked to higher death risk
When I was in college, I volunteered at a shelter for abused women and children. Over the years, the faces would change, but the stories were similar. A disagreement with a husband or boyfriend often ended with a smack across the face, a shove into a wall or stinging words of hate. To survive, many of these women just took it and kept their mouths shut until they figured out a way to escape. Often women would tell me they didn't feel they had a "voice" in their relationships.
I thought about those ladies while reading about a new study on marriage, communication and death. The study, which appears in the July/August edition of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, found that women who don't express themselves during disagreements with their husbands are FOUR times more likely to die compared with women who express themselves freely. The study's author, Dr. Elaine Eaker, says the 10-year study is the first to look at the effect of marital strain in relationship to the development of heart disease and death. The study also confirmed that marriage is good for men's health, but that unmarried men were twice as likely to die as married men.
So why is it so hard for some women to speak up? "We don't really know why women self-silence," says Dr. Eaker. "It may be some type of protection mechanism." Experts say most girls are taught not deal directly with their feelings. "Girls learn more 'relational forms' of aggression," says psychologist Dana Jack. She teaches at the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University and has written extensively about self-silencing. "Girls tell other girls, 'I won't play with you if you play with her." Boys on the other hand are taught to express their anger openly.
As a result, Jack says, some women are afraid of the consequences of showing anger during quarrels with their husbands. For some women, it's because of the threat of physical violence, but for others, there is a fear that if they speak up, their husbands will leave and their financial security will go out the door with them. So anger builds up and, like stress, it can damage the heart. Jack tells the story of a woman she once counseled in group therapy. "Lisa's" husband left her for a younger woman. One day, the husband showed up and took all the family albums. The new wife wanted them. Members of the group were incredulous when Lisa said she didn't put up a fight. She never did. Lisa told the group her kids knew she was angry only if she raised an eyebrow. After "self-censoring" for so long, Lisa lost the ability to express anger. She died from heart disease.
The bottom line, says Dr. Eaker, is that "self-silencing" women need to learn how to express themselves more constructively and put themselves in an environment where they feel safe to do so.
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said "If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart."
I want to know what you think. Do you self-silence in your relationships? Has marriage helped or hurt your health?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• Turning up the heat on sunscreen
• Managing diabetes
• What's that beep?
• Back to VA Tech: PTSD concerns
• Dangers of cold medicine in toddlers
• Lead and toys - what to do
• Antioxidants not all they're cracked up to be?
• Left-handedness and your health
• "Look, Daddy, there's a snake under my tricycle!"
• Keeping your cool in a heat wave