Woman running on beach - Father's daughters

The following has been excerpted from The Book of SHE: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, which aims to help women understand and appreciate themselves in a spiritual and psychological sense. 

The archetype of the “Father’s Daughter”

One evening when I was ten years old, I sat in my white eyelet nightgown at the kitchen table with my father. In front of us, we spread my fourth-grade report card out on the white-and-blue-checked tablecloth. I proudly pointed out all the “excellents” checked off—from reading to math to music to handwriting. In celebration, he pulled a crisp 20-dollar bill out of his leather wallet and handed it to me, a rare moment of connection for us both. A near-orphan from Minnesota who worked his way up to earn an Ivy League scholarship and then a high-paying job in Manhattan, my father had also always been a straight-A student. He transformed his life from rags to riches by focusing on the one thing he could control—his ambition. I inherited a love of learning from my dad, as well as my immense drive and ambition to succeed, both of which I still value greatly.

But these gifts came with a price. Growing up, I continued to follow in his footsteps. From the fourth-grade “excellents,” to high school “high honours,” to Ivy League Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, I built my identity and self-worth on the recognition I received through my scholarly success, along with my thin, pretty appearance. I knew that, no matter how lost and insecure I felt inside, as long as I looked good and did well in school, I would receive the love and validation from the world that I so desperately longed for. I later realized that for the first two decades of my life, even though my father, typical of many men of his generation, often travelled and worked long hours away from home, I was my Father’s Daughter. I internalized the linear, results-oriented model of patriarchal success that he embodied so well, to enable myself to survive first in my family of origin and later in the world.

Most women are Father’s Daughters, although not always in the same way. Maybe we had fathers who were physically present, but often domineering, aggressive or even abusive. Or we might have had fathers whom we viewed as too weak and passive, so we aimed ourselves towards becoming the exact opposite. Maybe we had amicable relationships with our fathers and were “Daddy’s Little Girls.” If we didn’t receive enough attention from our fathers, we became “armoured amazons,” fending for ourselves to get our needs met—and thus becoming Father’s Daughters in a roundabout way. As Maureen Murdock explains in The Heroine’s Journey:

The armour protects [us] positively insofar as it helps [us] develop professionally and enables [us] to have a voice in the world of affairs, but insofar as the armour shields [us] from [our] own feminine feelings and [our] soft side, [we] tend to become alienated from [our] own creativity, from healthy relationships with men, and from the spontaneity and vitality of living in the moment.

It’s no coincidence that most of the women who are drawn to undertake the Heroine’s Journey also fall into the archetype of Father’s Daughters, and that the first stage of our journey requires that we shed this identity. We’ve built our selfhoods around being good girls and succeeding at all costs according to deranged masculine principles. As a result, we’re tormented by the belief that we need to be extraordinary in order to validate our existence. At some point (or usually many points) along our life journeys, we’ve felt that who we are at the core is bad. To hide our rotten interiors, we squashed and squelched our inner femininity, while grooming and starving our outer, shapely shells. Some part of us rejected the feminine as distrustful. Our vulnerable, feminine centres withered and withdrew, feeling unloved, unseen, and uncared for by those around us, and we looked to our fathers for love, safety, approval and recognition. We became Father’s Daughters.

Daughters of the patriarchy

Viewing this archetype from yet another perspective, on a larger, cultural scale, we are all the daughters of a collective, cultural, all-pervasive pathological father—the Patriarchy. Due to this overarching cultural milieu, which prioritizes dominance, coercion, and power, at this time in history, we are all Patriarchy’s daughters. We all exhaust ourselves to do more, do it better, get ahead, and not be seen as weak or lazy. To function within such overdrive, we bury our intuition, crush our desires, and stomp over our bodies’ subtle signals for rest and true nourishment. In driving ourselves so hard, not only do we make ourselves sick and exhausted, but also we hammer the nails into our own coffins of unhappiness. We wonder things like:

“Why do I always feel like I’m behind?”

“Why do I always feel so tired?”

“Why do I feel so disconnected from myself?”

“Why does my life feel so out of balance?”

When we fail to bring the archetype of the Father’s Daughter that we all carry inside into the light of our awareness, we prevent a key part of ourselves (like my 10-year-old self in her nightgown) from growing up. She remains wounded and in the driver’s seat of our lives, unbeknownst to us!

As daughters of the Patriarchy, we all arrive right here, in this exact moment, together. We are at the point where, as grown women, we recognize the need to stop pushing ourselves forward from a hidden agenda to be loved. We wake up to the truth that this pursuit is hollow and perilous. If we don’t bring that lifelong, misguided ambition into conscious awareness, we’re going to end up driving our dreams—and ourselves—into the ground.

This is what almost happened to one of my students, Catherine. On the outside, she seemed to be doing everything right. She was running a successful women’s coaching practice, was happily married to a doting husband, had nurtured a good nest egg of investments, and owned her own home right near her favourite place—the beach. Then some confounding health challenges led her to plunge back into a familiar depression. That’s when she reached out to me for mentoring.

“Sara, it’s just that I feel like such a...” she sighed, voice trembling, during our first session.

“It’s OK, take your time.”

I…I feel like such a hypocrite,” she let out, followed by what I sensed was a full-body sob. “Oh my god,” she continued, a few sniffles later. “It feels so good just to tell the truth. I didn’t realize how much I needed to stop fighting the truth.”

Catherine went on to explain that these very funks were what led her to become a coach in the first place. She wanted nothing more than to help other women weather these very challenges. Now, with the resurgence of this debilitating demon, none of Catherine’s old tools were working. The more she tried to climb out of her dark well, the more she spiralled down. She began to question her knowledge and integrity.

“I just want to be normal again!” she proclaimed, trying to regain her composure. “Why isn’t anything working? What am I doing wrong?”

“Catherine,” I cut in, “being normal isn’t the point. It’s not even possible. You’re doing absolutely nothing wrong. This is exactly where you need to be.”

I knew from my own journey that the real reason Catherine had come to me was far deeper and more beautiful than to regain her status quo.

“This is a huge blessing,” I continued. “This isn’t a setback. It’s the bridge to your new life. You know, that one? The one you’ve always wanted?”

We laughed together for a moment before diving in.

I’ve mentored hundreds of women like Catherine who have gone through similar rites of passage: midlife crises, “nervous breakdowns” and “spiritual depressions,” career shifts, post-partum depressions, miscarriages, the death of a parent or spouse. When things fall apart, we think it’s because we’ve done something wrong. All will be right again if we can just clean ourselves up, rewind and return to “normal.” When we harbour the false belief that life should always be cheerful and challenge-free, of course we’re going to beat ourselves up when the reality of our lives fails to match our ideals. I should have saved more money. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I should have more willpower. I should be more confident. I should be able to handle this. I should have appreciated her more when she was alive. I should have, I should have, I should have!

Serving so many women in crisis shows me again and again how much every woman needs to normalize her hardships far more than her false sense of comfy stability. The Buddha taught that “life is suffering.” This doesn’t mean we’re doomed to dwell in misery; rather, this honest perspective empowers us to look at the nature of life head-on. Bumps in the road aren’t anomalies. They’re unavoidable actualities of being human. We all experience them. We need to experience them. They signal us to step up and meet the lives that are ours to meet.

As Catherine’s story demonstrates, you can never choose when, where, or how your life will call you forth to become a Heroine. There’s never a good time for chaos to scramble the tidy package of your life. Ready or not, your Heroine’s Journey always comes to find you through the wise messenger in your depths, your SHE.

Your SHE, your feminine soul

Your feminine soul, which I call your SHE, contains your deepest source of personal power, inner wisdom and authentic expression. An emanation of the Divine Feminine, SHE allows you to belong to yourself fully, while also being connected to the Sacred All. The direct link between your body, psyche, and divine nature, SHE is both as unique as your fingerprint and as universal as the breath of life. SHE makes every woman a mystic, bridging your personhood and your divinity. When you learn to live in relationship with Her, you harness your latent capacity to be an alchemist, co-creating with the divine to manifest gold out of lead and heaven on Earth.

How does this work, exactly? For most of human history, philosophers and mystics pointed out that there are three key aspects of reality: matter, soul and spirit. Let’s take a quick look at each.

Matter is our gross, physical reality (relative). It includes our bodies, trees, mountains, oceans, and so forth—all that we can experience through our five senses.

Spirit is transcendent reality (Absolute). It’s what religions and spiritual traditions teach.

Soul is the bridge between matter and spirit. Soul infuses spirit into matter—heaven into Earth, divine into human, goddess into woman.

We spend so much of our lives focusing solely on our material realities, forgetting that we all carry a spark of the divine within us, that most of us never come to truly know our souls. Yet true healing, wisdom, evolution, joy and freedom come from expressing your soul’s truths in all of your thoughts, words and actions. Your soul is the part of you that’s old and wise and that came here to experience life through and as you, in order to bring more love and happiness to the world.

How some women in our SHE School community speak about their SHEs

  • SHE is the divine and enduring strength of my soul.
  • SHE’s that “still, small voice” inside of me.
  • SHE speaks to me through my intuition and “gut feelings.”
  • SHE knows what suffering I need to endure to grow and will help to cradle me when it all becomes too much.
  • If I can stay grounded and connected with my SHE, I find the fears float away and I’m simply learning another language of love.
  • There’s no blueprint for where I am at or where I’m going…just my SHE guiding me.

Warning: Be careful not to abstract your SHE. SHE is not an entity outside of you. SHE is you—the deepest, wisest, most divine part of you, trying to take root in your unique body and personality structure. SHE is your True Self (with a capital S).

I now realize that my SHE is just me, and is not going to communicate with me in a way that seems to come from outside myself. And I realize that I’ve always been looking for the divine far outside of myself. I expected it to be this huge knock over the head and I guess the idea that it was me didn’t seem good enough, which I suppose goes to some subconscious belief that I’m not good enough. It is a really profound realization for me. SHE is me, just that. And all that as well. Beautiful and momentous at the same time!

This is an initiation

Three women with birthday cake - Father's daughters

Sweet sixteen, your first period, the loss of your virginity, marriage, birth, your 50th birthday—as women we know such outer initiations well. They serve as milestones of growth. Our communities and families honour us during some of these commencements. Others we acknowledge alone. In all cases, most initiations today stand shallow and empty. They no longer carry the rich, magical ritual they once did. Rites of passage seem to be luxuries in our busy lives, so we hurry through them. Even worse: sometimes we don’t take the time to celebrate at all. Why take time for me, we ask? That’s selfish. I have too many other things to do right now.

In our rush, we forget that our lives are a series of initiations. Women’s health pioneer Dr. Christiane Northrup uses the metaphor of passing through a series of wombs over the course of our lives. Each stage gives birth to the next. Let’s stop rushing back to work mere days after giving birth or burying a loved one. Let’s acknowledge that even if we’re not visibly bleeding or injured, we sometimes have inner wounds and illnesses that require time, lots of time, to heal. Feminine wisdom blossoms within us, and on this planet, through this very process of passing from womb to womb—death to rebirth. Our initiations help all of humanity to evolve and therefore demand our respect and loving presence.

As an initiation, this book is here to give you all the tools and inspiration you need to face yourself and your life—full-on. It is here to urge you forward, into the chaos, the mess, and the uncertainty. It is here to roar at you when you whimper and want to turn back. It is here to cradle you when all you need is the Mother’s mercy. It is here to protect you when you face the inner demons that you fear might destroy you. It is here to sing to you when you arrive in the field of your own forgiveness.

Sara Avant Stover is the author of The Book of SHE and The Way of the Happy Woman. A pioneer in contemporary women’s work, she has been featured in Yoga Journal, Newsweek, and Natural Health and on ABC, NBC, and CBS. Visit her online at http://www.thewayofthehappywoman.com.

Excerpted from The Book of SHE: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power © 2015 Sara Avant Stover. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

image 1: Beautiful energetic young woman via Shutterstock; image 2: Three middle-aged African women via Shutterstock