5 Steps to Heal Her Pain: How a Fatherless Daughter Can Move on From a Dad's Rejection
Fatherless Daughters: Suffering in Silence
- Did you know that one in three women identifies herself as "fatherless" because of her dad's death, his emotional neglect, or his physical absence?
- Did you know many fatherless daughters blame themselves when their dads abandon them?
- Did you know these women are more likely to have low self-esteem, struggle with eating disorders, and suffer from depression?
- Did you know those whose fathers died are actually better off emotionally because they don't feel the heartache of rejection?
The good news is that fatherless daughters can rise above these pitfalls if they're unaware of them. Iyanla Vanzant, the inspirational speaker and author, says that when a dad leaves he takes a piece of his daughter's soul with him. She, therefore, feels an intense lacking in her life and may try to fill it up with food, drugs, alcohol, or a series of unsuitable men. When she sees her father clearly with all his limitations, though, she can make the conscious choice to not let his absence define who she is and limit her potential.
Isn't it pathetic how we waste so much time on certain people and in the end they prove that they weren't even worth a second of it?— Anonymous
Fatherless Daughters: Shouldering a Father's Rejection From a Young Age
One in three women identifies herself as fatherless. Whether our dad left us and never looked back, divorced our mom and saw us just twice a month, or stayed in the house but was emotionally detached, we may have grown up struggling with a profound sense of rejection. We probably felt tossed aside and blamed ourselves as kids typically do.
We might have thought: If only I were cuter, smarter, prettier, nicer, more athletic, Dad would have loved me and stayed. Most likely, nobody around us took the time to explain how our father was damaged and how his absence wasn't our fault. Nobody told us that one piece of information we so desperately needed to hear: his absence had everything to do with him and nothing to do with us.
Iyanla Vanzant explains how daughters are affected by their absent dads.
Fatherless Daughters: Defining Ourselves by Dad's Rejection
After a lifetime of silently shouldering the burden of our father's abandonment, we need to finally let it go. We need to understand at long last that our dad's neglect of us doesn't define who we are in the here-and-now. We no longer want it to hold us back from experiencing all the joys that life has to offer. Too many of us fatherless daughters have struggled with addictions, depression, anxiety, troubled relationships, poor self-esteem, and an inability to trust.
I battled “father hunger,” a craving for a loving dad, that led to yo-yo dieting, an eating disorder, obesity, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors centered around food. Day after day I was tortured by an existence focused on eating or trying not to eat. When I finally understood that I was trying to fill up the emptiness in my heart left by my dad, I was able to stop thinking about food and find relief.
This only came about, though, because I did the hard work to heal. I continue to do so each and every day. It's easy to fall back into the role of victim—the poor, pitiful fatherless girl—and use that as an excuse for not striving and succeeding. If we make ourselves a priority and work through these five steps, we fatherless daughters can move on from our dad's rejection and lead a happy, meaningful life:
- Look at your father's rejection objectively, not emotionally.
- Examine how his rejection impacted your life.
- Reclaim your power.
- Make yourself stronger (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually).
- Surround yourself with positive people.
5 Steps to Take When Recovering From Your Dad's Rejection
1. Look at Your Father's Rejection Objectively, Not Emotionally
We're often so blinded by hurt that we don't step back and look at the situation objectively. When we do, though, we see the big picture and realize that our father's neglect had nothing to do with us. We must remember that our dads had lives long before we were born, and some of them were deeply troubled. When we do a little detective work, we find the clues that led to their personalities, their behaviors, and their weaknesses. We solve the mystery of why they weren't good dads.
My father, for instance, was born to German immigrant farmers who were stoic, stern, no-nonsense people who worked hard and showed little emotion. I never saw my dad have a loving exchange with his parents nor his sister. He grew up believing that a father's role was limited to providing for his family financially. I'm sure he never gave the emotional component of parenting a second thought. Knowing this made me realize his coldness wasn't caused by me but was a product of his upbringing. I wasn't unlovable; he was incapable of loving.
You either get bitter or you get better. It's that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.— Anonymous
2. Examine How Your Dad's Rejection Impacted Your Life
The legacy of being a fatherless daughter often includes a running tape of negative messages running through our brains. Many of these thoughts are distorted or outright falsehoods, but they still make us doubt ourselves. They may include messages like: I'm unworthy of love...I don't deserve anyone's time and attention...I don't have what it takes to keep a man's interest...If I was different, people would want to spend time with me.
I struggled with low self-esteem all my life until I examined how it was connected to my father's emotional neglect of me. Once I did that, I became aware of the self-destructive messages that entered my brain throughout the day. I then got hyper-vigilant about shutting them down as fast as possible.
I realized how damaging they were to my well-being, how untrue they were, and how they prevented me from becoming strong and confident. As soon as a negative thought entered my head, I thought of something I had done recently that showed strength and courage: running a half-marathon, asking for a raise, or completing a tough assignment at work. I resented how much real estate my father was taking up in my brain and decided to finally evict him!
3. Reclaim Your Power
We're largely at the mercy of our parents when we're children. Their reactions to us—positive or negative—shape who we are. An absent dad can leave a girl feeling insecure, and there's little she can do about it. When she becomes an adult, though, she can reclaim her power and not stay on the hamster wheel, spinning and spinning but going nowhere.
For too long, I thought the only solution to my sadness was to have a better relationship with my dad. In my mind, that was the cure for all my woes. That misguided belief, though, just kept me spinning. It would never become a reality because my father had no interest in building a relationship with me and never had. When I accepted that reality (brutal as it was), it helped me reclaim my power, find peace of mind, and start creating a wonderful life.
We need to seize control of our current relationships and not let our absent fathers shape them. Kati Morton, a licensed therapist, says fatherless daughters often take the unhealthy lessons they learned about men from childhood with them into adulthood. They continue to apply them to relationships for the rest of their lives, making themselves miserable but not understanding why.
For many years, I chose workaholic men to date who were like my dad. I walked around on eggshells like I had as a child, trying to keep things calm, quiet, and stress-free so my boyfriends wouldn't explode with anger and frustration. When I recognized that pattern, I broke free of it. I found a guy to marry who maintained a healthy balance between work and play.
Iyanla Vanzant says a fatherless daughter should say these two words to heal: "Daddy gone!"
I am thankful for all those difficult people in my life. They have shown me who I do not want to be.— Anonymous
4. Make Yourself Stronger (Physically, Emotionally, Mentally, and Spiritually)
For too long, my life was on hold as I waited for my dad to see the error of his ways. I waited patiently for the day when he'd apologize for his neglectful behavior and start spending time with me. What a waste of my life!
I did that, though, because I was too scared and too lazy to get going and start my future. I was paralyzed with fear. It was so much safer and easier just to blame him, stay the perpetual victim, and avoid the hard work. I ate too much, didn't exercise enough, and always put everyone else's needs before mine.
Yet, when we do this, we pay a huge price. It comes not only in poor health but in the disrespect we get from those around us: our spouse, our children, our co-workers, and our friends. That's because people don't value us if we don't value ourselves.
Life coach and author, Charly Emery, reminds women that others watch how we treat ourselves and then follow our lead. If we have self-respect, they will treat us with dignity. If we don't exercise, eat right, and enjoy downtime, they will assume we don't care about ourselves so why should they. This is an especially critical lesson for us fatherless daughters to learn since we tend to always put others before ourselves.
5. Surround Yourself With Positive People
Because one in three women identifies herself as fatherless, there are many role models around us who've dealt with a dad's rejection and are now thriving.These are the ones we need to connect with so we can learn from them and be inspired. Surrounding ourselves with friends who use drugs or alcohol and are perpetually dysfunctional and depressed will only keep us stuck.
Fatherless daughters are often passive about choosing friends because we lack self-esteem. We let others pick us instead of us picking them. By not taking charge, we wind up with pals who don't serve us well and keep us from achieving our goals.
The billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Warren Buffet, advises people to choose carefully because friends form who we become. As a fatherless daughter, we didn't get to select our dad when we were born. As adults, though, we have all the power in the world to select companions who will make our lives better.
Are you a fatherless daughter?
If so, how did you get over your dad's rejection?
This is the book I recommend to those of us who identify as fatherless daughters and are eager to heal and move forward. No book will help us change until we have the motivation to do so, are willing to look at our painful past, and put in the hard work to eliminate our destructive thought patterns and behaviors. There's no doubt about it; this is a painful book for us fatherless daughters to read. It will surely make you cry as old wounds get opened up. If you're like I was, you'll have to put it down and walk away many times before finishing. I wrote in my journal after almost every page because something got triggered from my childhood that I needed to think about and understand.
Ultimately, though, this book provides us fatherless daughters with comfort and hope. Dr. Rosenthal does a superb job of detailing the six types of unavailable dads and provides stories of women who grew up with them. It feels good to know we're not alone in the treatment we endured and the struggles it produced. It's encouraging to hear the stories of fatherless daughters who've broken free of victim-hood and are now thriving. If you're ready to take the next step, please read this book.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How can a mother help a fatherless daughter?
That's such a beautiful and caring question for a mother to ask. Your willingness to help your fatherless daughter will be so incredibly beneficial to her. Being open, honest, and real is the most important thing. You have a lot of information she needs to fill in the gaps and better understand her dad. Without that information, she'll fill them in with negative messages about herself: I'm too fat, needy, ugly, stupid, unlovable for Dad to spend time with me.
My mother felt too guilty and defensive to admit that she picked the wrong man to be the father of her four children. She never explained to us why our dad was always working, stressed and angry. As kids are prone to do, we blamed ourselves and walked around on eggshells to keep him from exploding with rage. When my friends asked me why he didn't attend my softball games and piano recitals, I never had an answer and felt tremendous shame and confusion. If my mother had explained my father to me, I could have simply said, “he's a workaholic.” Being able to put a name to something is so empowering for kids. It lets them put the blame squarely where it belongs—on their parent, not themselves.
Saying you're sorry for picking the wrong guy to be her dad would also be incredibly helpful for your fatherless daughter. Owning your part would make her see that adults are responsible for the situation they created, not her. My mom picked a man who was closed off but a good provider. She was willing to give up emotional connection in exchange for financial security, but that trade-off had devastating consequences for us kids. She never apologized for her role in creating an unhappy home life until after my father had an affair. Then her eyes were finally opened to the mistakes she had made, but that was too late for my siblings and me!
Finally, going to family counseling would be extremely useful. This will show your fatherless daughter that she's not in it alone and not responsible for the situation. Instead, she'll see that it's a family dynamic that needs to be discussed and healed. She'll come to understand the mistakes that were made so she won't repeat them in her own life when dating, picking a partner, and having kids.
Thanks so much for the question and caring so much about your daughter. Much peace and love to both of you!Helpful 14
How do I have a healthy relationship with anyone if I fear they will hurt me?
You can't. We fatherless daughters are not alone in having this fear; it's universal. So many people miss out on love because they wake up every morning and put on a suit of armor to face the world. They protect their hearts, but they miss out on romance, joy, and passion. If you want to be open to love, you must also be open to getting hurt. If you want to be open to succeeding at school or in your career, you must also be open to failing. If you want to be open to new friendships, you must also be open to rejection. That's true for all of us--fatherless daughters and every other soul on the face of this planet.
Dr. Brene Brown is a researcher who has studied vulnerability extensively. She worries that our society is facing a crisis because so many of us are frightened of being vulnerable. We see it as weakness, but Dr. Brown sees it as courageous and the key to happiness. She says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of faith.”
Imagine the worst possible scenario if you were in a romance and got dumped. Yes, you'd feel awful, but you could survive it, right? It wouldn't be terminal. You'd still have a wonderful life with friends, family, your career, your pets, and your hobbies, right? You'd have the ability to work through the hurt and try again, right?
If that's not the case, then you need to back off from trying to find someone and concentrate on becoming a stronger person. You may need to focus on other areas of your life—taking classes to get ahead at your job, training for a marathon or other athletic event, going back to school to earn a degree, or learning a new skill such as ballroom dancing, martial arts, Chinese cooking, or watercolor painting. Once you become a more confident and accomplished person, you'll probably be ready to face the dating scene.
Don't let the pain of being a fatherless daughter stop you from enjoying every aspect of life. It's time to push yourself forward and not use your dad as an excuse.Helpful 11
Why do I still want to see my dad after his abandonment? I am twenty-four now. Before, I didn't care if I saw him or not, but why now do I want to see him? Why do I feel always there’s something missing?
When we get stuck in our thoughts, it's a good indication that it's time to see a professional to help us get unstuck. A good cognitive therapist could help you change the way you look at things in a relatively short amount of time. It's well worth your efforts now to invest in some counseling so you can get your life on track and stop focusing on your dad.
Otherwise, that negativity can grow and take over your life. There's a saying “As you think, so shall you be.” When you have help changing your thoughts, you can take control of your life and see things in a new, more empowered way.
You're at a crossroads now, deciding whether to seek the help you need or stay marinating in your sad thoughts. The spiritual coach, Iyanla Vanzant, said something so profound about our journey to get better: “There is no great battle in life than the battle between the parts of you that want to be helped and the parts of you that are comfortable and content remaining broken.”
Only you can take the steps necessary to improve your existence, but you have to want it for yourself. Thinking more about the situation with distorted thoughts will do you no good. Talking to friends and relatives might bring some comfort, but they're not objective professionals. Their input is not always useful, and they often say only what they think you want to hear.
Please see a therapist so you can move forward. I wish you the very best with this.Helpful 10
How do I stop myself from feeling suicidal?
If you're feeling suicidal, please go see a doctor or call the suicide prevention line. They have the resources you need to feel better. When we get that depressed, we can't get out of it by ourselves. We can't “just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.” Our thoughts are too distorted. We need help. We may need to go on anti-depressants for a limited period.
I've been there. When I was in my late thirties, I hadn't dealt with the tremendous hurt I felt as a fatherless daughter. I hadn't grieved that loss. In fact, I didn't even know that term could be applied to me because my dad had been in the home—albeit emotionally distant. At that point in my life, I had a wonderful husband and two great kids but felt so sad, empty, and hopeless. Anti-depressants were the rope I needed to crawl out of my abyss of despair.
The biggest mistake I made, though, was not continuing with therapy and relying solely on anti-depressants. Then, seven years later when I finally went off the medicine, I was back at square one. That's when a decision was forced upon me: either go back on the anti-depressants and live like a zombie again or finally deal with the pain of being a fatherless daughter. I'm so glad I chose the second option, or I would not be in the beautiful spot I'm in today.
The sooner you call for help, the sooner you'll get better and the sooner you can move forward with your life. Feeling hopeless and wanting to give up can propel us to make changes. When we take control, our attitudes become more positive, and we can see the light again.
Please take the first step to get help. You won't feel this way forever, but you need to reach out. Write me back, so I know you took that first important step. I care!Helpful 7
My Ph.D. advisor reminds me of my father. I'm kind of afraid of him because of that resemblance. Should I work with him?
In another situation, I'd tell you to deal with your fears and not run away from them. For example, what if the man in question was your new boss at your dream job or your potential new father-in-law? You wouldn't want to give up a fantastic career opportunity or a wonderful husband just because someone reminds you of your dad. If you went to cognitive therapy, this problem could be resolved in a relatively short amount of time by changing your thoughts.
However, in this particular situation, I think a change in advisors is a good idea. I imagine you're quite busy now with your studies and are dealing with a lot of stress. You don't have free time to deal with the issues surrounding your dad (although, hopefully, you will in the future). Since you're focusing on your education and paying for these academic services, you want the optimal experience. You'll be working closely with your advisor and want a comfortable rapport with him: asking questions, seeking counsel, and revealing your struggles. You don't want someone who makes you fearful, even if it isn't his fault.
Do you have another advisor in mind? Perhaps, there is someone who's a better fit for your educational needs. This is the time to be pragmatic. Tell this advisor the truth or simply say, “I found a better fit.” I'm sure he'll be professional about it and take no offense.Helpful 2
© 2018 McKenna Meyers