5 Ways for a Fatherless Daughter to Heal From Her Dad's Rejection

Updated on February 28, 2020
letstalkabouteduc profile image

While growing up, the author's father lived in their home but remained emotionally detached. As a result, she struggled with depression.

If a daughter's take-away from having an absent dad is that all men are unreliable, she might develop a long-time pattern of dating flaky guys.
If a daughter's take-away from having an absent dad is that all men are unreliable, she might develop a long-time pattern of dating flaky guys. | Source

Did You Know?

  • one in three women identifies herself as fatherless because of her dad's death, his emotional neglect, or his physical absence
  • many fatherless daughters blame themselves for their dad's abandonment
  • these women are more likely to have low self-esteem, struggle with eating disorders, and suffer from depression
  • those whose fathers died are actually better off psychologically because they didn't endure their dads' rejection

Iyanla Vanzant, the inspirational speaker and author, says that when a dad leaves he takes a piece of his daughter's soul with him. As a result, she can experience an intense lacking. She may try to fill this void with food, drugs, alcohol, or a series of unsuitable men.

The good news is that these pitfalls aren't inevitable. If a fatherless daughter is made aware of these potential dangers, she can work hard to steer clear of them. Moreover, when she sees her father clearly with all his limitations, she can make the conscious choice to not let his absence define her. She can recover from his rejection and lead a purposeful life.

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?

Shouldering a Father's Rejection

A shocking one in three women identifies herself as fatherless. Some see themselves this way because their dad left and was never heard from again. Others claim this status because they saw their dad infrequently after their parents divorced. Still others describe themselves as such because their dad lived in the home but remained aloof. Whatever their particular circumstance, these women identify as fatherless because they felt rejected by their dads. Moreover, some blamed themselves for him being emotionally or physically distant, causing even more damage to their young psyches.

Blaming Herself

Because kids are naturally egocentric, a fatherless daughter may grow up believing that she was the source of her father's indifference. She may have thought: If only I were cuter, smarter, prettier, nicer, more athletic, Dad would have loved me and stayed.The adults around her may never have explained that her father was damaged and his absence wasn't caused by anything she had done. Nobody told her the one piece of information that she so desperately needed to hear: his desertion had everything to do with him and nothing to do with her.

Trying to Fill the Void

As a result of my dad's detachment, I battled father hunger as a teen and young adult. My craving for a loving and involved paternal figure led to yo-yo dieting, an eating disorder, obesity, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors centered around food. I lived a tortured existence, preoccupied with thoughts of eating while battling mightily not to eat. When I finally understood that I was trying to fill up the emptiness in my heart created by my dad's absence, I was able to free myself from my food fixation.

In this video, Iyanla Vanzant explains how a daughter is affected by her father's absence.

Letting Go of Brokenness

This only happened, though, when I became motivated to change. I had given lip service for years to the idea that I wanted to become healthier and happier. Yet, I wasn't ready to let go of my identity as the poor, pitiful fatherless girl. It was my ready excuse for why my romantic relationships ended badly, why I was floundering in my career, and why I wasn't living up to my potential. Iyanla Vanzant's words illustrate my internal dilemma at that time: "There is no greater 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."

5 Ways for a Fatherless Daughter to Recover From Her Dad's Rejection

1. Look at it objectively, not emotionally.

2. Examine how it impacted her life.

3. Reclaim her power.

4.Feel all her feelings.

5.Surround herself with positive people.

1. Look at It Objectively, Not Emotionally

Fatherless daughters can be so immersed in their own pain that they don't step back to look at their situation clearly. If they did, though, they'd see the big picture and realize that their father's neglect had nothing to do with them. They could appreciate that their dads had lives long before they were born, and many were of them were deeply troubled. When they do a little detective work, they can find the signs indicating that he would become a lousy parent.

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 only role was to provide financially for his family. Getting a handle on his history made me realize that his coldness was a byproduct of his upbringing. Most significantly, I understood that I wasn't unlovable; he was simply 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.

2. Examine How It Impacted Her Life

As a result of being fatherless, a woman can have a tape running in her head that continually voices negative messages. It has the power to quash her self-esteem. When feeling especially vulnerable, she hears words that are loud, distorted, and hateful: You're unworthy of being loved...You don't deserve anyone's time and attention...You don't have what it takes to keep a man. Even your own father lost interest in you.

I struggled with low self-esteem for decades until I connected it to my father's emotional neglect. Once I did that, I became hyper-vigilant about the noxious messages that entered my brain, shutting them down as fast as possible. My mantra became: You are not your thoughts; you are the awareness of your thoughts. 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 evict him at long last.

Fatherless daughters often carry a great deal of unearned shame and guilt. Once they see their absent dads objectively, they can let go of it.
Fatherless daughters often carry a great deal of unearned shame and guilt. Once they see their absent dads objectively, they can let go of it. | Source

3. Reclaim Her Power

We're largely at the mercy of our parents when we're kids. Their reactions to us—positive or negative—shape how we feel about ourselves. A dad's absence can leave a girl feeling insecure, and there's little she can do about it. When she becomes an adult, though, she has the opportunity to reclaim her power.

It's imperative that fatherless daughters take charge of their relationships as adults, not allowing their past with an absent dad to contaminate them. Kati Morton, a licensed therapist, says women too often take the unhealthy lessons that they learned about men from childhood and carry them into the present. Unaware of it, they continue to apply them to relationships for the rest of their lives and make themselves miserable in the process.

For over a decade, I dated men who were workaholics like my dad. When with them, I walked around on eggshells like I had as a child. I tried to keep things calm, quiet, and stress-free so my boyfriends wouldn't explode with anger and frustration like my father had when I was a kid. When I recognized that pattern, I was able to break free from it and eventually marry a man who maintained a healthy work-play balance.

I am thankful for all those difficult people in my life. They have shown me who I do not want to be.

4. Feel All Her Feelings

The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives helped me see that I wasn't alone in the ways I was affected by my dad's absence. According to the book, my longtime habit of bottling up my emotions is common among women who grew up without fathers. Sadly, we keep our feelings underneath the surface, which can harm us both physically and mentally. When out of touch with our inner world, we can struggle to know ourselves, leading to disastrous results in our romantic relationships, friendships, and careers.

Dr. Karin Luise, a therapist and the book's co-author, says that some fatherless daughters began suppressing their emotions during childhood. Many had single moms who were overwhelmed and, therefore, leaned on their daughters for emotional support. While tending to their mothers, these girls neglected their own feelings.

As an adult, a fatherless daughter needs to nurture the wounded little girl she once was and embrace her emotions. The profound words of Fred Rogers would have helped her immensely when she was a kid but can at long last be taken to heart now: "Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary."

In this video, Iyanla Vanzant says that a fatherless daughter should proclaim these two words in order to heal: "Daddy gone!"

5. Surround Herself With Positive People

Because one in three women identifies herself as fatherless, we have many role models around us who've dealt with a dad's rejection but are thriving.These are the women that we need to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by. Surrounding ourselves with women who use drugs or alcohol or are perpetually dysfunctional and depressed will only keep us stuck.

Fatherless daughters are often passive about choosing friends because of their low self-esteem. They let others pick them instead of them doing the picking. By not taking charge, they can wind up with pals who don't serve them well and keep them from achieving their goals.

The billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Warren Buffet, advises people to choose carefully because friends form who we become. Fatherless daughters didn't get to select their dads when they were born. As adults, though, they have all the power in the world to select companions who will enrich their lives and help them become better human beings.

Are you a fatherless daughter?

If so, how did you get over your dad's rejection?

See results

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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I haven't seen my dad for 6 years, and last time was when I visited. The logistics are complicated, but if you really want to see your kids, you'd make an effort, right? Does it "count" as an absent father if he's only now becoming more absent, well into his empty-nest years? But if he cared, he would try to be in touch and be present in my life more, so I guess he just doesn't care much?

    I'm sorry this situation is causing you heartache but please know that you're not alone. I've spoken with dozens of women who've experienced the same thing. Many came to the conclusion that, if they wanted to keep a relationship with their dads, they had to make all the effort.

    The typical scenario involves parents who got divorced. The father then remarries and puts his new wife in charge of their social calendar. She, in turn, makes her own adult children, grandchildren, and friends the top priority. He goes along with it to keep peace in the marriage, largely oblivious to how much pain it creates.

    Some women choose to put their wounded egos and hurt feelings aside to keep the relationship. They may be motivated to do this so their kids will have a grandfather. They develop thick skins, keenly aware of their dad's limitations. Others decide it's not worth the effort and choose to put their time and energies into people who are more loving, receptive, and engaged.

    Sadly, not all fathers are capable of maintaining intimate relationships. While people like you and me long for connection, others actually run from it. Some are just stingy with their love, and they serve as a reminder that we want to be generous with ours.

    I keep in mind the quote: “Everybody isn't gonna love you. Most people don't even love themselves.” It reminds me that there are damaged souls walking this earth. I think of the years I yearned for affection from my dad and that entire side of the family. I shake my head now at how futile that was, looking to quench my thirst from a well that was bone dry. I see it so clearly today but couldn't when I was younger.

    In not seeing your dad for six years, you may have already made a decision without realizing it. Now, perhaps, you just need to make a conscious choice. I hope you find peace with whatever you decide and appreciate that his behavior is not a reflection of your worth.

  • 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!

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      6 weeks ago

      K, I empathize with your situation. When I taught kindergarten, I’d watch loving dads pick up their little girls after class. They’d call them “princesses” and have plans to take them to the park, to dance class, or to get an ice cream cone. I’d sometimes cry alone in my classroom because I never had that and it pained me so. I convinced myself that if I had a good dad, I’d be much happier, better adjusted, and more self-confident.

      But the spiritual writer, Bryon Katie, says: “To believe that you need what you don’t have is the definition of insanity.” Once I took those words to heart and accepted that I never had a daddy and never would, I released myself of the anguish. I stopped thinking about what I didn’t have and started focusing on what I did have. That’s made all the difference in my life and it just involved me changing my own thoughts. I hope that helps. Take care!

    • profile image

      6 weeks ago

      My father was not a nice person. I always hated him. It's been 8 years since My parents got divorced and Now I've been living with My mom. I don't Miss My father at all. But When i see My friends around their fathers and the fact that their fathers always have their back, i burst into tears and i always Ask God why i should have a Crazy father like him who never supported me. This feeling is really bothering me. These days i think about it a lot and cry every Night. What should i do? By the way I'm a 17 year old girl.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 months ago

      It’s not unusual for fatherless daughters to struggle with being vulnerable. Our dad’s abandonment can leave us feeling helpless, mistrustful, and scared of being hurt again. This unhealed trauma from our childhood can seep into our daily lives and keep us from opening up to others. Because of this, we’re never seen, loved, and accepted for the person we truly are.

      Working with a cognitive therapist is a valuable way to get in touch with our emotions regarding our dad’s rejection and put them in proper perspective. I also recommend you read Brene Brown’s powerful book entitled “The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.” She calls vulnerability “the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love” and says it’s our greatest strength. Take care!

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      I have a very hard time being vulnerable with people (My husband included) I honestly can’t remember one time in my life where I gave someone a hug told them I loved them and said it genuinely not just as were getting off the phone, I feel like it’s impossible for me to genuinely be vulnerable with someone else including my mom, sisters and close friends I can say how I feel through text but in person I can’t bring myself to be vulnerable. My dad left when I was 4 and I was raised without him until I was 10-11 when my parents temporality remarried then they divorced again he only came around when he wanted to be with my mom and used me to get to her.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 years ago

      Venkatachari, that makes me hurt for your wife. She had to deal with the rejection of a father, a mother, and an entire family. I don't know how someone ever recovers from that, but I'm glad she's doing well now. She's an inspiration to others. Thanks for sharing her story.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 years ago

      I agree, Bill. It takes so long to get over the damage done to us in childhood and some of us never recover. I think these are far better days when people are more thoughtful and deliberate about whether they want to become parents or not and society doesn't judge harshly those who choose to remain childless. In fact, many of those folks are admired. If my dad were a young man in today's world, he would decide to have no children or, perhaps, just one. Having four children was stressful for him and he did not enjoy it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, the damage some people do to their children. I know it's impossible, but some people should never be allowed to parent. Extreme, yes, but I think you understand the reason for it.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      A very informative and educative post. You are right that one should come out of those depressive feelings of rejection and move on in life with positive thoughts in improving her career and life.

      My wife was a fatherless daughter. He took his life on his own when she was in the womb. And, she got rejected or abused by all her family members including her mother who was indifferent towards this daughter. All of them cursed her that she was the cause of her father's death. So, my wife became a psychological victim and couldn't recover even after many years of marrying me. Only in her late forties, she was able to come out of it when her mother expired and she remained away from her siblings.


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