Fatherless Daughters: 5 Ways Growing up Without a Dad Affects Women

Updated on July 6, 2018
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My dad was physically present in our home but emotionally absent from our lives. I tried to numb the pain with food and anti-depressants.

It took six decades, but I can finally utter a huge truth of my life that caused me tremendous shame and sadness: my father didn't love me. I never spoke that deep, dark secret, but it was something always festering inside of me. It manifested itself in many ways throughout my life as I struggled with a food obsession, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression.

Having a father who was emotionally or physically absent stays with a daughter all her life. Daughters who grew up without a dad are more likely to marry young, suffer from depression, and struggle with eating disorders.
Having a father who was emotionally or physically absent stays with a daughter all her life. Daughters who grew up without a dad are more likely to marry young, suffer from depression, and struggle with eating disorders. | Source

Growing Up Without a Dad Shapes Who You Are

Try as I might, I was never been able to get any traction, always making a mess of this or that, and never able to form long-lasting friendships. I rejected happiness because I never felt worthy of it. I did so much to sabotage my life and make myself miserable.

Then last year my older sister revealed to me that she, too, had felt unloved by him. I immediately felt enormous relief and then great euphoria. I realized it had never been about me—that I was bad, ugly, stupid and undeserving. It had always been about him—his unhappy childhood, his cold mother, his negative nature, and his dissatisfaction with being a husband and father. It had never been about me...never. I could finally shout: “You were a piece of crap and now I'm done with you! I'm not your prisoner any more!"

Whether a dad was present but rejecting like mine or walked away from his fatherly duties entirely, his absence left an indelible mark on the psyche of his daughter as she grew into adulthood. What does the research say about woman who grew up with fathers who didn't love them— daughters who were never daddy's little princess? Here are 5 ways a daughter may be affected by not having an involved dad:

1. She Has Low Self-Esteem.

Deborah Moskovitch, a divorce consultant and author, says kids often blame themselves when dad leaves the home and becomes less involved in their lives. Because children are egocentric, they jump to the conclusion that it's their fault and that they're unlovable. When they aren't given explanations about why dad left, they make up their own scenario that puts them front and center and makes them responsible.

As a child, I watched television shows such as “The Brady Bunch” and “Happy Days” in which the fathers showered their daughters with tremendous attention and affection. Because I never got that from my dad, I convinced myself it was because I wasn't cute enough. I thought if I had blond hair and talked with a lisp like Cindy Brady I would then have my dad's devotion. I hated the way I looked because I thought it caused my father's disinterest in me. My self-esteem plummeted and I was sure no man would ever find me attractive.

Children are egocentric and may blame themselves if dad is out of the picture. This contributes to low self-esteem.
Children are egocentric and may blame themselves if dad is out of the picture. This contributes to low self-esteem. | Source

2. She Struggles to Build and Maintain Relationships.

According to Pamela Thomas, author of "Fatherless Daughters," women who grew up with absent dads find it difficult to form lasting relationships. Because they were scarred by their dad's rejection of them, they don't want to risk getting hurt again. Consciously or unconsciously, they avoid getting close to people. They have superficial relationships in which they reveal little of themselves and put very little effort into getting to know others. They may become promiscuous as a way of getting male attention without becoming too emotionally involved.

Ever since childhood, I've built walls around myself. I didn't open up to people. I didn't ask questions about their families, jobs, and hobbies. I kept my life private, and I remained socially isolated. These were all self-protective measures so I wouldn't experience rejection like I did with my dad. Knowing this intellectually did nothing to help me change my behavior because my fear was more powerful than my desire to make connections.

One in three women identify themselves as fatherless, putting them at risk for an eating disorder. "Father hunger" creates an emptiness in a woman's life that she may try to fill with food. Others try to get thin in the hope of winning dad's love.
One in three women identify themselves as fatherless, putting them at risk for an eating disorder. "Father hunger" creates an emptiness in a woman's life that she may try to fill with food. Others try to get thin in the hope of winning dad's love. | Source

3. She's More Likely to Have an Eating Disorder.

In their book “The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders,” the authors point out that girls with physically or emotionally absent fathers are at greater risk to develop eating disorders. Because they long to have a close relationship with their dads but get denied, they develop what Margo Maine calls “father hunger,” a deep emptiness and a profound insecurity. They're left wondering: What's so wrong with me that my own father doesn't love me? If I look different—if I'm thin—will I earn daddy's love?

I've struggled with "father hunger" throughout my life—stuffing my face to fill the void, dieting to get model thin, and always obsessing about food. My days have been filled with thoughts of eating—either doing it or struggling mightily not to do it. When I accepted that my dad didn't love me—-that he was an unhappy man with deep-rooted problems—I finally stopped thinking about food, started eating normally, and began maintaining a healthy weight. I was no longer trying to heal that ache with food. I began treating myself in a loving way by exercising, gardening, reading, walking in the woods, and spending time with family. For the first time in my life, I only thought about food when I was truly hunger. This freed me to enjoy my life in so many wonderful ways.

4. She's More Likely to Marry Young.

Countless studies have shown the many benefits that come from a strong father-daughter bond. Most notably, girls who are close to their dads are less likely to get pregnant as teens. They're less promiscuous.They wait longer to get married and to have children. When they do find a husband, their marriages are more emotionally satisfying, stable, and long-lasting.

My older sister met her future husband when she was just 18 and married him when she turned 22, straight out of college. He was the only guy she ever dated. Without a doubt, she was looking for the love and validation she never got from our dad. She was looking for healing from a dad who never said "I love you" or "you're pretty" and never gave the unconditional acceptance one craves from a parent. While still married, her union has been a difficult one, and she discourages her own daughters from marrying young.

5. She's More Likely to Suffer From Depression.

Not surprisingly, girls who grew up with dads who were emotionally or physically absent are more likely to struggle with depression as adults. Because they fear abandonment and rejection, these women often isolate themselves. They avoid romantic entanglements because they fear getting hurt. Others do the opposite—jumping into love relationships that aren't good for them and ultimately lead to heartbreak. In either scenario, the women are in emotional peril and frequently become depressed. If they don't deal with the cause of their sadness—an absent dad—they may never be able to develop healthy relationships with men.

According to the authors of “The Fatherless Daughter Project,” it's helpful to realize that we're not alone. In fact, one in three women see themselves as fatherless and struggle with feelings of abandonment. Knowing this fact helps us see that there's a whole sisterhood out there who share a common pain and a need to connect. When we open up and share our journey, we help ourselves and we comfort others. Whether we feel the loss of a dad through death, divorce, drug addiction, estrangement, or emotional neglect—we must grieve in order to move forward. A gifted therapist can be key to helping us do just that and becoming happier people.

Questions & Answers

© 2018 McKenna Meyers

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    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      4 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      Thanks for sharing your story, Mayrapatricia. I strongly believe all the responses I've received from fatherless daughters are far more important and far more impactful than my original article. However, I'm grateful my piece was an impetus for women such as you to think about the topic and write about your personal experiences. We are so much stronger when we share our journeys.

      We feel a lot of shame as fatherless daughters but we shouldn't. It wasn't our fault, and we need to connect with other women who understand our pain. Our mothers, feeling guilty about depriving us of fathers, often deny or downplay what we've been through and the hurt it's caused. Whenever I talked about my dad and how he called me fat and put me down, my mom would defend him and say what a good provider he was (which was true but didn't make up for the verbal abuse). There's a part of her that knows she should have stopped him but was too weak.

      Mayrapatricia, you have done so much with your life and have overcome so many obstacles. You will protect your daughter and help her develop into a strong, educated woman like her mother. I'm sorry you missed out on having a dad but know you're not alone. There's so many of us out here.

    • profile image

      Mayrapatricia 

      4 weeks ago

      This article is totally me. I grew up with an abusive aunt from birth to age 11

      You can see the sadness in my pictures. Not one smile as a 2 year old, all the way till 11.5 . I am super anti-social. Unfortunately for me when I started asking my mother who my father was it was a family tree project I had to do for school, I was ignored and told to make it up. Later on I would keep pressing, and I had to stop when my mother would cry. I thought so many horrible things could of happened to my mom like possibly being raped, and it hurt her to tell me. Later, in one trip to el Salvador, I asked her sisters and they told me his name and I went to meet him, spoke to his sister, spoke with him on the phone. He did not seem like a bad person, he told me his name and acknowledged he was my father.

      Throughout the years, I pressed on for my mom to tell me details and I would be ignored. I started not caring, I was already 18 when I started dating, I was dating a 45 year old man, 37, 27 -- whoever gave me attention (now thinking back, the 45 year old may have been a pedophile but he waited till I turned 18 to ask me on a date) & I was just 19 when I met my husband. Marriage was not something I thought of as sacred but I did marry him last year for health insurance. So we lived together, had a baby at 25, even though our relationship is not perfect,But like the article, I never thought I was worthy of anything better because my husband told me so. I keep the relationship because we have a child together and I will sacrifice anything for her to grow up with a mom, dad, little house. I found one of my biological father's children from his marriage (he had 6 kids while sleeping around with his patients in his dental office in el Salvador. My mom was one of those patients. She only has a 3rd grade education). She was so nice, listened to my story, but she had no clue I ever existed, and her mom never talked about her husband screwing around women from his practice. She asked me if I would do a DNA test which I gladly would. She showed me pictures of him and her together. His family is all professional people & out of all my family that migrated toAmerica, that have children in their late 20's, I am the only one that has a master's degree. I wish my mom had never ignored my questions or made me feel bad for asking who this person was. Maybe I would of made better life choices? I am not sure. I could not bare to tell my daughter why she did not have a grandfather. Ever since she was very small she asked and I simply told her he died before I was born due to bad choices. In my mind, it is better that, than to tell her "sorry, your grandmother was having an affair with a married man who had 6 children, I have no idea how because she was a live in maid and she will not tell me any details, I know this because that is all the information her sisters told me about. My daughter is having growth issues and this biological father of mine was only 5"0 height, he may have had a growth problem which those were not treated until the 70's. My biological father is 83 now.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      With one in three of us identifying ourselves as fatherless, you're definitely not alone Joanne. I'm so glad you shared your story. Like you, I had my father in the home, but he was often cruel to my sister and me, calling us names like Buffalo Butt and Rhino Rump. I think he thought he was being funny but, my god, how that affects a girl growing up and stays with her! When I see girls getting loved up by their dads like your granddaughter, I'm so happy for them but still a little sad for me all these decades later. Take good care, Joanne!

    • profile image

      Joanne Hatten 

      5 weeks ago

      I am now in my 60's, single for 13 years, but married multiple times in an attempt to find that "Daddy Love". My Father was mostly present in our lives, but unreachable to me, his only daughter, or to our Mother, who suffered through many years of his infidelity. She raised my 5 brothers, and me, basically by herself, while he ran the roads and chased other women. They are both deceased now, for many years. I married at 16, left home, and the next 30 years were a total mess - couldn't form lasting relationships, left men before they could "reject" me; finally married a man, who I thought would be "the one", at 34, only to be dumped after 21 years of marriage, for a younger woman. I've mostly recovered, but the scars are deep, & I am a loner. I remember envying girls who were the delight of their fathers, and longing for mine to hold me & let me sit on his lap. It is a never ending, aching void. One bright ending, is that my Son has a daughter, & she has enjoyed all those wonderful things I missed; she is adored by her Dad! I don't wallow in self pity now, and continue to work toward healing; articles like this help, and I am grateful for them & to know I am not alonw.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      Yes, that makes sense you wouldn't care as much since you never had a dad. Kids have an easier time of it emotionally when a father dies than when he neglects them because of divorce, remarriage, starting a new family etc. It seems that the rejection is most painful as they wonder what they did wrong. I glad you're doing okay without one. Take care.

    • profile image

      Garbage 

      5 weeks ago

      Never had a dad never cared about that. I am still trying to figure out why they are important at all.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      7 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      Sheridan, I'm so glad you shared your story. When we take pen to paper and write down our thoughts, it's so incredibly powerful. We make sense of our life in a cognitive way instead of just reacting to it in an emotional way (which can lead us down the wrong path).

      You are wise beyond your years, Sheridan, with an awareness that will serve you well in college and beyond. You've had two men in your life who've caused you a lot of hurt so you must be careful not to recreate those relationships with boyfriends. We sometimes do that to fix the past, but it usually misfires. It's better to move forward, armed with the knowledge we've earned through our tears and pain.

      I've had so many crappy female friendships over the decades because I didn't know who I was and didn't value myself. I'm sure it was largely due to the poor relationship with my dad. I always put myself in the role of "supportive sidekick" and was taken advantage of and devalued. It's only recently that I've started to choose friends rather than letting them choose me and, believe me, that works a lot better!

      As you head off to college, you'll find so many women there who can relate to your struggles with your father and stepfather. They'll want to open up and tell you their stories, too. It's staggering to think one in three women identify themselves as fatherless. We're far from being alone, Sheridan! I wish you all the best as you have so much to look forward to as your life opens up before you with an abundance of new opportunities. Enjoy!

    • profile image

      Sheridan 

      7 weeks ago

      I had 2 father figures, one my biological father who is still in my life, but attempts to buy my "love" which is really just superficial praise. He does not truly care. I break a little more every time he doesn't show up to another event. I've seen him less and less because he's just hard to deal with. He watched porn in front of me as a child, and just overall was so, so neglectful. I thought he was the "cool" parent for a while, as he let me stay up all night, and eat whatever I wanted, but I learned the truth eventually after not contacting him and him not reaching out for 9 months. He doesn't understand that I just want him to genuinely care, not money or material items.

      My other Father figure was my stepfather. He was abused as a child, and was horribly verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive for as long as I knew him over stupid things, like not doing chores. I'm still very sensitive to being screamed at because of him. I didn't know it was abuse until I was about 11 or 12 snd finally told my Mom.

      I thought it was normal, and that I deserved it. I also didn't want to ruin his realtionship with my Mom, since he made her happy, and I seemed to be the cause of every fight they had. I also acted out, intentionally as the rare times our relationship was good, he was a better Father than my own and I hated him, and my Dad for it.

      He was kicked out when I was 14, and I'm still terrified of him. I want to talk to him, to tell him all the fear and hatred he caused me. That I cried those 2 years after, when he sent me Christmas presents, thougthful ones, that my own Dad never would've thought of. But the pain and particularly the fear...I just can't. I feel like such a coward, and I hate that he makes me feel this way, even though I'm 18 now.

      I'm still struggling with my issues pertaining to both of them. I'm only just now beginning to see that I'm pretty, and a strong, empathetic and gentle person and that I deserve better than the toxic friendships I've surrounded myself with. They always rant to me about their issues, but I'm never once asked(genunely) how I am doing, or even been invited to outings or events. Hell, my best friend of 5 years dropped my like a hot potato over me telling her she didn't get an audition before she could see it herself, even though I was comforting her. She didn't check to see if I was okau, didn't even think I was tallim to her while crying in the bathroom, just so she wouldn't feel what I was.

      It's not healthy. I see that now, but it's even more scary, now that I must figure out how to find genuinely kind and good people, who will care if I'm okay, and be able to tell that I'm actually not okay when I try to pretend that I am. That's all that I want, and I'm praying to God that I find people like that in college.

      Sorry for rambling, just wanted to share my experience. Thank you so much for this article!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 months ago from Bend, OR

      Chris, I'm sorry you're going through this difficult time with your daughter. It sounds like she's hurting, missing you, and acting out because of it. She's fortunate, though, that you are aware of what's happening and will do your best to make her feel loved and wanted. Many parents, when breaking up with a partner, are so consumed with their own pain that they're oblivious to the child's. Hang in there, Dad. Don't ever give up on your daughter and she'll eventually see who you really are and how much you really care.

    • profile image

      Chris Romo 

      2 months ago

      As a Father who just got split up from His Daughter about 5 months ago due to relationship issues, im starting to see the negative side effects it has on a child. I have seen how my Daughters behavior has gone from being a respectful, disciplined, and loving Child towards me, to being a Daughter who seems like i never existed in Her life. She is becoming a real bad mouthed child and just doesnt want to do anything but cause trouble. And She is also like that to others. Its a sad situation how She went from being respectful and well mannered to problem child. I see that this is going to affect Her for the rest of Her life.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 months ago from Bend, OR

      Osey, I'm sorry about your dad. I know his absence leaves a hole in your heart. For many decades, I tried to fill the hole in me with food, but it never worked. I just got fat! Now I let myself feel sadness and emptiness, and I tell myself it's warranted, normal, and natural.

      Then I move on and do positive things that enhance my life and well-being: gardening, reading, exercising, listening to music, spending time with my husband and kids. I hope you treat yourself with love and kindness every day, Osey. Take care!

    • profile image

      Osey NJ 

      2 months ago

      I have never met my dad I have always hoped he would come to England but he never has and he probably never will

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 months ago from Bend, OR

      Emma, I grew up with my dad in the home so I never in a million years would have thought I was a fatherless daughter until I began reading about the issue. Since one out of every three women see themselves as such, the title obviously resonates with so many: those whose fathers died, those whose parents divorced, those who dads were never involved, and those whose fathers were present but emotionally absent. We're all hurting. Some studies suggest that daughters whose fathers died are the best off psychologically because they don't feel the rejection like the others do.

      You're so fortunate to be looking at this problem now and thinking about how it's affecting you. Please open up to your dad and tell him how you're feeling. Also, start opening up to friends, and you'll certainly discover you're not alone. Of course, talking to a counselor would also be beneficial to help you understand your emotions and turn them into something constructive. I don't want you to let this define your life as it did with me and so many other women.

      I've suffered from depression, anxiety, and weight issues for most of my life. When my sister recently revealed to me how hurt she was by a lack of relationship with our father, I felt such relief. I finally let go of the shame that came from growing up with a dad who was so cold and unloving. I let the little girl inside of me feel all the sadness and pain that had caused her, and then I was able to move forward. I lost weight and now my days are no longer focused on food. When I realized it was "father hunger" I was dealing with, I was able to get control over my eating after decades of struggling.

      I'm so glad your father tells you he loves you, Emma. My dad never did that. Hopefully, he'll make the changes needed so you feel included. I wish you all the best. Take good care of yourself!

    • profile image

      Emma Gerichs 

      2 months ago

      So um I only see my dad four days a month andvwhen I am going there I feel left outfall the time, and I am having all of these symptoms or effects as you said but doesn’t that still count, even though I still se my dad? ( and I know he loves me he tell me every time I am there)

    • profile image

      Abby 

      3 months ago

      I strongly disagree with your psycho analysis of fatherless daughters and I am one myself. I have a fear of abandonment and tend cling onto men in personal relationships more rather than (be closed) and become more sentitive. I think you need to do More research.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      4 months ago from Bend, OR

      Unknown, you're already way ahead of the game by thinking and writing about these issues now. You're already connecting the dots in your life -- how your relationship with your father is affecting your relationships with boyfriends. If you can recognize the destructive patterns in your life and stop them, you will feel more powerful and confident. I didn't start doing that until my 50's so I applaud you for starting a lot sooner!

      It sounds like you need to be focusing on life goals and not on having and keeping a relationship. You're so young and should be concentrating on your education, career, and friendships. I suggest keeping a journal -- not only to address your feelings and experiences -- but to make sense of them cognitively. This has been immensely helpful to me. When I write things down in an orderly way, it enlightens me, brings me peace, and makes me feel in control.

      I wish you the very best, unknown. You have a marvelous future in front of you. Make sense of your past, but don't let it hold you back. Take care!

    • profile image

      Unknown emotional all over female 

      4 months ago

      Im 19 and my father passed away back in January. I can say that I did cry for him only because I had questions that was never answered. I learned one thing he was treating & being emotionally distance is because of the fact my grandad did the same to him. On my end it wasn't easy for me and still isn't my mom didn't raise as a women should be. I'm learning all this more harder now. I only been in one long relationships and it was/still effecting me. I realised I was trying to get him to love me by acting on it the same way i was trying to get my dad to do. I ended it because I felt like if a guy don't accept my love & treat me right oh well. Moving with my story I have so many heart break with men. I cant tell or let a guy who actually right for me in cause I just dont want to get hurt. And when I be honest a dude run cause its a lot I got to work on. He just broke up with me last night. I want to get him back cause I feel like I didn't do the right parts on my side. Any advice or what can I do to have more confidence and how to trust again?

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      4 months ago from Bend, OR

      Joanne--Thank you so much for writing and sharing your story. When I wrote this article, it was painful for me so I'm glad to hear someone benefitted from it. I'm sorry you didn't have a daddy. I know your hurt. There's still a hole in my heart where mine was supposed to be, but I'm now leading a life of peace and acceptance. You stopped the cycle by rearing a son who's a fantastic father to his daughter. You should be so proud of that. Take care!

    • profile image

      Joanne Hatten 

      4 months ago

      Articles like these have helped me very much. I am 67, the only daughter among 5 brothers, and our father basically ignored us all. Our home epitomized the term "dysfunction", as he cheated on our mother constantly, ignoring her as well and he was absent most of the time. She brought us up the best she could, but we've all dealt with anger & various other issues; I remember the longing, as a girl, to be adored by my "Daddy", & it was so painful to see others who received that attention from their attentive fathers. My first 35 years were a mess, as I went from relationship to relationship, seeking to fill the void, but unable to emotionally commit to or trust any man. My last marriage endured 21 years, only to end with my being abandoned for a younger woman. After 12 years alone, I've found more peace, & greater understanding of my strange journey; also, that there are countless women who identify with me and the sadness/depression battled all my life. I won't marry again, nor do I date, for, at heart I am basically a loner. My joy is in seeing my teenage granddaughter living my long ago dream, for she is so adored by my son, & he is a wonderful father to her & her brother. He & his wife have been married almost 23 years, also proving the dream that never came true for me. Thank you for a great article!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 months ago from Bend, OR

      You're welcome, Anon. With one out of three women identifying themselves as fatherless, you and I know were not alone. In fact, when I started to open up and talk about the empty relationship I had with my dad, other women felt free to do the same. I heard a lot of painful stuff that was still so real and raw even for these women in their 40's, 50's, and 60's. I cry every time I hear the Kelly Clarkson song, "Piece by Piece." She wrote it herself, and it tells about her father abandoning her at 6 and then trying to get back in her life when she was rich and famous. We all wanted a loving Daddy, but not enough of us got one.

    • profile image

      Anon 

      5 months ago

      I grew up without a Father and all of this is true for me. Thank you for the article X

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      6 months ago from Bend, OR

      Thanks, Bill. As a kindergarten teacher, I worked with many boys and girls from fatherless homes. When I look back at those years, I see how hard I tried to teach them their letters, sounds, and numbers and how they resisted—how they didn't care. Their little lives were so tumultuous and learning was a low priority. Dads make such a huge difference but, unfortunately, it now seems politically incorrect to say so.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      As a teacher I've seen the truth in what you say. All of those things happen, and the scars are still visible for decades. Thank you for speaking your truth in this hard-hitting piece, and I hope you have a very Happy New Year!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      6 months ago from Bend, OR

      That was a beautiful and smart thing your family members told you, Dora. You had a loving relationship with your dad even after his death. The stories we're told by others and the stories we tell ourselves are so powerful in shaping who we are.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for your insight on this important topic. I think that your findings are generally true. My father died before I was old enough to remember him. I've never had a father-daughter relationship, but my grandmothers, aunts and uncles convinced me that he loved me, and I grew up loving him. I think that the assurance of love is a great help, and the absence of that assurance creates a void.

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