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

Updated on March 25, 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. She 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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        Abby 9 days 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.

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        McKenna Meyers 4 weeks 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!

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        Unknown emotional all over female 4 weeks 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?

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        McKenna Meyers 7 weeks 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!

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        Joanne Hatten 7 weeks 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!

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        McKenna Meyers 2 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.

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        Anon 2 months ago

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

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        McKenna Meyers 3 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.

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        Bill Holland 3 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!

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        McKenna Meyers 3 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.

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        Dora Weithers 3 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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