Relationships with men have always been difficult for Jane*. She has often ended up having relationships with emotionally unavailable men. They may initially show interest yet as she starts to attach and show interest in them, they disappear or withdraw from contact by coming up with various excuses. She has been in a relationship with her current partner for three years and Jane feels like she wants to take the next step and start settling down but her partner does not feel ready. He says that he wants to focus on his career he has no time for thinking about having a family. Jane is devastated; she doesn’t know what to do. She has lost her faith in men.
Jane group up with a father was away for work a lot. When he was around, he was often hiding behind his newspaper. Jane and his younger brother were often told to be quiet because “daddy” was tired and in a bad mood. Occasionally Jane’s father would drink and then he frightened her. Jane had a friend whose father was often playing with the kids, laughing and joking with them and she wished her father was like that. As a child, she wondered why her father did not like spending time with her and blamed herself.
Jacob* is a successful business owner. He feels that his work is a place where feels the most at ease. He grew up most of his life without knowing his biological father. They struggled financially and Jacob decided early on that he wanted his life to be different. Her mother was vague about his father until he was in his 20s and his mother said that his father had left when Jacob was two years old. He had no recollection of him. His mother had various boyfriends over the years and some lasted longer than others. Jacob always told himself that he is “fine” without knowing his father.
When he then became a father himself in his early 30s he was flooded with feelings of anxiety and dread. He didn’t have a clue about how to be a father and he often hid at work as it felt so uncomfortable having a child that needed him. He felt ashamed as he had always told himself that he would be present for his children and suddenly he felt that he could not be that father he wanted to be.
Is there something that resonates with you about either of these stories? I have previously written about “the mother wound” from a more female perspective and how “the mother wound” impacts men. The father wound, which refers to father absenteeism, whether emotionally or both emotionally and physically, and/or your father being very critical, negative and even abusive character, can impact individuals and their future relationships in so many ways. I wanted to write about the pain of not having a “good enough” father because it is such an important area. I hope this brings some relief for your pain in terms of understanding its impact if you have experienced “the father wound”.
How does “the father wound” impact adult well-being and relationships?
- Low self-esteem & low confidence: Children are self-centred by nature. They often blame themselves for anything negative that happens in childhood and particularly if it is not clearly explained to them. Your inner critic (the internal voice) may be saying you are not worthy of good things or you are not good enough (because your father left). Growing up you may have felt different as a child if all your friends had two parents and you grew up without a father.
- Anxiety: There could be a combination of things and events that have contributed to you experiencing anxiety. Growing up with an (emotionally) absent father may have left you with a feeling of “I am not good enough” and perhaps you have hidden feelings such as a sense of loss, anger, shame, sadness and anxiety is trying to keep those deeper emotions at bay.
- Low mood / depression: Over time your anxiety can turn to low mood. On the other hand, you may have internalised your anger towards your father and him being absent and feel depressed as a result.
- Anger & rage: Perhaps you have had the worst kind of experience with your father. Perhaps he used substances, was abusive, lying and otherwise unreliable man, whose behaviour deeply hurt you. You may feel like you are stuck in anger and this can manifest in many ways. You may displace your anger that doesn’t have an outlet somewhere else like experiencing road rage if it feels that it is not appropriate for you to express anger in other ways. You may also often feel anger and rage whenever there is a conflict in a relationship.
- Too rigid boundaries: If your father has been unreliable perhaps by not showing up or even being absent from your life, you may have decided that you cannot let people (romantic partners) close to you and you have to protect yourself. The pain of dealing with the aftermath of being let down your father especially as a young child may feel worse than the loneliness rigid boundaries can course. I recently wrote a post about “Is fear of being influenced by the other influence ruining your relationship?”
- Too loose boundaries: You may feel that you have to be available to everyone else all the time. Perhaps deep down you feel that to be loved by others, you cannot hold your boundary and say “no” when something does not suit you. You may wish to read “People pleasing can make you anxious and resentful – How to stop it”
- Having relationships emotionally unavailable partners: Unless we are aware of it, we often seek the same dynamic in our romantic relationships as we experienced in our childhood. You may have an unconscious wish to repair the early father wound by having a relationship with a person that creates similar and familiar feelings within you as you experienced in your childhood. We often gravitate towards something that feels familiar because at least we know what are dealing with. Being in a relationship with someone consistent and reliable can feel potentially emotionally threatening. I have also written a post about the impact of how early relationships impact adult relationships. If you often choose emotionally unavailable partners, you may experience a lot of relationship anxiety. The partner is for their reasons unable to offer you the security you need and you may end up engaging in various behaviours to get their attention, such as nagging, excessive messaging, oversharing or other behaviours that may feel unsettling for your partner.
- Parenting – repeating the pattern of (emotionally) absent parent: Parenting is hard and when you first become a parent you are flooded with feelings that may be linked to your own experiences of being parented or experiencing lack of parenting. You may distance yourself from your child and struggle to build an identity as a good enough parent.
If you experienced childhood emotional neglect you may repeat the pattern as you don’t know any different. Perhaps you become a practical parent and struggle with emotionally engaging with your child(ren). You may find this post useful: Parenting when you have experienced childhood emotional neglect and/or trauma.
If you now thought that “wow what can I do with this?” the first step is acknowledging your emotions. This may feel difficult for you. Finding someone who can discuss your father wound and how it impacts you today is important. Perhaps it is with your partner or a trusted friend. Psychological therapy can help you to heal those emotional wounds that have been caused by the father wound. If you are looking for a therapist to help you to address your difficulties, please take a look at my Services page. I also offer a free 15min online / phone consultation.
Please remember: You are enough and you were not responsible for your father’s behaviour or choices.
*The case examples are not any actual either past or present clients but a combination of the stories I have heard over the years.