'Habits' of People Who Grew Up With Emotionally Absent Fathers. Research.
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
My parents were fucking useless.
My father still takes no interest in me as a person. More of a slight problem son than a son to bond with. Throwing bits of money at things when I have been ill and not working has been really appreciated and noted but that doesn't cut it. No interest, remotely, in what me tick as human being, what makes me the person I am. Totally detached. It really needless me at the moment. It's an issue but it's me that has to find peace with that. He doesn't care about that one. It doesn't even occur to him. Cold hard facts.
My mother lives in some kind of bubble. She was one of the most unfeeling human beings I ever came across when I was really really bleeding. Everything was about her like a big baby. I'm not working on this one at the moment though. I'm working through the father thing.
One thing a time.
It's because of neglect, bad things happened.
I'm very angry still about this, but that's because I still resist this reality.
My parents still don't understand the true extent of the damage their selfish neglect has had on my life. The hidden abuse, the toxic influences, the fighting, the absence of healthy parental figures when I needed them and then left with other horrid toxic "guardians" or just alone for prolonged periods of time while they took care of themselves and their own needs. This shit left me utterly fucked up. I became the toxic fuck up as a result.
Seems fair to me. What fun!
Bla bla, fkin bla, sob story, get the violin out ect.
However, blogging this (especially with swear words) is cathartic and it helps me get this poisonous stuff of my chest and out of my system, hand in hand with DBT. I make no apologies about that.
A life time of mental illness later (alongside some really great times of finding mental stability) I am working on coming to terms with this and in search of peace once and for all. I extend forgiveness but I'm still angry if that makes sense. I guess I'm in the middle of a journey with that one. A bit further than half way actually. A lot further on with it than I was for sure.
If my parents read this, that's okay, non of this is a secret and I love them. They have their own stories and their own crosses to bare.
This is human stuff.
Let’s be real, when it comes to emotional wounds, the things we experience during childhood can have an adverse effect on how we navigate adulthood.
The people who raise us (oftentimes parents) affect the way we are molded. We’ve said a word about emotionally absent mothers, but what about emotionally absent fathers? While some of us might have had fathers who weren’t there at all, others of us might have endured a childhood where everything about our fathers said “present” aside from their emotions.
That critical connection that we long to feel about our fathers is missing because of their lack of understanding (or desire) to foster a close father-child relationship.
Maybe your father was detached or apathetic. Maybe your father was sorting through his own issues and couldn’t show up for you. Maybe he was just under-equipped to help with your feelings because he had a difficult time with feeling his own.
Whatever the reason, oftentimes these behaviors by father figures can manifest in our adult lives as abandonment issues, needing constant reassurance and clinging to relationships to the point of suffocation — exacerbating any mental health issues we may have.
If you find that you’re doing one or more of these things, you’re not alone. We spoke to The Mighty’s mental health community to learn some of the “habits” they’ve picked up after growing up with emotionally absent fathers.
Here’s what they told us:
1. Needing Constant Reassurance
“I need constant reassurance that people love me and care. When I say constant, I mean that I think so low of myself and that I am always doubting that people care about me. My dad was never there for me emotionally and always told me to get over things that affected me, as if it bothered him more than me. I am overly available for my friends but I will never be the same for myself.” — Marii K.
“I need constant reassurance that my partner actually loves me. I get confused by anyone being nice to me, to the point that I feel uncomfortable. It has taught me that I need to do everything for myself and if anyone is trying to help that it will come at a price. Also, that you shouldn’t ask for help because the request will just be ignored.” — Megan M.
2. Filling the Void With Other Things
“Once I became an adult, I started going on spending sprees, trying to fill in the gaps with material possessions. I dated a lot, trying to find the love I was missing from him. I threw myself wholly into anyone who gave me the time of day. It turned me into a pretty messed up adult.” — Hope D.
3. Fearing Abandonment
“I also have trouble maintaining friendships because I’m so scared of being abandoned or even just berated the second they get upset with me. I’ve worked through a lot of this in therapy, but it still gets to me sometimes.” — Jennifer P.
“I have major fear of abandonment issues. Dad left when I was 3, [when he and my mom] got divorced. He had schizophrenia so he couldn’t be much of a parent. Self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. Didn’t have much time with him growing up. Then [he] took his own life when I was 12! I was daddy’s little girl. It broke my heart.” — Bridgette T.
“I build walls and compartmentalize my feelings. To this day, I’ll keep feeling abandonment or being ignored tucked away into a nice little drawer. God help the person who tries to open it.” — Angela L.
4. Craving Male Attention or Approval
“[I] go through phases of desperately seeking the approval of men because I never felt approved by him or important enough to keep a relationship with him.” — Emily T.
“I bend over backwards to get approval and affection from my partner. I also think that the only way I will get attention is through sex, so I often allow myself to be taken advantage of just so I feel loved.” — Megan G.
“[I] seek out attention from men because it makes me feel like I’m worth something. It’s caused major issues in my life including in my marriage because I so desperately seek attention from men.” — Stephanie S.
5. Assuming Everything Is Your Fault
“I always assume I’ve done something wrong if someone’s attitude or mood suddenly goes cold or hostile. It makes me anxious and I blame myself even if I’m not guilty of anything.” — Nina F.
“When people get upset with me, I automatically assume it’s my fault.” — Jennifer P.
6. Clinging to Relationships
“I tend to make desperate attempts to cling onto relationships in my life, particularly when they are new, and I am still unsure of the other person’s feelings towards me. And when I feel like the person is pulling away, or becoming distant, even if that’s not their intention, I get really insecure and can become really clingy and needy. This applies to both romantic and platonic relationships.” — Lulu B.
“I’m clingy. Like so clingy. Just ask my husband. Once I find a strong man, I don’t let go. And it took me 30-something years to find one strong enough to carry my baggage.” — Gigi J.
“I used to cling so tightly I suffocated the relationship.” — Melissa R.
7. Fearing Meaningful Intimacy
“I don’t date or seek romantic relationships, even though I really want a family of my own. My dad treated us all like we weren’t worthy of his time, his love was very conditional, and so I live my life thinking I’ll never be good enough for a healthy relationship. It used to affect me the opposite way when I was younger. In my 20s, I was loser with men, which led to some dangerous situations. I was raped when I was 25. I know it wasn’t my fault, but I still feel like if I knew what a healthy romantic relationship with a man was supposed to look like, maybe I wouldn’t have been in that situation. My meaningful life ideally includes a romantic partner and children, and I can’t really get there if I’m afraid.” — Julie C.
“I tend to go after the emotionally unavailable men in dating. Knowing in my gut they’re toxic for me, I continue to try to prove my worth to them. When I grow tired of trying to prove myself, it leaves me in a dark place making myself believe I’m not good enough for anyone.” — Kara S.
“It’s hard for me to let anyone else in. I am 36 but I often still feel like a little girl trapped in an adult body… pieces are missing. I needed my daddy and so I searched for him in other people growing up and often get stuck in unrequited love with people I can’t actually have… it’s a mess. I need to put this ‘baby girl’ to bed and accept that I didn’t have a father and never will.” — Lexi H.
8. Having Difficulty With Other People’s Emotions
“I have a difficult time when my children are emotional. I will blame myself for every feeling people around me experience. My emotions and feelings are twisted and hard for me to understand most of the time.” — Jacquelyn M.
“I have a hard time understanding emotions and intimacy in men. My father never hugged me, was proud of me or acknowledged me. Therefore, my mind thinks all men are like my father. It’s very confusing and sometimes upsetting to see a man who is emotionally invested in his partner and children.” — Jamie T.
9. Struggling With Authority Figures
“I struggle with authority, particularly male authority. I can’t cope with managers in work. (Got fired from my last job and haven’t worked for the last year!) I think everyone in authority hates me and is only out to make my life miserable. I therefore become very defensive in all contact with them.” — Esther S.
“Growing up, if I didn’t do something exactly like my dad wanted me to, or if I voiced a different opinion, or if I even stuck up for myself, he called me disrespectful and took things away from me until I ‘showed a little respect.’ Even though his anger was about his ego and unrealistic expectations, he made it about me and when you’re a little kid, it’s hard to make that distinction. It’s made things really hard with authority figures.” — Jennifer P.
10. Overcompensating in the Way You Parent
“I overcompensate with my kids. They’re spoiled rotten to the core, but they’re also super close to me. [They] tell me everything [and] listen well. Behavior has never been an issue.” — Amanda B.
“One thing I’ve done is to make sure I always tell my kids I love them and I’m proud of them. Two things I never heard from my dad.” — Ray R.
“Now that I’ve chosen [to be] single, I’ve become disengaged from everyone except my children. As for parenting, I am a helicopter parent and tend to have best friends in my children.” — Kathi F.
11. Being a Perfectionist
“I’m a perfectionist because I never saw my father be proud, or show up to anything… so anytime I do something, it has to be perfect. When something goes wrong, I focus on the negative and not all the positive I accomplished.” — Alan B.
Me. I became the messed up toxic cluster fuck. That's why I am doing this work. Again. Sadly and it really makes me feel ashamed, I relate and identify with a lot the below. ⬇⬇
7 other things about emotionally unavailable fathers:
Do you know an emotionally avoidant and detached parent/guardian? If so, what makes that person so emotionally unavailable? Is it a mental illness, personality disorder, or something else such as a job, career goal, or educational endeavor? Whatever it is, having an emotionally unavailable parent or guardian can lead to a lifelong journey of unstable or failed relationships, emotional neediness, empty voids, identity confusion, poor attachment to others, low self-esteem and self-efficacy (the feeling of mastery), etc. Research has identified the importance of all infants and developing children having an appropriate, warm, and loving attachment to a mother figure during the developmental years. Without an appropriate, warm, and loving parental figure, children are likely to develop multiple personality, emotional, and psychological difficulties. For many of my clients, the absence of a loving parental figure has resulted in an increase in psychiatric symptoms, school and academic difficulties, fear of abandonment, and many other challenges. This article will discuss the after effects or consequences of growing up without an emotionally available parent.
Parents who are emotionally unavailable are often immature and psychologically affected themselves. As difficult as it is to believe, emotionally unavailable parents have a host of their own problems that might go back as far as their own childhood. There is often a deficit in parents who are unable to meet the emotional and psychological needs of their child. In a sense, some emotionally void parents deserve sympathy as they are often emotionally burned adults who have no way of coping with their own emotional and psychological needs. As a result, these kind of parents become one of the following:
Rejecting, emotionally distant, immature, self-centered or narcissistic, or driven to succeed in life.
These adults are not emotionally what their stated (or chronological) age says they are. They are pseudo-mature in many ways which often pushes the child to become adult-like and emotionally independent before their time. The parent maintains negative patterns of behavior due to lack of self-awareness, often affecting the child in more ways than one, while the child sinks further and further into despair. Sadly, these same kids develop into emotionally needy teens and adults who are longing for the love, security, and affection they never received.
Symptoms often representative of adults who are emotionally immature and detached include but are not limited to: rigidity (unwillingness to be flexible when needed), low stress tolerance (inability to tolerate stress in a mature manner), emotional instability with aggression (anger outbursts characterized by threats of physical aggression, suicidal gesture, cutting behaviors or other acts of self-harm), poor boundaries (desiring to be their child’s friend instead of a parent), unstable relationships (multiple partners or friends who create more trouble than peace), and attention-seeking (looking for accolades, recognition, or support at all costs) among many other characteristics.
Tragically, the affected children often develop into teenagers and adults who also struggle with life.
Some of the consequences of growing up under immature and emotionally void parents include:
Affected adult relationships: Believe it or not, our childhood(s) affect our relationships and how we interact with others later in life. If we were loved and cared for appropriately, we will most likely exhibit those same traits as adults. If we were abused and neglected, we will most likely develop characteristics to protect ourselves as adults such as being defensive or overly protective. Some adults become angry or struggle with long-term relationships which leads to a series of short-term and unstable relationships. It is important for me to mention that not every child with an emotionally unavailable parent will develop into an adult with problems. Some adults develop into better people than their parent(s) could ever be. Every situation is different and the variables in the lives of children with emotionally unavailable parents are also different. However, for the most part, children with emotionally void parents often develop into teenagers and adults with problems themselves.
Fear of attachment and love: Children who have developed under an emotionally void parent will most likely develop into a teenager and adult who struggles to emotionally attach to others and receive/demonstrate love. While working within a nonprofit agency in which my clients tended to be abused (emotionally, physically, and sexually), I noticed a pattern in which many of these clients struggled not only to maintain appropriate peer and staff interactions, but also struggled to connect with me and other mental health professionals. Trust is a major component of positive emotional attachment. When you haven’t experienced the love, affection, and protection of a loving adult, you are more likely to develop defenses or protective mechanisms that keep you separated from other people in some way. Unfortunately, defense and protective mechanisms can prevent the individual from engaging appropriately in therapy or trusting that they can be happy and feel secure in their relationships.
Borderline and narcissistic personality traits: Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are two disorders that can negatively affect everyone in connection to the sufferer. The unstable, emotionally labile moods often characteristic of BPD can lead to frequent arguments, paranoia, blaming, and physical or verbal aggression. The self-centered, overly confident, and arrogant behaviors of NPD can make developing children feel estranged emotionally from that parent. Without proper treatment/therapy, these two disorders can destabilize the household and many relationships.
Selfishness: I’ve often regarded selfishness as a personality deficit as it is a characteristic that is not admirable. Not being able to share with others can lead to an inability to be emotionally detached and immature behavior. I previously had a 10 year old client who enjoyed playing games on his iPad after school. His mother, who has a childhood history of abuse, reported that she would not permit him to play on his iPad after school. Of course, many parents do not want their children to play games until homework or chores are completed. But to my surprise, this was not the reason for restricting access to his iPad. She eventually admitted that she did not like him touching her iPad because she had spent so much money on it and liked the fact that it still seemed brand new. She further reported that, as a child, she rarely had anything of her own and felt a need to “protect” her investment. This kind of selfishness resulted in many years of parent-child conflict. As her son grew older and began to question her behavior(s), he became even more resentful of her and eventually asked to live with his father. The relationship was destroyed.
Substance abuse/dependency: In order to cope with pain and sorrow, many people turn to substances that “takes them away” or “dulls the pain.” Sadly, recreational use or prescription use of drugs become a habit and the need for self-medication becomes an addiction. Once an addiction happens, the life of the user then becomes more complicated as relationships, employment, and other important areas of life no longer seem important to the substance abuser.
Lack of identity and direction: A former adolescent female client once asked me the following question almost every individual session we would have: “how do you know what kind of relationship you should have if all of the relationships in your life have been abusive or exploitative in some way?” I would always respond by highlighting the importance of having a strong foundation of morals and identity. Without understanding who you really are, you are more likely to follow the crowd and allow anyone with the slightest bit of interest of you into your life. When you know who you are, what you want, and what is best for you, you are likely to be more careful in choosing other individuals to be apart of your life. A lack of identity can lead to a series of unstable and shallow relationships that are short-lived.
Loss of hope, faith, and joy: For many adults who were raised under an emotionally void parent there is a deep feeling of loss and grief. The “loss” of a parent who is still living and breathing can seem like the most tragic experience. To look a parent in the eyes or hear their voice and yet feel so far away, is tragic. The inability to connect to the very person who brought you into this world is tragic. It is like a tease. It is like a distant fantasy. Sadly, the adult child begins to feel a sense of grief and loss of hope, faith, and joy. Sometimes adult children internalize their emotions and begin to feel depressed, suicidal, or self-injurious. This is often when substance abuse begins.
It is truly sad that a child’s life can be affected by the emotional and psychological instability and unavailability of a parent. It’s as if this belief gives the unstable parent more power than they deserve. But decades of research confirm that children must have the experience, during early childhood development, of a warm caregiver/guardian in order to develop the appropriate skills (the ability to be emotionally available, connect with other individuals, understand the rules of social communication, etc.) needed for later in life.
🛑 To be continued 🛑