Fatherless Women: What Happens to the Adult Woman who was Raised Without her Father?
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
Little girls who live without a father do so not only due to death, abandonment, or divorce, but also due to physically present fathers but who are emotionally absent, or ill over a lengthy period of time in some way (clinical depression, terminal disease, etc.), or because the father is a workaholic, or because in some fashion the father is a disappointment to the daughter, as might be the case in a weak or ineffectual father. Such differing types of absence in the girl's life may have major consequences of varying kinds, since a healthy emotional and socio-psychological developmental trajectory in the early years of life does require some type of positive paternal role model.
Seeing the Self Reflected
Optimally, a little girl needs to see herself reflected in the love she sees for herself in her father's eyes. This is how she develops self confidence and self esteem. This is how she develops a healthy familiarity with what a positive expression of love feels like. This is how she develops an appreciation for her own looks, her own body. This is how she develops what Jungians would call her 'animus,' her counter-sexual self; her masculine self, which will help her be proactive, productive, and creative in the outer world as she grows into adulthood.
If, however, the little girl does not have such a relationship with the father, if she sees rejection or emotional coldness or withdrawal in him, or if he simply is not available at all, her sense of self will be tainted, her self confidence warped or non-existent, her portrait of a loving relationship may be distorted or dysfunctional, and she may find herself - no matter how pretty, vivacious, lovable, funny, or intelligent - lacking in appeal.
Belief in the Self
Clearly, self confidence and self esteem can be forged through one's own endeavors during the life course, even if a father has not been present, but the path to success in such endeavors, and the reasons for which they are even attempted, tend to be quite different in the adult woman who was raised with a positive relationship to her father, as opposed to the one who was not. The former may excel simply because she believes in herself, while the latter needs to excel in order to catch a glimpse of approval and recognition in the eyes of those who give her a message of approval, honor, or prestige. The value of such a belief in oneself, easily acquired by the woman with a positive relationship to her father, is immeasurable in the adult life, and the lack of it in many of the countless women who were raised without a positive father image, may cause the life course to be fraught with difficulties.
The Multi-faceted Arena of Relationships
Perhaps the arena in which the most painful process of learning how to deal with the early lack of a father is plaid out is in that of relationships. If a girl has not been assured of her value as a woman by that early relationship with the father, she finds it difficult to relate to men precisely because she may often unconsciously seek to find that recognition in the eyes of the beloved…and this may lead her down an early path of promiscuity... which in turn makes her feel she is “bad”, but on she marches, relentlessly visiting bed after bed, locking in a fierce embrace with man after man, in the hope that this one or that one, or the next one will finally give her that which she never had as a child - validation of herself for herself.
Other women may choose another route, falling in love with an older man and thus marrying 'daddy.' At this point many different scenarios may ensue. If the man is at all psychologically aware (something often, but not always lacking in older men who like younger girls), he may have a vague inkling of what is going on. Therefore, once she starts - within the secure confines of the relationship or marriage - the process of growth, which will inevitably lead her to separate from her husband in some ways that are emotionally and psychologically necessary in order for her become her own woman, he will not blanch in fear at this process, and allow her the necessary space and freedom to do so. In that case, the marriage will in all likelihood thrive and continue to grow. If, however, the man is not aware, and sees her search for growth as a threat to the superiority he felt upon marrying a young, and as yet undeveloped woman, he will attempt to stifle her, to manipulate her psychologically by making her believe she is worthless, silly, or, and this appears to be a perennial favorite, that she "needs professional help in order to calm down and behave like she used to before."
Avoiding Engaging the Emotions
Another possible scenario (and there are many more which for reasons of space can not be touched upon in this article) is that of avoiding relationships totally, or of avoiding the engagement of one's emotions (see my July 2006 Newsletter for an article about this scenario expressed as neediness - both for men and for women). Examples here abound: the maiden aunt, who dedicates her life to her nieces and nephews, or who becomes a teacher and dedicates her life to her career; the nun, who dedicates her life to God, or the prostitute, who, although she may engage her body, rarely engages her emotions. Another example is that of the eternal seductress, who needs to remain in control by seducing the man and never actually involving her own feelings. A slightly more difficult to recognize version of the same scenario is plaid out by the woman who consistently has relationships with married men who never leave their respective wives for her. On an unconscious level this suits her just fine because it gives her the perfect excuse never to have to commit herself totally.
Finding Self-Confidence and Recognition in the Self
The core of the matter is, of course, that the self-confidence and recognition so avidly sought must be found within oneself rather than in the outer world - at least initially - in order to be of lasting and true value. The world of emotions that is avoided out of fear or because one never really learned what love is, must first be found in oneself (i.e. it is necessary to love the self before one loves another). The task of accomplishing this, requires that the individual become aware of him or herself (by observing the self, the self-talk, and all emotions that occur, good or bad, since all of these serve to give clues about the true self), and that absolute honesty about oneself be employed in this process. Let the reader be warned: this process is not a simple weekend project; it must be ongoing throughout life; it must become second nature, but it will pave the road to finding inner self-confidence and love for oneself, which will in turn lead to the abolishment of the need for finding these things in another. This is one of the roads to inner freedom that psychological knowledge offers.