At the age of 32, the sting of my father’s lifelong rejection remains. I have painfully lived the effects of feeling not good enough, thinking I am unlovable, and accepting that I am unwanted.
Abandonment can happen in many forms. My father left when I was less than a year old. I rarely heard from him as a child and didn’t meet him until I was 17 years old. Now, our contact is sporadic and seldom. Other’s parent(s) may be physically present, but emotionally absent. Regardless, the pain of abandonment can’t be escaped.
A parent is supposed to love, protect and sacrifice for their children. A child’s perspective of the world and themselves are shaped by their experiences and early attachments. When this attachment is absent, a child’s physical, psychological, and behavioral well-being are all at risk. However, with the right measures, these risks can be significantly decreased.
Thankfully, I have healed, for as much as any abandoned daughter can, by accepting the relationship for what it is, and what it is not.
Focusing my energy on trying to change the inevitable is exhausting and fruitless. Neither you or I can change anyone but ourselves. However, we can learn how to be what we need by finding security and acceptance in who we are and surrounding ourselves with positive, healthy people. And more importantly, we can realign our beliefs about ourselves.
Here is how I did this, and you can too:
1. Recognize that it’s not you, it’s him
YOU did not make them leave. YOU cannot make them stay.
Your Dad (or mom) leaving is not a reflection of you. Unfortunately, adults have children and are not always good parents. Life can make it hard for them to be involved, they could struggle with fear, insecurity, and self-worth. No matter the excuse or reason for leaving, the problem is with them, NOT you.
2. You are worthy of love
Your parent’s actions, choices, and priorities don’t define you or reflect your worth. You are worthy of love.
Your value and worth are measured, not by the people who have treated you poorly, or even those who treat you well, but by the One who created you and how you view yourself.
Suzanne White, a therapist in South Dakota, believes the most important factor in overcoming father-daughter issues is learning to believe that you are worthy despite what you perceived from your father. Only then can the wounds left by fathers be healed.
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown
3. DON’T date your Dad (unless of course, he is amazing!)
Women often date men similar to their father. Their relationships tend to mirror how they relate to or experience them. Good or bad.
According to Victoria Secunda (1992), author of Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life, women are often trapped between what they want and what they need. What they long for and what they get.
For example, many women say they want a compassionate, sensitive man in their lives; yet, when they find him, they often perceive him as “weak.” Or even that something is wrong with them, because of their misguided belief that they are unlovable. Their definition and idea of love have become damaged (Secunda, 1992).
Dr. Jennifer Kromberg, a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of California, believes a woman’s early relationship with her dad, who is usually the first male object of her love, shapes her conscious and unconscious perceptions of what she can expect and what is acceptable in a romantic heterosexual partner. She has also stated that she has, “met very few women who did not unconsciously or consciously pick a romantic partner based on the characteristics of her father.”
Prior to meeting my husband, I clung to men who I knew would leave, or I would sabotage the relationship before they had a chance to leave. I allowed men to destroy my self-worth which reinforced all the beliefs I had about myself and that men never stay.
My first husband, however, was different. There were never any strong feelings of attachment or desire for me. He was my safe option. In him, I perceived stability and someone who wouldn’t hurt me, so I clung to that even at the compromise of my own identity.
Either route – self-sabotaging or remaining unattached – I had a consistent pattern of unhealthy relationships.
Don’t repeat this same cycle. Recognize your worth. Evaluate your choices. Find a partner who loves you, who cherishes you, and who stays. Also, find someone that you love and cherish. YOU deserve it.
4. Don’t shy away from connection
It is not uncommon for women who have an emotionally or physically absent father to feel guarded because of their lack of trust in men. Emotional validation, affection, and love from a father are essential for successful intimate relationships.
Don’t let the pain and trauma of rejection steal your identity and joy. Don’t let it ruin relationships. Instead, learn from it: Be a better parent. Be a stronger person. Love others harder.
We all need connection. We were created as relational beings. With the right person, and a healthy view of yourself successful relationships are possible.
According to Dr. Stephen Greene, a licensed Psychologist in South Dakota, healing can only come in the context of a healthy relationship.
Go slow, take your time. Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It is built in the small details of life. Eventually, that guarded heart will open up as you work on trusting another, and it will be beautiful.
“Trust is defined as choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” ~ Charles Feltman
5. Seek help
Children who experience abandonment, especially from those who are never supposed to leave, have trouble making and keeping relationships. They are also at risk for physical and psychological illnesses, are predisposed to substance abuse, promiscuity, and criminality (Rees, 2007). Seeking help is essential to overcoming these risks.
Going to therapy was the BEST decision I have made in my 32 years of life. I promise you, if you find a good therapist and invest your time and money, you will be able to dissect all of your abandonment related issues and come out better on the other side.
You can seek help using our online therapy referral.
6. Never forget your worth
Sometimes we can forget our worth. It starts by allowing the smallest disrespect and then it spirals out of control, next thing you know, you are in a relationship that leaves the sting of abandonment and worthlessness all over again.
Do what you need to always remember your worth. Don’t settle.
I am proof that a girl with abandonment issues can survive and make it out healthy on the other side. I have an amazing husband who loves me deeply, cherishes me and gives me the security I’ve always longed for and desired. Through therapy, sweat and tears, time (still ticking), and a lot of grace, I have learned to connect, be vulnerable, and love myself, and others deeply.
We all come from imperfect pasts with imperfect parents and carry old wounds. It is normal to have fears, however, we can’t live in fear of our past or that we will make those same mistakes. Every day is a day to change and better yourself. A day to love more. A day to start over.
Stopping this unhealthy cycle starts with you and me. Today is the time to take action and move towards a healthier future. Despite our abandonment, we can rise above and create a healthier tomorrow.
To my Step-Father and my Husband, the two men in my life that have helped ease the pain of rejection, in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “Piece by piece, he restored my faith. That a man can be kind and a Father could, stay”
Rees, C. (2007, November 1). Childhood attachment. The British Journal of General Practice, 57(544), 920-922.
Secunda, V. (1992). Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life. N.p.: Random House Publishing Group.