Do you find it difficult to commit to relationships?
Do you have unfinished business with your father?
Have your relationships been affected by unresolved issues with your father?
Are you comfortable expressing your sexuality?
Do you struggle with authority figures in the workplace or elsewhere?
Do you want to make peace with an absent or deceased father?
If we want to start building a new way of relating to our partners in our relationships, it is essential that we build strong foundations for the house we inhabit: our being, made up of our body, mind, emotions and spirit. Sometimes this means making totally new foundations. For us to begin this process, we must get to know ourselves and become aware of various themes and dynamics that work under the surface. Until recently, these things were hardly spoken about or discussed, let alone considered and worked upon.
One of these underlying dynamics stems from the first two relationships we had in our lives: the one with our mum and the one with our dad.
I’d like to start with the latter, because I feel it’s often overlooked and generally less discussed.
I lived a whole life attracting unhealthy relationships. Since 2001, I’ve been seeing clients and friends go through the hurdles and pain of addictive relationships and remaining blind to the fact that each new man was leading them to repeat a toxic cycle. I’ve been heavily involved and engaged with this topic for 21 years, which led me to understand that there is in fact a purpose in attracting these kinds of relationships. A higher purpose that invites us to expand, not necessarily to make us happy.
I think we need to first understand that the bond we create in all of our adult relationships with me and women, depends from those first two relationships with our mother and father. If we had parents, it’s crucial to consider our relationship with them in order to become aware of the dynamics in our current relationships with others and ourselves.
So let’s start with fathers.
Did you know that our ability to sustain satisfying or committed relationships, find gratification in our work life, be effective parents, speak up and assert ourselves, is largely dependent on the relationship we had and have with our fathers?
Our relationships with our fathers is a powerful bond that’s been rarely closely examined until recent years. It was overlooked as a major influence on a child’s development and quality of life, as is the impact our relationship with our fathers have on our own mothers. This relationships has an enormous and long-lasting influence on a child, which continues through out their adult life.
We might not realise it, but countless areas that concern our personal lives and well-being are linked to the kind of relationship we had with our dads.
Over the 17 years that I worked and interviewed clients, I met people from all walks of life and the issue that seemed to come up time and time again was the relationship difficulties that stemmed from unresolved ‘daddy issues’ (as it’s popularly coined). This is especially the case when it comes to women, however also men’s relationships and their attitude towards them can be affected by a healthy or unhealthy relationship with their fathers.
The biggest problem in relationships is usually the inability to commit, fear of abandonment, lack of communication, poor emotional intelligence and/or understanding of themselves and their partners.
All of these are relevant to and in our adult life, but I’d like to take the time to discuss the first two: inability to commit and fear of abandonment.
They are two sides of the same coin and usually stem from experiences with the following types of fathers:
- The Absent Dad, who walks out on their families or dies prematurely
- The Divorced Dad, who disengages after divorcing not only the mother but also the children
- The Addicted Dad, who is alienated from his family through addiction/who’s a functioning alcoholic/addict and therefore emotionally unavailable
- The Distant Dad, who is emotionally distant even though he can be physically present
- The Critical Dad, who is highly critical and has high standards that are often impossible to meet
- The Rejecting/Neglecting Dad, who openly repudiates his children
- The Unfaithful Dad, who’s unfaithful to his partner and therefore family
- The Doting Dad, who devotes his life and love for his children but not wife
- The Seductive Dad, who is unable to maintain a loving balance between their paternal distance and their daughter’s need for attention and affection
- The Abandoner Dad, who disappears and make little if any effort to make contact
- The Deceased Dad, who dies very early leaving a legacy of unfulfilled promises and an inherent fear in daughters that all men will leave them
- The Taken Dad, who is separated from his children because of career requirements, hospitalisation and/or incarceration
- The Narcissistic Dad, who gets what he wants even at the risk of damaging his family and its members, which it usually does. Arrogant, self-assured and self-centred. Lack of empathy or sense of morality***
Each of these types of fathers leaves a unique imprint on our emotions, way of thinking and innate beliefs that often go onto affect us in adult life. As a reaction to the anxieties we develop, women, and often men, set up the obstacles in their lives. We unconsciously sabotage the attainment of the goals we most desire.
What makes the presence of our dads in our lives so impactful and relevant?
In observing my own story and that of my clients and several friends around the world, I’d answer that question by saying…
- Because typically, in families where the father fits one of the above types, the mum is the front-line parent, who’s familiar, routine and present. The father on the other hand is periodic. Although the parental roles in the family are changing with modern times, the father is still most commonly the provider and responsible for the family’s survival. He disappears into the corporate world at dawn before or just as the kids awake and return late when they are going to bed. Sometimes he travels for work several days or weeks at a time. Dad is the ‘different’ human being in the family to daughters in particular. Mum presents the day, Dad the night and the weekends, the holidays, the playing time and special occasions. Daughters are often a dad’s greatest delight, hence the term ‘daddy’s girl’.
- Because the relationship with our fathers creates the filter with which we view ourselves and those we love. It colours our relationships with others and influences important decisions we make in our lives such as who we are, our life goals and our deep values.
- Because our father is the first real bridge that connects children to the external world and all the concerns and decisions that come with it.
The recognition that fathers play such an important role is a recent development. The focus for many years has mainly been on mothers and how they affect their children’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. The parental role of a father was omitted from this equation for a long time, because his responsibility was not to nurture but to earn or going way back, hunt. Fathers could be aloof or supportive, harsh in judgement or fair, affectionate or uncommunicative. Regardless, little thought or attention was given to the effect these differences would have on us children.
There’s so much to be said about the Father Figure, too much for one blog alone. So I’d like to summarise some of the most important points.
Six Ways Our Fathers Influence Who We Are:
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
One of the ways a child’s self-esteem is formed is through continuos and cumulative validating messages and interactions that deliver approval and encouragement, such as “you are OK” and “you can do it”. Dads also help us develop self-confidence by serving as role models for what a self-assured individual acts like. Dads give us a pattern to emulate until our own mannerisms and way of being are fully developed. It’s so important for a child to receive the message that they are important from their fathers. Whether this affirmation is given or not determines the value that the child will have for themselves in adulthood. Children who are told they are not important, through words, actions or lack thereof, go on to prioritise the lives of others and forget about their own. They innately believe that they are not as important as everyone else do not value themselves. As a daughter, this often leads us to attract men who make us feel less important or not worth fighting for.
Sexuality, Masculinity, Personal Identity
Freud’s work talked about the inextricable link between masculinity, sexuality and the role of fathers in women’s life. These elements are entwined into a complex pattern of interaction amongst nature, family and social expectations and norms. Social pressure and developing sexuality give fathers a major role in exemplifying masculinity and setting the standards of behaviour. How fathers perceive themselves as men, how they interact with their wives or signifiant others and how information on sexuality and being a man is conveyed to his children, are significant factors in how the child’s future adult life will unfold. In a woman’s case, if our femininity was validated and we received healthy messages about sexuality, we often become more sensually expressive and authentic in adulthood. A father’s positive and healthy position on our physical and emotional maturing allows us to gain confidence about ourselves and therefore our sexuality.
Relationships & Marriage
Few people realise that marriage is one of the most challenging commitments that we make in our lives. Few people have acquired or decided to acquire the necessary skills to translate an initial romantic love into a successful, long-lasting marriage, in which the partners work together to surmount the inevitable problems that arise and grow in ever-deepening commitment and love. Whether we’re happily married or miserably attached is often a reflection of the type of bond that our parents had nurtured. When we get married, we tend to fall into the patterns of behaviour that we observed and learnt from our parents. Our fathers are the first man that we as women know intimately. What he does or does not do around the house becomes imprinted in us as the template of a man or husband. Positive or negative, our father is the man setting the standard against which all other men will be measured.
Personal and Professional Achievement
How much importance our fathers placed on job security, monetary reward, professional prestige or independence all factor into a child’s future career, decision and achievements, or lack thereof. If, for example, his career consumed most of his energy so that little time was left for his wife and kids, the kids might find themselves similarly struggling to balance family and work obligations in the future. Alternatively, they might deliberately rebel and choose a life where there’s no opportunity for this conflict to arise to begin with. If we weren’t encouraged to pursue our career aspirations, we might go on to doubt the very skills and abilities that can lead us to follow our ambitions.
Being a Parent
There is no manual for becoming a father. Becoming a father is something we learn by integrating what we learn fatherhood to mean, in the way that it was acted out by our own fathers.
Values & Beliefs
The values and beliefs that we live by and the world view we develop form and direct our lives. They determine our goals, influence our behaviour, shape our relationships, sustain us through hard times and determine our level of involvement in the community. Fathers who have close relationships with their children and demonstrate deep, moral behaviour, have a powerful influence on instilling our ethics and values. This helps us children to develop an internal moral compass, our own inner sense of ‘right and wrong’ (that is to say, possible and not possible, or beneficial and not beneficial), that will guide them in their future decisions and actions.
The importance of fathers as emotional, intellectual and spiritual nurturers has been largely neglected for too long. Maybe if it had not been, we’d be at a more progressed stage of overcoming global issues surrounding gender inequality, such as sexual harassment and domestic violence.
If and when we realise that it is necessary to confront unresolved issues with our Father Figure, which as I’ve outlined affect our present relationship with ourselves and others, the best way to start resolving and facing the unresolved would be:
- To get to know yourself. You can do so through coaching, counselling, self-leadership or therapeutic retreats and workshops.
- Get to know your father and start a process of healing where and when necessary
- Investigate your father’s family history so that you can examine it and evaluate spot any behaviour patterns that need to be recognised and transformed.
*** Until recently Narcissism was labelled as a personality disorder. There is a wide spectrum of narcissism, which would be so beneficial for children and families to learn about and consider. Many children of narcissists blindly repeat patterns of dysfunctional and inadequate love. We become out of touch with thoughts and feelings and as we grow up we might be able to notice certain habits but not our blind spots. We end up choosing narcissistic patterns with whom we will continue struggling with for love. Read more about this topic on my blog about Narcissism.
A true Narcissist Dad is often self-centred and very successful (although there are often unsuccessful ones). They are charming and see others as objects in their climb to success. Morality is often relative for a narcissist so it’s common that they damage relationships with their wives and children along the way. They struggle to feel guilt or empathy, but have a trigger spot that when activated can lead them to see red. When they rage they can really hurt through saying nasty things that they really mean. Even when dealing with kids, a narcissist wants to win. They must always get their way no matter the cost. As a child of a Narcissist, you might show several narcissistic traits too or turn into a victim who often attracts other narcissists.
The following blog posts go into more detail on some of the topics and themes touched on above:
Why Am I Addicted to Toxic Relationships?
Authentic Love vs. Inauthentic Love
The Purpose of Addictive Relationships
Everyone is a Narcissist, Everyone is a Victim
Originally published at www.elisabettafranzoso.com