Fact: not everyone has an overall happy upbringing or nurturing, relatively sane parents. I was lucky enough to score one out of two: my mom’s pretty cool. My father, on the other hand…
The emotional mind games were unparalleled, the verbal abuse was unrelenting, and it occasionally got physical too. My father’s default setting was one of deep anger and bitterness at how the world had wronged him, and as he saw it, his wife and children continued to perpetrate the overarching injustice at his expense.
Although it’s impossible to boil down a father-daughter relationship to a few brief words, I’ll try.
I was the eldest of three — and the most confrontational by far
I often saw my father as injustice personified, and as I pitted myself against him I knew that it was either him or me. In other words, I knew that if I ever did myself harm, I would be letting him win, and so I somehow always managed to externalize my feelings and direct them at him rather than at myself. Self-preservation.
For a long time I was proud of the fact that I had consistently stood up to my father, that I had refused to be bullied—that I was ultimately very strong, and that I had survived my childhood intact.
But although I had great friends, a pretty functional life, and was more or less a well-adjusted person, my romantic relationships with men were undeniably the dwelling place of my past suffering.
How my dad haunted my romantic relationships:
Lack of trust
Lack of trust and support when you’re young can rear its ugly consequences decades later in your relationships.
This often manifests as jealousy if your guy pays any attention to another woman. In my case I even harbored a fear of introducing my girlfriends to some of my partners.
It can also develop as a general lack of trust that the man you’re with is a reliable person— that he has your best interests at heart, that he’ll show up when you need him, that he isn’t out to compete against you or overpower you in some way.
My father never supported us emotionally, financially, or in any other way, and he cheated on my mother.
I still personally have to work long and hard not to feel disproportionately defensive over the tiniest thing on a regular basis.
Why? Because as a child I was literally — and regularly — attacked. Later, as an adult woman in relationships with men who were nothing like my father (for the most part), I would nonetheless feel attacked over the smallest thing: a tone of voice, a weighted pause.
Does he doubt my credibility? Does he question my capability? Does he look down on my point of view?
My inability to feel even a little misunderstood without losing my damn mind comes from constantly having my account of reality dismissed and ridiculed by my father. But acknowledging that is half the battle!
Fear of abandonment
My father didn’t just fail to earn my trust and attack me. Years later when I reached out to him to try to have a relationship, he chose to refuse contact, and it felt like a horrible abandonment.
In spite of all the negative qualities he possessed, I still wanted to gain his approval. A part of me will always love the guy. When he refused to be a part of my adult life, it was both upsetting and destabilizing.
The fact that I have had to contend with a nonsensical (though palpable) fear of abandonment in my relationships is not surprising.
How I banished it:
If any of this feels familiar to you, don’t worry. There are no problems without solutions.
Here are a few helpful strategies I learned to integrate into my own life to help overcome my daddy issues and become capable of a healthier, more satisfying, and more adult romantic relationship.
Reflect on the qualities you’re attracted to
Do you tend to choose men who share qualities with your father?
This does not have to be a negative thing. My father wasn’t all bad, and no one is. But it’s important to be aware of who you’re attracted to and why. Self-reflect and determine whether the men you’re attracted to are good for you or not.
For me, the number one most important quality in a man at this point is the ability to communicate: openly, honestly, and with compassion.
Check your narrative(s)
Is the voice in your head always negative when it comes to relationships? When you start a new relationship, do you tell yourself it’s bound to fail—as a way of protecting yourself, even when you really it hope it succeeds?
The power of thought should never be underestimated.
Catch yourself in the act. Even if it feels fake at first, turn it around and instead say to yourself “There is no reason why this won’t go really well.” You’d be surprised what a difference it can make.
Look into therapy
Therapy is not for everyone, but at the right time in your life, with the right therapist, you can make serious waves in the ocean that is your messy mind.
I’ve only seen a therapist a handful of times in my life, but I do have a good go-to. She once said to me:
You don’t need to swim for your life when you’re standing in ankle-deep water.
It was all I needed to hear in that moment to break down and cry, have a laugh, and build myself back up again.
Bottom line: love yourself against all odds, and beautiful things are bound to grow. The work never ends for any of us, but self-awareness is the key to a more satisfying life.