Having an emotionally absent father can have a profound impact on a child’s development and well-being.
Unfortunately, the signs are not always obvious, and the effects can last well into adulthood.
This article explores some of the common signs of an emotionally absent father and how to cope if you grew up with one.
Trouble identifying and expressing emotions
Children look to their parents, especially their same-gender parent, to learn how to understand and regulate their emotions. When fathers are emotionally absent, children often struggle to identify what they are feeling and have difficulty expressing their emotions in a healthy way. They may bottle up their feelings, have angry outbursts over minor issues, or be unable to connect how they feel with why they feel that way.
Poor self-esteem and self-image
Fathers play a key role in developing their children’s self-esteem and self-image, especially for young girls. Emotionally absent fathers fail to provide adequate praise, affection, and validation. As a result, children internalize the message that they are not good enough and may struggle with self-confidence well into adulthood. Girls with absent fathers also tend to start puberty earlier and engage in risky sexual behaviors sooner.
Growing up without an engaged, supportive father figure can result in insecure attachment styles. Children may become distrusting of others, isolate themselves, or continually seek validation from romantic partners. They often lack appropriate relationship role models, leading to poor communication and coping skills. This frequently manifests as codependent, abusive, or failed adult relationships.
Difficulty regulating behavior
Children look to their parents to learn emotional and behavioral regulation. Emotionally absent fathers fail to discipline consistently or constructively, and they do not model self-control. As a result, children struggle to self-regulate. This often shows up as difficulty focusing, impulsiveness, and an inability to delay gratification that extends through adolescence and into adulthood.
Increased mental health issues
Numerous studies show links between growing up with an emotionally absent father and depression, low self-esteem, and trust issues in adulthood. Sadly, children with absent fathers are also significantly more likely to experience mental health issues like anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia later in life. They also have a higher risk for suicide.
Possible substance abuse
Children with absent fathers often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their emotional turmoil, which can lead to underage drinking and drug use. One study found that kids were three times more likely to drink alcohol regularly and smoke if they grew up with absent dads. These unhealthy habits frequently continue into adulthood.
Coping with an emotionally absent father
Unfortunately, you cannot force someone else to be present or meet your emotional needs. However, you can take steps to validate yourself, build confidence, and break unhealthy relationship patterns:
- Seek counseling to process childhood wounds and gain coping skills
- Practice self-compassion by recognizing your intrinsic self-worth
- Establish boundaries in relationships and communicate your needs
- Build meaningful social connections with others to experience healthy relating
- Care for your physical/mental health through nutrition, exercise, nature
- Consider forgiving your father to free yourself from bitterness
The pain of an emotionally absent father can run deep, but healing is possible. Be patient with yourself and know that you are worthy of love. There are supportive people and healthy relationships in your future.