Father and Daughter Relationships

by Dr. Beverly Block

Father and Daughter RelationshipsI feel that the childhood relationships you had with the parent of the opposite sex has had the most influence on the adult you. How you feel about yourself as a woman goes back to how your Daddy treated his Little Girl.

  • Did he listen to what you had to say?
  • Did he respect your opinions and welcome your contributions to the conversation?
  • Did he ever ask you for input regarding family issues?
  • Did he treat women in general like second-class citizens?
  • Did he respect your mother and show her affection?
  • Was your mother his equal partner?
  • Did he participate in family functions or did his work come first?
  • Was he active in your school activities, or was he an absentee father?
  • Did he keep his promises, or did you often wait by the window for him after the last guest left your party and the ice cream had melted?
  • Was he aggressive or abusive to you or your mother?

Look at the relationships that you have had with other men. Do you gravitate to men like your father? Are they usually kind and loving men, or are they uncaring or abusive? Daughters need to know that the first man in their life loved them unconditionally, as every man in her life thereafter will be patterned after her first love --- good, bad, or indifferent.

I hope that you were fortunate enough to have a father who enriched your life. If he made you feel like his beautiful princess and also valued you as an intelligent and independent individual, then I'm fairly certain that your relationships with the men in your life have been positive experiences. If, on the other hand, you lived with a father who discounted you and made you feel miserable, or you had an absentee father who was not a part of your life, then it's likely that you have picked the same kind of men as an adult. One would think that living with an alcoholic, abusive, inattentive, or emotionally unavailable father would make you more aware and thus more cautious and selective. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the established patterns. Surprisingly enough, you tend to choose the same man as your father, regardless of his positive or negative affect on your life.

The psychology behind this phenomenon is really quite interesting: being treated in an abusive way as a child diminishes your self-worth and thus your expectations of yourself and the way others should treat you. You forget that you deserve choices in your life, and tend to accept whatever circumstances befall you. Moreover, as most abusive, aggressive men prefer women they can easily dominate, your diminished self-image makes you a target for abuse. A vicious cycle of reduced self-worth and abusive relationships ensues because abusive treatment only enforces the poor self-esteem. Women will marry or live with an abusive man like 'Dear Old Dad ' or seek our a man whom they can never trust to be there for them. Incredibly, when they finally find the courage to leave him, more often than not they will become involved with another man just like him!

I have counseled many young women who, as adults, still wanted to have a father/daughter relationship with their absentee father and continued to try to reconnect with a man who had left little more than tire tracks on the paths of their lives. One woman actually wanted her father to walk her down the aisle, and she was afraid to ask him. She was afraid that he would say no, or even worse that he would say yes, and not show up. Like daughters of alcoholic and abusive fathers, they still cling to the possibility of a normal relationship, but continue to seek out the same type of man.

Breaking the pattern is essential if you are ever to enjoy a healthy relationship with the opposite sex.

First you must acknowledge that you have the problem. Work on building your self-esteem and give up the role of victim. Now you must identify the traits that are predominant in the men that you choose.

  • Is the individual power hungry?
  • Does he need to be in control at all times?
  • Does he have an inflated ego?
  • Does he make promises only to break them?
  • Is he jealous?
  • Is he possessive? Is he aware of your needs?
  • Does he discount your opinions?
  • Does he want to change your hair, clothes, personality, etc.?
  • Does he need to be right most of the time?
  • Is he there for his family and friends when they need him?
  • Does he embarrass you in public or does he ignore you?
  • Does he discount your feelings?
  • Has he ever abused you --- psychologically, verbally, or physically?
  • Is he quick to say, "You made me do that," or "It won't happen again?"
  • Do you trust him with your heart?

Any of these can be red flags, and now you may be aware of others. If you love this individual and you both want to work on the relationship, I suggest couple's counseling. With a clear perspective and information from an impartial therapist, you may decide that you are willing to overlook some of his negative behavior. If you are certain that you cannot live with the imperfections of this individual --- even if some of the traits are seemingly benign ---- do not count on changing them after you have made a final commitment. Ask that 'little girl' inside of you," Did my Father change?" Find an opposite type and give him a chance. You will finally be on your way to establishing new patterns of behavior.

I'm Here For You,

Dr. Beverly Block