Women and Father Hurts- What to Know, What to Do

We are never, ever too old to heal from the pain our own parents caused. Dr. Meg comforts a concerned brother.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
June 4, 2015
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4
Minute Read

Dear Dr. Meg,

First of all, I want to tell you that I very much enjoyed your book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.  I have 3 kids, 2 daughters (11 and 8), and dealing with my 11 year old has been a nice challenge, your book will, and has already helped me a lot. So thank you for writing it and for your insights.

On a separate note, I wanted to ask for your advice. My parents got divorced when I was 9.  I have a brother 2 years older than me and a sister 5 years younger (she was 5 at the time my parents got divorced). My father left home and pretty much disappeared from our lives, he did not come to our bar/bat-mitzvahs, he did not come to my wedding and still today I don’t talk to him. My sister is 35 years old, not married, with a very successful career as a dentist but with not a very successful dating life. After reading your book, it hit me that my father’s lack of presence during her life is probably a huge factor that affects her emotionally, more specifically when dating. I don’t know what to do, and I have not discussed this with her, but when I was reading your book, she came to my mind a lot of times.

I wanted to ask you, do you think there’s something I can do? Do you think there’s something she can do? Is there a way you can help her out? She’s going to a psychologist, but I’m not sure how much good that’s doing her.

Thanks again for sharing your insights, you have made a difference in a Dad that will hopefully make a difference in 2 daughters. Hope to hear from you.

Dear Daniel-

Many women live with pain from abandonment by their fathers when they were young. The hurt incurred when a father leaves is so deep and severe that it drives much of the woman’s behavior well into adulthood. One of the ways that many women deal with this pain is by seeking professions or work that keep them extremely busy so that they don’t have to face that pain.

Here’s what goes on in the hearts of women who were abandoned by their fathers (if you are the dad of a daughter- read on!) Girls are born with inherent needs that can be met only by their fathers. These needs are: security, protection, love, acceptance and trust to mention the basics. If a father fails to meet those needs, the young girl, being a child with limited cognition, believes that the reason her needs weren’t met is because something was wrong with her.

But there’s more. Not only does the girl blame herself, she hates that she had a need in the first place. She becomes angry that she longed for her father and decides that those needs/longings were stupid and unnecessary. Of course, this doesn’t work well because every human has needs but because she can’t reconcile that her needs were healthy but not met, she throws herself into something to take her mind off of her hurt (a demanding profession, a house full of children, alcohol, affairs, etc.)

Your sister needs to heal from several things. First, she must heal from the pain of having someone who was supposed to love her, abandon her. Second, she needs to learn not to hate the fact that she had needs that she wanted met by her father. She must learn that it’s healthy to need and want things from men. Third, she must grieve all the unmet needs that she had as a young girl because they still hurt on the inside. Finally, she must learn not to project your father on to all other men. This is very, very hard to do because when a man has burned a young girl, it’s hard for her to trust any male figure.

Once your sister can see the continued impact of these hurts at work in her life, she can face them and move forward. She sounds like a tough woman. And you seem like a great brother who loves her very much.

The best thing for you to do is have honest and loving conversations with her about your dad. Tell her that you love her and want her to heal. Share with her your own hurt from having the most important man in your life abandon you. (Personally, I don’t think that there is any greater pain for a child than that which comes from being abandoned.)

Don’t be her counselor, just love her and show her what healthy kindness and affection from a man looks like. Teach her to trust you. And have her read this letter. Encourage her to talk with her counselor about her father issues. Lend her your copy of my father-daughter book and see if she’ll read it through the eyes of a daughter; after all, the book outlines what every daughter wants from her father. She can see in black and white what she wanted and what she needed and then face the painful truth that her needs and desires were healthy and normal but they went unmet.  She isn’t to blame for wanting or needing your father- he is to blame for leaving her!  She must make this transfer of blame in her own mind. Then, she can grieve and move on with her life.

She is not alone. Many women have suffered as she has but I know that she can live a happier life. At least she has a great brother to help her get there.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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