The Mighty Logo

11 'Habits' of People Who Grew Up With Emotionally Absent Fathers

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Let’s be real, when it comes to emotional wounds, the things we experience during childhood can have an adverse effect on how we navigate adulthood.

The people who raise us affect the way we are molded. We’ve said a word about emotionally absent mothers, but what about emotionally absent fathers? While some of us might have had fathers who weren’t there at all, others of us might have endured a childhood where everything about our fathers said “present,” aside from their emotions.

That critical connection that we long to feel about our fathers is missing because of their lack of understanding (or desire) to foster a close father-child relationship.

Maybe your father was detached or apathetic. Maybe your father was sorting through his own issues and couldn’t show up for you. Maybe he was just under-equipped to help with your feelings because he had a difficult time with feeling his own.

Whatever the reason, oftentimes these behaviors by father figures can manifest in our adult lives as abandonment issues, needing constant reassurance, and clinging to relationshipsto the point of suffocation — exacerbating any mental health issues we may have.

If you find that you’re doing one or more of these things, you’re not alone. We spoke to The Mighty’smental health community to learn some of the “habits” they’ve picked up after growing up with emotionally absent fathers.

Here’s what they told us:

1. Needing Constant Reassurance

“I need constant reassurance that people love me and care. When I say constant, I mean that I think so low of myself and that I am always doubting that people care about me. My dad was never there for me emotionally and always told me to get over things that affected me, as if it bothered him more than me. I am overly available for my friends but I will never be the same for myself.” — Marii K.

“I need constant reassurance that my partner actually loves me. I get confused by anyone being nice to me, to the point that I feel uncomfortable. It has taught me that I need to do everything for myself and if anyone is trying to help that it will come at a price. Also, that you shouldn’t ask for help because the request will just be ignored.” — Megan M.

2. Filling the Void With Other Things

“Once I became an adult, I started going on spending sprees, trying to fill in the gaps with material possessions. I dated a lot, trying to find the love I was missing from him. I threw myself wholly into anyone who gave me the time of day. It turned me into a pretty messed up adult.” — Hope D.

3. Fearing Abandonment

“I also have trouble maintaining friendships because I’m so scared of being abandoned or even just berated the second they get upset with me. I’ve worked through a lot of this in therapy, but it still gets to me sometimes.” — Jennifer P.

“I have major fear of abandonment issues. Dad left when I was 3, [when he and my mom] got divorced. He had schizophrenia so he couldn’t be much of a parent. Self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. Didn’t have much time with him growing up. Then [he] took his own life when I was 12! I was daddy’s little girl. It broke my heart.” — Bridgette T.

“I build walls and compartmentalize my feelings. To this day, I’ll keep feeling abandonment or being ignored tucked away into a nice little drawer. God help the person who tries to open it.” — Angela L.

4. Craving Male Attention or Approval

“[I] go through phases of desperately seeking the approval of men because I never felt approved by him or important enough to keep a relationship with him.” — Emily T.

“I bend over backwards to get approval and affection from my partner. I also think that the only way I will get attention is through sex, so I often allow myself to be taken advantage of just so I feel loved.” — Megan G.

“[I] seek out attention from men because it makes me feel like I’m worth something. It’s caused major issues in my life including in my marriage because I so desperately seek attention from men.” — Stephanie S.

5. Assuming Everything Is Your Fault

“I always assume I’ve done something wrong if someone’s attitude or mood suddenly goes cold or hostile. It makes me anxious and I blame myself even if I’m not guilty of anything.” — Nina F.

“When people get upset with me, I automatically assume it’s my fault.” — Jennifer P.

6. Clinging to Relationships

“I tend to make desperate attempts to cling onto relationships in my life, particularly when they are new, and I am still unsure of the other person’s feelings towards me. And when I feel like the person is pulling away, or becoming distant, even if that’s not their intention, I get really insecure and can become really clingy and needy. This applies to both romantic and platonic relationships.” — Lulu B.

“I’m clingy. Like so clingy. Just ask my husband. Once I find a strong man, I don’t let go. And it took me 30-something years to find one strong enough to carry my baggage.” — Gigi J.

“I used to cling so tightly I suffocated the relationship.” — Melissa R.

7. Fearing Meaningful Intimacy

“I don’t date or seek romantic relationships, even though I really want a family of my own. My dad treated us all like we weren’t worthy of his time, his love was very conditional, and so I live my life thinking I’ll never be good enough for a healthy relationship. It used to affect me the opposite way when I was younger. In my 20s, I was loser with men, which led to some dangerous situations. I was raped when I was 25. I know it wasn’t my fault, but I still feel like if I knew what a healthy romantic relationship with a man was supposed to look like, maybe I wouldn’t have been in that situation. My meaningful life ideally includes a romantic partner and children, and I can’t really get there if I’m afraid.” — Julie C.

“I tend to go after the emotionally unavailable men in dating. Knowing in my gut they’re toxic for me, I continue to try to prove my worth to them. When I grow tired of trying to prove myself, it leaves me in a dark place making myself believe I’m not good enough for anyone.” — Kara S.

“It’s hard for me to let anyone else in. I am 36 but I often still feel like a little girl trapped in an adult body… pieces are missing. I needed my daddy and so I searched for him in other people growing up and often get stuck in unrequited love with people I can’t actually have… it’s a mess. I need to put this ‘baby girl’ to bed and accept that I didn’t have a father and never will.” — Lexi H.

8. Having Difficulty With Other People’s Emotions 

“I have a difficult time when my children are emotional. I will blame myself for every feeling people around me experience. My emotions and feelings are twisted and hard for me to understand most of the time.” — Jacquelyn M.

“I have a hard time understanding emotions and intimacy in men. My father never hugged me, was proud of me or acknowledged me. Therefore, my mind thinks all men are like my father. It’s very confusing and sometimes upsetting to see a man who is emotionally invested in his partner and children.” — Jamie T.

9. Struggling With Authority Figures

“I struggle with authority, particularly male authority. I can’t cope with managers in work. (Got fired from my last job and haven’t worked for the last year!) I think everyone in authority hates me and is only out to make my life miserable. I therefore become very defensive in all contact with them.” — Esther S.

“Growing up, if I didn’t do something exactly like my dad wanted me to, or if I voiced a different opinion, or if I even stuck up for myself, he called me disrespectful and took things away from me until I ‘showed a little respect.’ Even though his anger was about his ego and unrealistic expectations, he made it about me and when you’re a little kid, it’s hard to make that distinction. It’s made things really hard with authority figures.” — Jennifer P.

10. Overcompensating in the Way You Parent

“I overcompensate with my kids. They’re spoiled rotten to the core, but they’re also super close to me. [They] tell me everything [and] listen well. Behavior has never been an issue.” — Amanda B.

“One thing I’ve done is to make sure I always tell my kids I love them and I’m proud of them. Two things I never heard from my dad.” — Ray R.

“Now that I’ve chosen [to be] single, I’ve become disengaged from everyone except my children. As for parenting, I am a helicopter parent and tend to have best friends in my children.” — Kathi F.

11. Being a Perfectionist

“I’m a perfectionist because I never saw my father be proud, or show up to anything… so anytime I do something, it has to be perfect. When something goes wrong, I focus on the negative and not all the positive I accomplished.” — Alan B.

If you find yourself struggling with “habits” that stem from emotional wounds of your childhood, you are not alone. A lot of us have wounds that have not yet become scars because proper healing is a long-term process.

There is hope. Speak to a mental health professional today to help you with your issues, or check out some of these helpful resources below:

Unsplash photo via Mari Lezhava

Originally published: March 12, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home