For her healthy physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development, a girl needs a father who loves, accepts and respects her.
In fact, as parenting expert Steve Biddulph explains in his new book, Raising Girls, daughters get their self-esteem – no less – from their fathers.
Reading this reminded me of the words of James Delingpole in his June 2012 Telegraph article, “Rejoice, all you embarrassing dads: you’re doing a brilliant job”. In it, he humourously summed up what a healthy father-daughter relationship looks like, and why:
“Every dad I know really does believe his daughter is a superior cross between Helen of Troy, Athena (goddess of wisdom) and the young Shirley Temple. And while this may tend to mean the world ends up being filled with an awful lot of spoilt princesses, it also – with luck – means that those princesses will have a sufficiently well-developed inner core of self-esteem to protect them from the emotional bruisings they’re inevitably going to have from all those men out there who won’t love them quite so unreservedly as their fathers do.”
But some fathers have no idea how to consistently demonstrate this love to their daughters – nor that it is essential they do this.
The inner core of self-esteem to which Delingpole refers is built when a father consistently conveys in the way he interacts with his daughter that he sees, accepts, values and loves her.
From birth to around the age of six, children automatically “download” all their parents’ words, thoughts and deeds into their unconscious minds. There is no filter. “Good” or “bad”; intentional or unintentional – whatever the child is exposed to is absorbed into their unconscious, and anything that is repeatedly placed there becomes part of the very fabric of it.
And for many years after age six, children’s brains and nervous systems continue to be wired – in large part by way in which their primary care-givers interact with them.
If her father doesn’t relate to her with love, a girl assumes she must be unloveable, and she grows up without the all-important core of self-esteem.
This infiltrates every area of life: the way she sees herself, every relationship, every interaction, the career choices she makes, how she spends her time, how she treats her body.
For example, a woman (or girl) lacking self-esteem may attempt to escape from her feelings of fear and unworthiness by abusing food, alcohol or drugs.
Or she may starve herself, thinking that if she is thin enough, maybe then she will get from society the approval she never got from her father. The world is full of girls who started doing this at 8 – and women who are still doing it at 68.
A daughter with low self-esteem is also a lot more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety – and to suffer longer and harder – than her friends who grew up with their self-esteem intact.
Today’s generation of fathers – those who are raising daughters now – are a lot more likely to be aware of their important role in their daughters’ emotional development than the dads of yesteryear.
But there needs to be more awareness still.
Cruel words can be as damaging and traumatic to a child as physical violence (and many of us endured both from our fathers).
How children are parented affects not only their self-esteem and other aspects of their mental/emotional health.
As Robin Karr-Morse wrote in her book Scared Sick: The role of childhood trauma in adult disease, it is also a leading hidden root cause of (physical) ill health in adult life.
This is because chronic fear and stress in childhood profoundly dysregulate the nervous system, which in turn affects every other system of the body.
I wrote an earlier article about the father daughter relationship last year, and the response to it has shocked me.
In addition to the comments and stories shared underneath the article, I’ve received more private emails about this article than any other I’ve written, and it is still showing in my top five most viewed articles most days.
Copying from my search stats, here are a few examples of things people are keying into Google when they land on part one of this article:
“when a father doesn’t love his daughter”
“distant father effect on daughter”
“did not get father’s approval growing up”
“psychological effects of poor father daughter relationship”
“how to heal from an emotionally absent father”
“disapproving father affects daughter’s self-esteem”
“when a girl doesn’t feel love from her father”
“how to heal from ptsd [post-traumatic stress disorder] from daddy rejecting daughter”
Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
To share with you just a few short excerpts from the article’s comments section – excerpts which speak to some of the most common themes – Alessan wrote: “I can probably count on one hand the number of times my father has ever said I love you to me”.
Charlotte wrote, “My father doesn’t seem to notice that I exist and when he speaks to me all I get is negative words about everything I do.”
Anna wrote: “This article makes so much sense to me because it’s totally what I went through. I always needed my father’s approval but I only ever got disappointment. I gave up trying and just became a very naughty teenager. I didn’t try at school, I developed a drug problem and also attracted very bad men. Not only that, but I became very sick with chronic fatigue and had severe depression from all of the stress.”
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