I think one of the most important things I have learned from counselling with experts from numerous fields, is the effect an absent parent can have on your well being.
In my case, my father left me at 9 years old. So I will focus on absent fathers only from here on in, as it is all I have experience of. Maybe some of these points could relate to an absent mother too, I don’t see why not. I also want to point out, an absent father could be someone who left the household or who remains there but is absent emotionally. For example it may be a father that is in the family home, but works so much that you never really felt they were there for you.
Almost everything about your character and how you deal with the world, and your relationships today can be traced back to your childhood.
Here’s a summary of how I have dealt with having an absent father –
- Identify the effects on yourself of an absent father
- Understand why your father did what he did
- Endeavour not to make the same mistakes
- Work on breaking the habits in day to day life to prevent the cycle continuing
Now let’s take a look at these.
Identifying the effects of an absent father
Identifying the hugely damaging affect on your psyche is the first thing, and that’s often rather difficult. You see the effects can and do cover a range of subtleness and may have been going on for so long they are entirely second nature to you. They might be glaringly obvious – for example violence, general anger, substance abuse – anything to let out that hurt or just ‘feel good’- this were rife in my early 20s for me. They may be mid range – taking it out on those that were for you – such as your mother. Then there’s the far more subtle. Subtle effects could be a greater than comfortable sensitivity to what others think about you or how they act towards you, never feeling like you match up so an impossible standard, shutting down your feelings to avoid pain, an obsession with avoiding rejection, and difficulty handling rejection.
All this comes down to ‘power.’ The power is always out of your hands and in the hands of the ‘world’. If only I could be “X” or get “X” – then I would be loved and feel loved is the overriding belief. At last I would be worthy! That power for your well being could be put in alcohol, drugs, a need for approval from others that is so great it causes suffering, oversensitivity to criticism, obsession with being successful, having a perfect body, anything to feel self worth and love.
It’s all about feeling good you see. Feeling good about yourself.
A lot of love you should have for yourself, especially when a father leaves, and never comes back, in my experience, feels like it gets sucked out of you there and then, never to return. Life becomes about getting that love back, however you can. You put all the emphasis on others and things around you, to make you feel good about yourself, to gain that love back.
Of course, that’s quite dangerous. And it’s a dangerous delusion. (God knows people are rarely in a position to handle such power constructively over you and nothing you can buy can ever love you back.)
You can end up dismissing the love you have from others, rejecting it, and chase love you don’t. And when and if you get that love, you dismiss and reject it too.
Yes, the rejected person – you – can end up becoming your greatest fear – the rejector. The truth is, you may have been rejecting yourself for a very long time. You may have been following your father’s example, when he rejected you, you believed it was something wrong with you.
Understand why your father did what he did
This helps you gain some context but can be complex. For me, I never fully understood my father’s motives before I was re-united with him 20 years later. I knew my father never forgave his father who did the same to his family – walked away and never came back. But my dad told me he never saw us again because it was too painful to see us and for him to hand us back each week. Arguably hugely selfish yes, but, what you see was management of the world for him and his well being.
See we can fall into that habit of managing our pain so deeply, that we find it almost impossible to think outside of ourselves and the effects of our actions on others. Everything in the end, becomes about us and it’s affect on us. When that happens, we can’t help but cause pain to others, because they become very much secondary to our own well being.
In the end, I became a pawn in my fathers game of feeling good. Did he consider any ill effects on his own son? Unlikely, he was too busy trying to manage his own suffering.
Forgive your absent father
Forgiveness is a deep experience. No books or words can do it for you. They may point you in the right direction granted, but unless you can feel some peace, show some love, and be friendly to the person you forgave like you would anyone else, you haven’t really forgiven. Could you really be in a room with them and show them a little love, genuinely? Forgiveness isn’t just words. It’s an experience. It’s real. And only you know when you’ve truly done it. It doesn’t mean you agree with what happened, that you like the person. It just means the anger, and the power they had over you, has gone. You finally see it as their issue, or an issue they had, not yours or something that was done because of you.
The deeper the pain, the harder it is t0 forgive and take that power back over your life.
Forgiveness is primarily for you, it sets you free. If you withhold it, you only damage yourself. The deeper the pain, the longer the process could be. Real forgiveness, could, take many years. Yet any step, however small, is a dose of healing.
Endeavour not to make the same mistakes as your absent father
So what mistakes were made? Well, my father gave up on us, he rejected us. So firstly, I don’t want to give up on other people, including him or reject people even if relationships come to an end. I want to be there for people. Secondly, he never forgave is father, or my mum, so I checked that box, I forgave. Thirdly, he was selfish, so to try and be less selfish is important to me too – to realise people’s feelings and well being don’t and shouldn’t all centre around me. People can and are idiotic sometimes, they are hateful, harmful, but that’s more about them than me. I don’t want them to have power over me. My father rejected me, not because of me, but because of his own issues. Finally, power, my father put power over his life in other people’s hands – his father, us kids and not handing us back – and took the power over his well being out of his own hands. Anyone that was true at peace and loved themselves, would not have done, what he did. He simply reflected his own feelings of rejection outwards.
Work on breaking the habits in day to day life to prevent the cycle continuing. Don’t become that absent father/mother yourself one day!
Finally, we are creatures of habit. So many patterns we have of acting are indeed very complex.
It takes a lot of self awareness to spot yourself doing things you’ve always done, without ever noticing them. As you deal with some, you often find others uncover.
But old habits can be undone, and replaced with new ones, of that there is no doubt.
Today, my big one is putting too much power in the world over me and my week being. What people say towards me, how they act towards me, matters way too much to me.
And why is that? It’s down to a lack of true genuine love for myself. A love beyond mere words, love that is a feeling. Something that I give to myself. To be kind to myself, about myself. Not too critical. Not harsh. Just to feel a little love for myself, each day.
I am learning to love myself, have confidence in who I am, regardless of anything else.
From a good, loving, relationship with yourself, everything else flows outwards. It will flow naturally towards others both close and far from you. I am learning to give that love to myself now, not make it dependent on anything else, a change or some goal to be achieved that allows me to be ‘more loveable’. (You will notice such a goal always shifts and it never pays up!)
So breaking these habits means –
- I will accept myself as I am, love myself as I am. Now. I don’t need to change to be loved, but change will come from that love
- To be decent towards people and set yourself and them free from needing their reciprocation or approval
- Not to try and portray some false image of perfection to the world in order to get it’s approval
- Ease up on myself, stop being so critical, and realise I don’t have to be perfect
- I am not defined by the gaining of material items or success
- I will learn to love those that love me – not chase absent love or those that withhold love
- I will see people as they are – rather than making their behaviour something to do with me or seeing them as a device or adjunct to my well being
- Be fully responsible for my behaviour and not blame others for it
- I will align myself with love, and the light side, not hate and darkness
It’s a tough job, but there’s enjoyment in there, as you figure it all out and yourself too.
You are, and always were, very loveable really. At the end of the day, you just got hurt. The power to remove that hurt, lies within your own hands.
Best Wishes & God Bless