Often people who struggle with depression have an absent father in their lives. The absent father figure comes up frequently when we document recovery stories, some examples are: Carrie Fisher and Jason Robinson.
When the father is absent the likelihood of substance use and depression is greatly magnified. People without father figures often go through intense periods of anger and self-loathing as they mature.
An absent father is someone who is not fulfilling a role of a loving and caring parent. It doesn’t necessarily mean physically absent; a father can still be present but engage in subtle forms of abuse like verbal and physical abuse.
Absent father syndrome strongly influences mental health and negatively damages grades at school, self-perception, self esteem and ability to relate to others in healthy ways. Psychology Today makes some excellent points in their article on father absence, father deficit and father hunger:
Children’s diminished self-concept, and compromised physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing) *
A Generation of Absent Fathers
Being a good father is not an easy job. Fathers are meant to provide for their families, show strength and protective instincts but also affection towards their children. This is difficult for many men as they try and cope with generational changes. Being a father is no longer about just providing financially for your family, this fact alone has caused many men to struggle being a father.
Good Fathers Produce Healthy Children
It comes down to this simple fact and truth: fathers who have quality relationships with their spouse and children produce healthier children. A healthy family unit is often the bedrock of mental health. Of course, you can be mentally healthy and come from a broken or dysfunctional family, but this is the exception and not the rule. People can have mental health problems in a healthy family too.
Absent fathers often produce children prone to addiction, mental health issues, poor relationships, poor education and lives that often do not reach their potential.
The Absent Father and Depression
The absent father’s influence on depression is often linked to deep-seated anger and feelings of powerlessness. People become angry at their treatment at an age where they didn’t have sufficient power to fight back. Anger is coupled with feelings of helplessness and dependency. When this anger is not released, it can become externalised in harmful ways:
A common psychological affect of fatherlessness is feeling angry. Typically, at the core of anger is hurt and pain which stems from the rejection felt from their parent. Anger manifests itself in various forms such as verbal outbursts, cutting themselves and even physical violence *
An excellent way of understanding the damage that can be done by an absent father is ‘attachment theory’. Secure fathers who allow their children to explore the world, make mistakes and learn from them whilst offering help and support along the way create strong and secure personalities in their children.
Insecure children are often afraid to explore the world, make mistakes and view the world as an inherently hostile place designed to attack them. They develop defensive postures adopted for egoic protection that manifest in a wide variety of ways as they grow and struggle through the stages of maturity – these include mental health, chronic pain, addiction and neurosis.
The Good News
Even through the effects of the absent father cause much pain, it doesn’t need to be like this forever. Healing and recovery is about developing compassion for self and letting go of hurtful past experiences. This is not easy but many people are able to break out of the shackles created by an absent father figure. Developing compassion for self and forgiving oneself is often at the heart of letting go of the shadow of the absent father.
How to Beat Absent Father Syndrome
Make a conscious decision about not repeating a generational pattern. Often father absenteeism is passed down many generations. Society needs brave people to stand up and say, “I’m not going to do the same to my children or my friends or family”. Be the better man or woman. Be present in relationships and realise that fatherhood is about genuinely loving and forming strong relations with your family, children and friends. Develop forgiveness and compassion for yourself and even your absent father. You are a special and unique person in spite of what any parent may have told you. Forgiveness and making a decision to be responsible for yourself is key.
References and further reading
Overview of attachment theory
Effects of Father Absence on Adolescent Depression, Sexual Attitudes, and Substance – thesis PDF
Psychological Effects of Fatherlessness | eHow.com
Excellent slideshow documenting how attachment theory works
Father deficit, father huger by Psychology Today
Photo by LOLren via Flickr