How an Unhealthy Father Daughter Relationship Damages a Daughter’s Adult Relationships

A healthy father-daughter relationship acts as a scaffolding for building a beautiful future for the daughter.

The one that teaches you how the world functions. The one that sees you totter and fall and get back up again, offering unrelenting support. The one that set your idea of men when you couldn’t even speak your own truth.

The father is all of this and much more for his daughter.

Healthy father and daughter relationships tend to be the spine behind healthier societies and a healthier world.

A healthy father-daughter bond ensures healthy examples being set out, the ability to be strong yet compassionate and can often influence the way the daughter functions as a human being all through life.

Unfortunately, this ideal isn’t attained in every father-daughter relationship. The reasons are many, but what really holds is the impact such a relationship has on the child and later the grown-up.

The question is:

Can you tell if who you’ve become is partly because of the relationship you’ve shared with your father?

To get an idea, see if one of these patterns seem familiar to you.


4 Common Patterns in an Unhealthy Father Daughter Relationship

1. Absenteeism

When you recall the time you spent with your father during childhood, you recall a person who was hardly ever there.

And “hardly ever there” does not mean physically, which boils down to an extremely busy father who had too much work or would fail to show up for parent-teacher meetings.

Absenteeism is often more subtle than you think.

This could have been someone who sat at the same table with you, and yet you felt like he was somewhere else. You may have tried to convince yourself that he’s emotionally invested. The signs of holding and engaging though were entirely missing.

It is likely that you sensed his own behaviour wasn’t much different towards his own wife, who also happens to be your mother.


2. Abuse

Was your childhood peppered with scenes of rage and extreme anger, all of it coming from a father that the children were perpetually scared of?

Would you check in with yourself a hundred times before you spoke your truth to your father, fearing he might explode all over again?

Or was your home an out and out minefield every single day, where safety was a constant concern?

Abuse in a father-daughter relationship, overt or covert, can be a real cause of women finding it difficult to navigate their personal lives.


3. Escapism

This father-daughter relationship pattern has similarities with absenteeism, but there are differences too.

An escapist father often has addictions, engagements that don’t involve his current family and feels an overwhelming need to somehow stay detached from his living situation, while maintaining a semblance that he’s part of a “family”.

Alcoholism and drug use are common among escapist fathers, leaving daughters confused about where they stand in relationship with their fathers.


4. Co-dependence

You might already be familiar with co-dependency between partners.

But did you know co-dependency is as much a truth in father-daughter relationships?

If you experienced (and still perhaps experience) your father to be this person who treats you as an extension of himself, no matter the context or the stage of life, it’s likely that you’re dealing with co-dependency.

This is a state of fusion where a father feels so inextricably connected to his daughter, he can’t give up control over her life. This is is the case of a father that doesn’t invest – it’s one where the investment is so high, the daughter might feel a silent fear of speaking through her authenticity and taking her own decisions, for her own sake.


How the past might still be affecting you in your adulthood

The reason an unhealthy father-daughter relationship pattern can have a long-term impact is because this is a primary bond gone wrong.

As children grow up, they look to their caregivers for examples and support, in verbal and non-verbal ways. As a daughter you may not have consciously registered how your relationship with your father was leaving residues for you to resolve.


But here are a few signs you may need to look deeper :

1. You find it difficult to commit

Commitment is a sign that you’re ready to take any relationship to the next stage.

However, if you find that your relationships with men always border on doubt and unavailability, it might be a consequence of what you went through in your relationship with your father.

There is locked-up pain in such a situation, which can only be released once it has been explored.


2. You allow others to take control of your life

A co-dependent father can often make his daughter believe what he’s doing is for her life to work better than ever.

However, co-dependency realistically leads to daughters feeling like they are not able to get a hang of their own life. It could be about a career they want to pursue, a relationship they want to get into or even the kind of home they want to live in.

If you find yourself going back to paternal advice for every little thing, it might be a warning sign.

Sunanda Pati
Sunanda Pati is a certified expressive arts therapist and facilitator and a freelance creative writer. Having developed an early interest in psychology and later various forms of bodywork, she has actively worked in knowing her own inner world and processing various traumas. She believes every person is blessed with an endless reserve of inspiration, courage and wisdom. Sunanda lives, writes, practices and facilitates in Bangalore, India. More of her writings can be found at : She also runs an expressive arts initiative of the same name (Gaia Comes to the City), which can be found on Facebook.
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