If you have had a less-than-stellar father as a daughter, this can leave a gaping hole in your heart and psyche. his hole is one that you will try to fill as long as you haven't learned to heal it yourself. Your father's character and his relationship or lack of relationship with you impacts your identity strongly. It influences your ability to trust and love. It impacts the development of your perception of yourself sexually and influences the way you feel about your physical appearance. Mothers have a profound impact on your emotional life but fathers have the deepest impact on your identity. He is the one who holds/held the key to the development of your self-confidence and the way you view yourself.
1. Healing Through Repeating: A daughter's first bonding experience with any man is with her father and a lack in this bonding impacts her so intensely that all subsequent relationships she has with men are filtered through the relationship she had with her father. We tend to attract to us the father we had because it is a familiar feeling, even it is unhealthy. We accidentally gravitate towards those who treat us like he did. This is a great opportunity for healing because with each unhealthy man we choose we can see the problem was never with us being flawed or defective, rather it was in having a less-than-stellar father and then picking low quality men. This awareness is healing and will help us be more aware of what to look for as we pick men to love.
2. Boundaries: One of the best ways to heal from a less-than-stellar father is to set boundaries on the relationship you have with him now. In this way you get to control what kind of contact and quality the relationship has. By doing this you are putting yourself first in a way he never did, and you get to decide how much connection, if any (in some cases) this man will have in your life. Feeling this power will become the feeling you will learn to take into your future relationships with men and in all other relationships.
3. Acceptance: Trying to get love, approval, attention and affection from a man who cannot give it only serves to put you into continual rejection and abandonment. If you can look at your father as a pint and yourself as a gallon, then you can see that he is giving you all the pint he has in terms of love. So, it is you who has to adjust your expectations down from a gallon and to accept that he is a pint and limited in what he can give. His limits have nothing to do with your value. They have only to do with his limits.
4. Live Your Own Life: Father's tend to take the role of the dictator, mentor and guide in raising a pioneer rather than a princess. However, you are here to live the life of your dreams, not to meet the dreams and needs your father may have for you. Being good-enough will have to come from your own idea of your life and your passions and not from his approval or disapproval. In living your own life you are letting him know that he can no longer control you or dictate your path.
6. Embrace Your Power: Now that you are an adult, you are on the same level as your father. You are not a vulnerable child anymore, dependent upon him. You can relate to your father as one adult to another and if you can look at the bigger picture and see him for the weak or unhealthy man that he is and for whatever reason he wasn't able to communicate with you or love you well, you can generate empathy for him a little easier. Acknowledge the holes he left in your heart but stop expecting that he can or will heal those hurts for you because clearly he is not capable.
7. Know When to Let Go: If your relationship with your father is full of continual abandonment and rejection this is very painful. Your father, due to his own life experiences, has shut down. There may come a time you will have to come to accept that there is nothing you can do to affect any change or to get him to see you the way you deserve to been seen. It is incredibly painful but there are father's out there who are totally incapable of a relationship. Grieve this as a significant loss and let go. Set yourself free of that baggage, of all his negative messages, let him be who he is but no longer let him infect you and make you feel small in your own life. It is ok to let go and no longer engage with him.
Many women don't have the experience of having had a healthy relationship with their father but it does not mean their life is ruined or they cannot establish healthy relationships with men. In reality all fathers disappoint their daughters. It's natural. You need to become aware of what needs you had filled and which you didn't by your father and find those elements which are missing in other healthier ways through your other relationships which help you to feel whole. Wonderful lives are possible without having had a healthy father.
Little life message: You determine your worth. Love yourself.
This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Father's Day series, exploring the lessons our dads taught us about parenting.