Father Complex is a pressing issue for many adult men today. This article looks at the emotional role fathers play in the lives of boys and young men. Thanks to Melissa Rose, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP, NCC, for her comments. Melissa is a licensed, board certified therapist in Knoxville,TN, United States who specializes in working with children and families.
“Young children have an innate need for attachment, meaning the emotional bond between the child and the parent. Naturally, we tend to think about the mother-child bond as the most significant, however children require love and security from both parents. Specifically, fathers play a critical role in the development of a child’s self esteem and many aspects of their character.” Melissa Rose
If you are a man struggling with relationships or not sure about your place in life, you aren’t alone. Even men leading relatively fulfilling lives find that when they reflect on things there’s something that isn’t quite right. In many cases, this missing piece can be traced to their relationship – or lack of relationship – with their fathers.
A man’s relationship with his father plays a significant role in who he grows up to be.
The degree of damage caused by a poor relationship with his father varies from man to man. For some, it’s as simple as growing up in a home where the father didn’t express emotion openly or spent a lot more time at work than at home. These men find that as adults, they also struggle with their emotions and self-expression.
In other cases, boys who grew up in abusive households witnessing violence deal with ongoing issues with anger and trust in or for authority as adults. If their fathers left them, they struggle with abandonment and wounds to their sense of self worth and self confidence long after they’ve reached adulthood.
Why is the father-son relationship so important and why do so many men have a so-called Father Complex? Can anything be done to repair a broken relationship with a father? And what can men do in their families to prevent repeating the pattern of father-son difficulties?
The first step in making a situation better is admitting there was a problem. For some, it’s difficult to admit a parent didn’t provide what was needed. Fathers are human and many who tried their best still came up short. Admitting that you didn’t get what you needed as a child from your father goes a long way in healing long-held emotional injuries and limiting self beliefs.
Acknowledging your pain and the root of that pain doesn’t mean excusing or condoning your father’s missteps. But it is the first step in expressing your pain and anger, which lessens the risk that you’ll transfer those negative feelings to your relationships. Simply admitting that you were hurt makes you less likely to make the same mistakes with your children that your father made.
Should I Try to Repair My Relationship with My Father?
The simplest answer to this question is: “it depends.”
Every situation is different. In some families, repairing the damage done by an absentee or emotionally stifled or distant father is possible and would be productive.
In other families, attempting to repair any damage would cause more damage. If your father is still stuck in the same emotional hole he was in when you were growing up, chances are addressing the issues is only going to create more chaos and upset. You’re better off focusing on yourself and looking for healing experiences with counselling professionals or peer to peer support groups. The important thing to understand in this case is that it is possible to heal autonomously. You don’t need to confront, or even have the support of your father to achieve your goals.
This is also the case for men whose fathers are no longer living or are out of the picture entirely. If it’s impossible to discuss your relationship with your father and confront him about things, you can still deal with your emotions. Healing occurs within you and the work you do, whether or not you choose to or can include your father in the process. This is your journey.
Many men find that cultivating a healthy relationship with their sons and ensuring that they are communicating openly and honestly and providing their sons with what they need goes a long way in their healing process.
Expressing Your Emotions
Chances are, one of the most significant challenges of not getting along with your father was not feeling comfortable expressing your true and full emotions. This means something different for everyone.
Maybe you felt anger toward your father’s actions or words, but you knew if you showed that anger you’d get in trouble. Maybe you were belittled for expressing sadness or fear because those feelings were perceived as weakness. Or maybe you felt the need to hide your feelings and take on a role of strength in your family because your father left that role empty.
Regardless of why you were unable to express your emotions growing up, you can express those emotions now. The important thing, though, is to do it productively.
According to Deryl Goldenberg, Ph.D. “As adult men we can’t pretend away old unresolved wounds because the hurts eventually resurface in other areas of our lives. The unexpressed hurt and anger often transfer onto our love relationships, parenting, challenges at work, and problems with authority.”
Realize that suppressing the feelings does no good because eventually, they will bubble to the surface. The key is to manage those emotions and express them on your terms. Let go of the judgment and control you felt from others now and find ways to express the emotions you pushed aside as a child. There are many tools for doing this, including:
• Peer to Peer Groups
• Performance Coaching
• Talk therapy
Don’t be afraid to explore different tools until you find one that is right for you.
Is It Possible to “Let It Go”?
Healing isn’t a linear experience. And letting your past go isn’t always the best thing for everyone. No matter how difficult it might have been, your past led to where you are today.
Chances are, if you are working to overcome a combative or otherwise difficult relationship with your father, you won’t travel directly from point A to point B. Some days it will feel as if you’ve moved backward or you’ll never overcome your difficult feelings.
Recovering from a toxic parent can be a lifelong process. That doesn’t mean the effort isn’t worth it. The goal isn’t necessarily to finish and be completely healed from the wounds. Instead, the goal is to offer your children a better experience than what you had. And if you aren’t a father now or you don’t plan to be in the future, healing is still worthwhile. Living a fulfilling, authentic life is always worth the effort.