Fathering reflects a universal symbolic pattern in the individual and collective, conscious and unconscious. We come into this world needing a father, his recognition and to be lovingly seen by him. We innately require a nurturing and caring father figure while his lack of presence affects a daughter’s mind, body and soul. Yet, Jung wrote only one essay on the father and he had four daughters.
Many daughters are raised on the myth of the daughter/father romance. But is this really true? Why has it been accepted if a father has been so rarely present in his daughter’s life and his vision for her absent? Remaining faithful to the myth of the father rule then has restricting ramifications and she learns to renounce the meaning for her own life. The absence of a father sets a daughter up for anguish and disappointment, often even cancelling her creativity and life force.
The father described here is one who might be present but is experienced as an emotional and/or physical absence. Deadened inside, full of his own failures, loss and depression, he has no room for the life of the daughter. Such absence becomes for her a dead emptiness, an abyss that leaves her without a solid foundation. His lack in viewing her with love creates no end of emotional distance, internal disconnection and the self out of kilter with the rest of the personality. She feels off with others.
In therapy a woman cannot remember experiences of father love or care. Another says her father’s eyes express denigration. He does not listen but makes negative comments about her clothes and lifestyle. Yet another describes disapproval in the look from a father who never understood, saw or got her desires for learning and knowledge. All lacked support, guidance, nurturance, or correct holding with a father.
When a father is absent to himself, he cannot perceive his daughter. The consequences can be damaging to her self-care, ability to turn inward, overwhelmed by grief and loss of self. There is a foreclosure on relatedness fueled by the feelings that being open to another brings the risk of psychological annihilation. This begins with the secret psychic death in childhood when she slowly gives up. Her spirit becomes overpowered when unloved and her wishes ruptured. From the outside everything might look normal, but she was rejected, not only by the father but also now by herself. This woman has lost a true and vital part. The yes feeling or the capacity for growth and roots to the basic system have gone awry.
The daughter/father problem reaches to the intrapsychic depths and archetypal roots–to issues of self and culture wherein lie the complex aspects, the patriarchal biases and father lack many daughters are raised on. Father is an absence, not a presence, a vacant home, a shadow and she unseen and unknown. The chronic absence of him is accompanied by anxiety and depression. These are the incessant scenarios occurring day after day, year after year, dream after dream.
The absent father has no love to display and transfers his sorrows, losses and depression to her. This leaves the daughter with self-alienation, drugged by inertia, living in a trance-like state with no sense of time or worth. Adversely affecting confidence, promoting idealization of others, it feeds an internalized cycle of self-hatred and oppression. The daughter assumes she has the fault, a feeling that strikes to the core. Even so, she might feel the need to save the father, make him happy, and please him.
Addressing these wounds opens the damages, the old patterns and releases the energy for new modes of being. The focus on lack and absence sheds light not only on the symptoms and problems but also on the treatment and hope for both fathers and daughters. This is a place to be filled. Jung wrote at the end of the essay, ‘The Significance of the Father in the Destiny of the Individual,’ ‘It is to be hoped that experience in the years to come will sink deeper shafts into this obscure territory, on which I have been able to shed but a fleeting light’ (1961, p. 301).
Susan E. Schwartz, PhD, Jungian analyst and clinical psychologist, is a member of the International Association of Analytical Psychology. She has taught in numerous Jungian programs and presented at conferences, workshops and lectures in the USA and many other countries.More Posts by Susan Schwartz