We all grow up swimming in a narrative soup where an array of stories shape the way we understand the world and who we are in it.
Amongst the many family dynamics issues that the world community is beginning to address, one of the least-discussed subjects remains that of father-daughter relationships.
In the Muslim community especially, this is an issue which has been overlooked, ignored, and generally treated with a sense of discomfort.
As a mother to a beautiful little girl I am writing to shed light on an issue that I believe all women prior to this generation suffer with on some level just by the very nature of the environment and societies we grew up in.
We discover, indeed that we do not know our part, we look for a mirror, we want to rub off the make-up and remove the counterfeit and be real. But somewhere a bit of mummery still sticks to us that we forget…”
Until recently, a rather strange conspiracy of silence surrounded the daughter/father relationship and perpetuated sealing off with painful, traumatic limiting and dictatorial natures of their connection.
The daughter/father from the archetype is seen in a variety of symbols. It is cast from not only their interactions but also with additional images internalized from our culture, religion, literature, myths, and fairytales.
Because our culture is a patriarchy the very air we breathe, the boundaries of our consciousness, the contents of our personal unconscious psyche, and the complete cast of the collective psyche, are full of The Man: his image, his history, his definitions, his requirements, his expectations, his needs, his desires, his threats, his power, his laws, his religions, his gods, his money, and his ambivalent, unrealistic image of “her”.
This results in the feminine nature suffering as it lives by the masculine mind and leads to a one-sided development of our psyche. A “daughter”/ woman may unconsciously flee the feminine, gathering that it holds limited value.
Patriarchal domination castrates men as well by justifying their lack of emotional development.
This daughter/father dynamic reaches to intrapsychic depths and archetypal roots– to issues of self and culture, wherein exists the complex aspects and the patriarchal biases that many daughters are raised with.
Psychologists refer to father-daughter relationships as having an importance too often overlooked, despite the incredible impact that it has on both parties.
Much of the time the effect of this relationship isn’t even noticed until much later in life, when patterns have already been set and are unlikely to change.
Like Father, Like Daughter
From the very beginning as a baby, a daughter takes a look around and sees herself reflected back in the eyes of her father so that what she looks like in part is related to what she sees from him.
Fathers, of course, also mirror images of security, consistence and presence. A father can provide a doorway to the world. His interaction with her forms part of the foundation upon which a daughter builds her self. He is integral to her identity- formation as a woman and promotes the unencumbered expression of her being. “The feminine element can only get into its right place by a detour that includes coming to terms with the masculine factor.”
Obviously, an adequate relationship creates confidence, acceptance, love, stability, discipline, and self-strength. At each stage of a daughter’s development, the relationship with her father affects her sense of self and, when sufficient, gives her the confidence to express her creative potential. He is part of what contributes to her ability to be present to the many aspects of her inner and outer life and the form of their relationship affects the collective images carried about daughters and fathers.
Many daughters, however, do not have good experiences because they look and do not see anything related to them. When she looks she might see doubt, insecurity and absence in her father’s love and care and this becomes a way she tends to treat herself.
These experiences can create negative images, and over time her capacity to live fully begins to fold, and she repeats what she learned in destructive ways. Such “daughters” are threatened by internal chaos and react with various forms of withdrawal, defensiveness and immaturity.
Countless generations of fathers in the past and even to the present, had no time or emotional accountability to participate in family life. The lack of fathers’ emotional relationship to themselves and others currently contributes to broken homes, failed societal values, and increased violence. Moreover, the untouched space around fathers culturally, personally, and psychologically submerges their influence into the unconscious.
Equally, a father’s neglect can contribute to internal vacuity, vulnerability, and lack of psychological connection. These appear as melancholy and passivity, the avoidance of her spirit and a general loss of feeling.
When a father cannot fulfill his daughter’s needs for love and affirmation, self-denigrating habits and moods develop in her. A “daughter” experiences low self-worth, develops hesitancy in the world and avoids intimacy. The internalized negative energy creates self-isolation and both the masculine and feminine energies betray her from within and without.
A father, wounded in his masculinity, lacks relatedness and cannot support his daughter, nor impart useful knowledge about life. He cannot meet her challenges to him and his immature attitudes falsely accentuate male dominance. This kind of father is psychologically connected to his mother as an eternal son and their dynamic impedes assumption of the adult role for himself or his daughter.
It repeats an unconscious generational pattern and becomes a reenactment of the merged relationship with his mother. A father who is playing the son places his daughter in the mother role. He relies on her to care for him, although she is the child. The mother/son structure forms the basis of their connection and circumvents a healthy daughter/father relationship.
Depriving his daughter of correct care, he leaves her prematurely fending for herself, so that she might not learn how to cope with the vicissitudes of life nor acquire the basics of developing as a person.
His passivity and inability to see her create unmet needs and damage creativity so that the concentration and valuation of her endeavors seems meaningless. Her self- effacement comes in part from effects of how he harms her with his unconsciousness.
This kind of father and daughter become emotionally attached by her serving his needs so that she can get love. He loves her as a child but as she gets older he detaches and she feels his absence, neglect or abuse.
The father, by denying his daughter’s essence, restricts her to a half-dead life while she remains emotionally and psychologically bound to him.
She develops a hostile inner world, full of rage or numbness, obstructing inspiration and arresting self-integration. Acquiring self-depleting patterns and behaviors, she grows more and more lost. By being father-dominated, the daughter does not access the feminine and cannot find her ground of being. The lack of the father as an anchor from within is
reflected in part through the cultural lack of balance as women struggle to honor their mind, body and soul.
The fact that both daughter and father are separate yet linked comes from resolving dilemmas while holding the tension of their opposition. This can foster genuine relatedness based on the conscious awareness and acknowledgment of their complexities.
Both father and daughter suffer, each in a different way, and both are affected by the abuse of unconscious paternalism.
Complexes occur where the energy is blocked and the nucleus of the complex draws more and more energy due to its magnetic quality.
A complex is loaded with conflicting emotions difficult to reconcile in the conscious mind. Marking an unfinished area of the personality and originating from early traumas and/or emotional neglect, a complex splits off and functions autonomously. It can range in effect from hardly disturbing features to being strong enough to rule the personality, like an independent source at work within the psyche.
The daughter/father complex can include self-alienation for both, affecting them so that each becomes estranged from self and other. Each can become drugged by inertia, live in a trance-like state with no sense of time or of life going by. A negative father-complex adversely affects a daughter’s intellectual confidence, promotes idealization of others, especially males, and destroys initiative.
It feeds an internalized cycle of self-hatred, oppression, and revenge. There is a coldness and impenetrability that gives a daughter little interest or access to anything outside herself.
How many generations of women must we watch struggle to feel secure and accepting of their body. A woman makes a severe sacrifice when she agrees to the cultural dictum that she is never young enough, thin enough or smart enough. She is caught in paternal attitudes and fantasies that promote a worship of the unattainable, unrealistic and unnatural ideals that contribute to the lack of mature female models in our society.
So many women cannot eat what they want, wear what they want, and express what they want—because nothing will be perfect enough. A lack of basic trust and security leaves us chasing an ideal through cosmetics, body re-shaping, compulsive and negative self-thoughts and behaviors killing off desires and feelings and causing dissociation from self and others.
Even in therapy, women hardly talk about what they really eat or how they are related to their body except when expressing dissatisfaction!
These “daughters” remain stuck on a treadmill of predicable responses, repetitive and self-deprecating behaviors and thoughts. Physical existence is a trial and body feelings are denied, ignored or escaped in order to circumvent feeling.
A split off and unrealistic self-reflection, leaves no relationship with her body that gives joy or pleasure. Denying her body leaves a woman without desire and the dispossession of her body means a bulk of her libido is devitalized and scattered.
Her inner system is blocked in a misconnection between mind, body and soul coming in part from the misconnections with her father.
In flight from her body, she seeks the ethereal and lives in her head. The dissociation between body and psyche block the ability to love. And at the core she resists life, fades before the fruit ripens, becoming only possibility and promise, unable to carry her own meaning through to the end.
By preferring the fantasy of perpetual youth, this woman avoids exploring her abilities in depth. Lacking an inner holding place, she has trouble giving birth to herself because she identifies as a girl. Out of touch with her femininity, even though she may look the part, she does not find satisfaction in being a woman.
A daughter should naturally go through a stage of idealizing her father. But, if he stays ideal, for whatever reasons, a “daughter” cannot get a sense about the reality of her father, or of her idealization of him of them. By default, she falls into the male-defined ideal.
These women then buy the myth of being an object of perpetual youth, docility and sexual allure. As such, they become a personification or reflection, a passive servant, or an object helplessly absorbed in the father. Through unconscious adoration and idealization, a daughter becomes buried in the father’s skin and acts against herself.
She is drained of inner spontaneity. She lives under wraps, her desires ignored, under the assumption that she does not deserve the goods of life. Confused and distracted, she is unable to focus on herself. Even if externally achieving and appearing in the limelight, she cannot stand to be alone with herself.
In being true to her father emotionally, physically, and creatively, a daughter can be assailed by masochistic self-attacks. Over-identification with the male world can cause her to ignore the voice of her own soul.
A “daughter” with an unconscious attachment to her father easily falls into the arms of a ghostly lover–a romanticized version of a relationship because it is shrouded in mystery and unreality.
She is sleeping in some way, floating, and oblivious. Everything remains distantly charming, on hold, a statue acquiring dust. Unable to awaken, her life stagnates and she does not form relationships of substance or consistency. She cannot commit to herself or others, be it in work or in love.
When a “daughter’s” identity stays caught in her father, she assumes depersonalized attitudes toward herself and others. The more unconsciously a father acts, the more a daughter acquires a similar behavior towards herself and she feels unreal and at odds with the world. She busies herself with looking functional while living below her potential.
Passion is curtailed, individual thought unformed and life devalued.
She just gets by.
With little sense of personal constancy or cohesiveness, she fears autonomy but may adopt an attitude of isolation to preserve the shreds of her identity and hide her vulnerability. This obstructs intimacy and relationships are unable to come to fruition.
Or, a daughter might take on the role of a femme fatale, an anima woman, living to please the man. Although appearing to have creativity and strength, she internally lacks a consistent focus, structure or belief in herself.
Preserved in a state of suspended animation, a woman becomes numb to the moments of her life.
Does she even realize what is happening? How can she find her ground of being when this is the very thing she assiduously avoids? She renounces identity and eaten from within, cuts off her feminine spirit from its innermost roots. She engages in an unending war between parts of the self–a war of internal voices that are sadistic, unrelenting, often paternally based, but which she obeys.
A non-nourishing self-absorption arises as a defense against intimacy, be it self to self or self to others. This leaves her unable to satisfy or understand the loss connected to feeling unlovable.
She experiences shame, smallness, vulnerability and fear. Again, all these reactions are registered “as if” she is the observer of her life. The tragedy about her may be so subtle that the distressing ramifications are underestimated, mostly by herself.
Operating from the tradition of feminine passivity, many women stay dependent, immature and unaware, not knowing what they want or do not want and therefore are unable to express themselves.
The continuing perception of these women as inferior while they are striving for perfection reflects the brutalizing and fragmented parts of our culture that they internalize and that crush the feminine spirit.
These timeless images contain the seeds of future consciousness.
How does a “daughter” respect herself when so many fathers and so many societies see daughters as not preferred?
How does a “daughter” differentiate herself from this over arching script? How does a father? And, how do we encourage and support those fathers who are interested in and joyful about the full growth of their daughters?
It is not just the fact that a father has influenced us all in some way, but it is how we become aware of him and his effect on our lives that shapes our present and future.
To grow out of the old daughter/father behaviors means moving beyond merely remaining a copy of the collective female model built on maleness or male images. We can no longer substitute outer adulation or putting on of masks, but work to access the spark within, according to our own particular, real rather than ideal, standards.
This involves engaging with the wounds, reclaiming the damaged parts, and essentially integrating shadow aspects. By breaking down the ideal and using our individual nature, we then can engage with life
The process requires a “daughter” to be present to the pain and take down her defense and the shields and accept the hurt inwardly as it leads to a deep experience of reconciliation. Gathering the pain that dropped into the unconscious and bringing it to consciousness while suffering it fully is the only way to cope with it.
This is difficult for a woman caught in the father complex; yet, it is a part of the process redeeming a different father image. A “daughter” finds her authenticity and opens to her reality when she no longer accedes to or rebels against the father, but honors her natural instincts in relation to him.
(with help of Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.)
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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