The Effects of Paternal Abandonment on a Child

Any type of parental abandonment may have detrimental affects on a child, regardless of his or her age. According to an article written by Tess Forrest, Ph.D., for Contemporary Psychoanalysis, the role of fathers is important to both male and female children, but most especially females, according to Freud’s psychosexual theory. However, according to an article published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the importance of the role of the father’s parenting in regard to male children and their expression of emotion and feelings cannot be ignored.

Feelings of Betrayal

Children old enough to understand that a father has left often blame themselves for that abandonment. They often feel they did something wrong to make their father leave or not love them. They may feel betrayed by that person, and seriously mistrust relationships in the future, believing that any relationship will inevitably fail and the other person will turn their back on them.

Feelings of Unworthiness

A child who has been abandoned may feel unworthy of being liked, or even loved, by another individual. Such feelings of unworthiness may lead to chronic depression and feelings of suicide to escape the loneliness or sense of separation she may feel toward others who enjoy healthy relationships with their fathers.

Loss of Role Model

Fathers are infallible heroes in the eyes of many toddlers and young children, and often offer children someone to look up to, to emulate and admire. Fathers often play the role of disciplinarian in a family unit, setting boundaries that most children stick to. Lack of a father figure in a young boy or girl’s life may also affect social development, says Thom Crabbe of the Children’s Workforce Development Council in Great Britain.

Feelings of Shame

Shame about the incident of abandonment transfers to the child’s self-appraisal of worth. Claudia Black, M.S.W., Ph.D., author and family service provider for the Las Vegas Recovery Center, report that abandonment of children at a time when they are “developing their sense of worth, is the foundation for the belief in their own inadequacy and the central cause of their shame.” These feelings of shame and inadequacy “become a driving force in their adult lives,” according to Black.

Problems With Intimacy

When a child trusts a caretaker to provide security and support and then suffers harm, perhaps minor injuries, this impacts the child’s future ability to trust and later may translate to difficulties with intimacy. Children experiencing abandonment and neglect may develop problems with peer relationships, according to a study done at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln by researchers Constance L. Chapple, Ph.D., Kimberly A. Tyler, Ph.D. and Bianca E. Bersani, M.A. and reported in 2005 in University of Nebraska-Lincoln Sociology Department, Faculty Publications in 2005.

Dealing with Loss

Abandonment by a father figure in a person’s life may have devastating effects, as related by a case study of Robert Hawkins, the young man who engaged in a shooting spree in Omaha, Nebraska, that left nine people dead, including himself. According to J. Ray Rice, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., abandonment issues may express themselves as loss of self-respect or the ability of a child to feel loved or worthy of love.

How to Help

If a child is abandoned, the earlier he receives intervention, the better. Encourage him to discuss his feelings and reassure him if he fears being abandoned again. Be sure that he fosters nurturing relationships with other loved ones and family members. If you are concerned about his behavior or emotional state, take him to see a doctor.

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