Psychological Effects of Growing Up Without a Father
I Grew Up Without a Father
The psychological effects of our childhood experiences can have an outsized impact on who we become later in life. Earlier today, I read an article that provoked what one might describe as a panic attack. As I read this very disturbing article about the psychological ramifications of growing up fatherless, it all just sunk in for me ... that I was damaged. When I finished reading about the studies on fatherless sons, it completely altered my state of mind.
Unfortunately, I have personally experienced many of the psychological consequences mentioned in the article. Most alarming for me was this statement: "Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain." Notice the word "permanently." Maybe I've had my head in the sand—or the clouds. I already knew that children from single-parent families tend to have more difficulties in life, but hearing it framed with these words? I was devastated.
This is what I learned about the likely psychological effects of growing up without a father.
Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain.— Ben Spencer, The Daily Mail
Males or Females?
Do you think growing up fatherless affect males or females more?
More Likely to Be Aggressive
Psychological studies show that children growing up without fathers are more likely to be aggressive and quick to anger. I've always had a copious amount of anger—not just loud anger, but quiet anger, as well. For me personally, quiet anger is more insidious and volatile. Silent anger doesn't have a proper release valve, it just builds up like a growing monster, maturing right along with you. I've spent nearly all my life containing myself because I know it isn't particularly productive or acceptable to be outwardly angry.
Anger makes you think and act with stupidity, and that's just a bad way to release energy. Additionally, I have a greater chance of passing on my aggression to my children. Now I am forced to consider this if I ever decide to have a family. Do I really want to have children that are aggressive and prone to anger? Would I be doing the planet a favor by just letting it end with me? We all want to think or believe that we are in full control of our actions and goals—but are we really?
More Likely to Be Depressed
Teens growing up without a father are more susceptible to emotional distress. This is a hard subject for me to discuss because it forces me to recall very dark times in my life. I get bouts of depression that just seem to permeate every aspect of my life. My natural introversion magnifies the sense that I am alone in the world, and that no one can possibly understand what I am feeling.
Thankfully, I have always managed to pull through these bouts of depression. I attribute this to the ongoing support of my friends and their unrelenting efforts to help me restore balance in my life. I also remember high school teachers and college professors who went out of their way to urge me to apply myself and do better. In many ways, life is a team sport. Don't be afraid to lean on your teammates for emotional support and reassurance.
More Prone to Low Self-Esteem
The psychological effects of growing up without a father can lead to self-esteem issues. Over the course of my life, I've had very few conversations with my father. I always believed there must be a reason why my father wasn't ever there for me. I was introverted, and I never really opened myself up to others. I could never be myself with my friends or anyone in my social circle; I always carried the feeling that I was damaged or unwanted. Yet, I was lucky. I made healthy friendships that exposed me to a lot of positivity and optimism.
For a teen looking forward to college, I was also fortunate that I never had trouble dating. The women I've dated and had steady relationships with have taught me a lot about how to be a gentleman, and how to treat a woman with the utmost respect. Today, I feel good about myself; I'm content with not being perfect. Concurrent psychological effects have a way of compounding one another; the key is to be more self aware and battle your demons head-on.
More LIkely to Do Poorly in School
Growing up without a father can affect your education. During high school, I did just enough to get by and get into a decent college. I'm embarrassed to say that so far I've dropped out of two colleges due to lack of effort and motivation. I've never felt good about this—I've robbed my mother of the pride and happiness of seeing her eldest son walk across a stage with a college degree.
I can't go back and make things right, but I hope one day I will be able to achieve some success that will give my mother some assurance of my worth as a son. The negative psychological effects of being raised in a one-parent household can hold you back in life, but you still have a choice—sink or swim. It's entirely up to you.
More Likely to Use Drugs
Fatherless children are more likely to turn to drugs. When I was younger, I battled several addictions. My mother was justifiably busy holding down a job that supported the entire household. I would never portray my mother under a negative light; she loves her children, and she did the best she could. My two older sisters were preoccupied with their college studies. I was pretty much left to my own devices as a teenager.
I always had a circle of friends who were much older than me; whatever they did, I did. They got tattoos, I got tattoos. Suffice it to say, the things they chose to do to pass the time, I ultimately partook in, as well. You might be interested to know, however, that today I'm as sober as a priest. I was able to pull myself out of that tailspin, and realizing this fact gives me hope that I can overcome other hurdles in my life, too. At this point, knowing that I have that inner strength means everything to me. It means I can, in good faith, declare that there's hope for me.
More Likely to Be Incarcerated and Commit Suicide
Even when factors such as income, race, and parent involvement were held constant, fatherless children—especially boys—are twice as likely to wind up in prison. That is an alarming statistic, yet it just makes sense. They are more prone to aggression, more likely to drop out of high school, and more susceptible to negative influences. Given those tendencies, it's not hard to see how that can lead to higher levels of incarceration.
In addition, one of the most unnerving statistics is that nearly 65% of youth suicides are associated with fatherless homes. Growing up without knowing my own father, there is no question for me that children who grow up fatherless are at a much greater risk for depression and, unfortunately, suicide.
Important Lessons My Father Taught Me
Through his absence, my father taught me that life isn't fair. There are no guarantees that we will attain anything, achieve anything, or be loved by anyone. No matter what predispositions we are born with, or what psychological effects may be associated with our childhood experiences, we are the ultimate forgers of our destiny. I have to believe I can overcome the disadvantages of growing up without a father. I have to believe that I can still determine my future.
- National Fatherhood Initiative, "The Father Absence Crisis in America," 2013.
- Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, "Father Absence in the Monogamous California Mouse Impairs Social Behavior and Modifies Dopamine and Glutamate Synapses in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex," Oxford Journals, 2013.
- Ben Spencer, "Growing up without a father can permanently alter the BRAIN: Fatherless children are more likely to grow up angry and turn to drugs," Daily Mail, 2013.
Anna Sutherland, "Yes, Father Absence Causes the Problems It’s Associated With," Institute for Family Studies, 2014.