We all long for a caregiver who has concern for our safety and well-being – someone who loves us unconditionally and who can guide us in the right direction in good times and bad.
However, that is not the case for everyone. Not everyone has a healthy, loving relationship with their parents. Some may even feel love toward one but not the other. Sometimes that other parent is the father. Perhaps your father has hurt or disappointed you to the extent that you now feel hatred toward him rather than love and respect. Is there any way to fix this, or is the hatred acceptable?
We Hold Paternal Relationships in High Regard
When we think of father figures, sometimes words associated with the patriarchal notion of fatherhood come to mind: “protector,” “leader,” “supporter,” and “provider.” These qualities are found in both genders who are parents as are other admirable qualities like honesty, courage, and empathy. These are good expectations to have of parents.
Just as a mother is essential to a person’s life, so too is a father. Fathers are critical to a child's well-being, including their emotional, psychological, spiritual, and relational health. Fathers play an important role in child development, so dysfunction in a father or in the father-child relationship is likely to have a negative impact on the child no matter how old the child is. When this dysfunction happens, it can also result in the child feeling extreme hatred toward this paternal figure. If you are experiencing these feelings, you are not alone. There are many ways to help you manage and overcome this hatred.
Family therapy can help you and your dad explore and address your differences to build or rebuild a healthier relationship. A therapist can help you effectively manage conflict and challenges. However, if your dad is unwilling or unavailable to work on your relationship, you can still work to resolve your own perceptions and feelings. This way, your experiences with and feelings toward your father will not continue to negatively impact your life. You are not responsible for what you experienced at the hands of others, but at some point, it is healthy and mature for you to embrace the control that you do have to restore your mental and relational health.
I Hate My Dad So Why Am I Sad?
It might be helpful to consider what you are truly feeling and the source of this hatred. We usually associate hatred with anger. However, if you hate your father, you could be feeling emotions other than anger, such as sadness or grief. This can happen for a number of reasons.
Sometimes your genuine feeling is, indeed, anger, but be careful as anger can, in certain situations, be used as a shield. Sometimes we experience anger when we are really feeling something else. This sometimes occurs when our genuine emotion feels too vulnerable. Anger tends to feel stronger or more powerful, so when we are uncomfortable with the vulnerability of our actual emotion, we may cover it up with anger. The reason this is important to acknowledge is that it is much easier to understand, process, and resolve our feelings when we are addressing the genuine feeling rather than a feeling that is only a cover.
You may feel hatred for your father because he hurt you in some way or because he was never there for you. Perhaps, you never knew him at all, and the person you thought he was or the hero you shaped him to be was just an illusion. If this is the case, you may be sad because you are grieving the loss of the relationship.
It shouldn't be surprising how much impact the loss of one's father or the damage to one's relationship with their father can be. There seems to be something innate in our need for healthy relationships with our fathers, and we will certainly grieve any significant loss or damage to that relationship – whether it was healthy or not.
The loss of a father may mean the loss of hope of hearing the words you long to hear or of having the experiences that are special between a father and child. You may grieve over not feeling loved or hearing your father boast about how proud he is of you. If you had a decent relationship with your father, feelings of hatred now that he is gone may really be part of how you are processing grief. Minor issues in your relationship may be blown out of proportion – not because they were a big deal but because you have lost the ability to resolve them. Similarly, if you didn't have much of a relationship with your father and he has since passed away, you may feel worse about him now that he is gone. This could be because you now realize that you will never have the opportunity to repair the problems in your relationship.
Managing Conflicted Feelings About Your Dad
If you believe that you are at the point of needing to accept the painful reality that you will not have the relationship with your dad that you had hoped for, you can learn to accept caring and nurturing from other people in your life (such as an uncle, family friend, coach, teacher, or stepdad).
Prepare yourself emotionally on difficult days like Father's Day and milestone celebrations like weddings. Many events, circumstances, or even life stages can heighten your awareness that you do not have a relationship with your father. It is helpful to plan ahead when you can. This might include ensuring there are healthy distractions, such as having other important people with you for the event or planning your own celebration.
Recognize that it can be hard to be around people who had wonderful relationships with their fathers. Learn how to acknowledge their happiness gracefully. Perhaps you can also use such awareness to remind yourself of the good things in your own life.
We said earlier that hatred isn't a good feeling to have, but that doesn't mean that you're not justified in your feelings. Your feelings are valid, whether they include anger, deep sadness, regret, or grief. You are entitled to them, and it is important to remember that it is healthy to express your feelings rather than bottle them up. Cry, shout, punch a pillow, or express them in some way, as long as it doesn't hurt you or anyone else. There are other things you can try to help you begin to manage your feelings toward your father.
Find Out About His Past
It's completely okay to be angry, frustrated, sad, or hurt over what your father did or didn't do during your life. It sometimes helps to learn more about the cultural, ethnic, or familial issues that may have led his unwillingness or inability to form a healthy bond with you. For a long time, the role of the father in child-development was poorly understood and seldom communicated. As a result, generations of fathers were raised without an understanding of how or why to be good fathers.
A better understanding of your father’s past can certainly make finding resolution with him a bit easier. Understanding can help you process your own emotions, which can help lead to a healthier outcome in your own life, whether you are able to reconcile with your father or not. Of course, understanding does not necessarily excuse or justify what he may have done. Remember, understanding is not acceptance, but it can be helpful for you to begin to manage your hatred.
Remember the Positives
It can also be helpful for you to acknowledge any strengths or other positive attributes that you know of or remember about him. Very few people are all bad. Your father most likely has positive traits, abilities, and qualities. It is okay for you to give yourself permission to appreciate his admirable qualities, even if there are others that are less attractive or respectable. It is healthier to live in reality. This means accepting your dad for who he is – both the positive and the negative. This may also lead to your having more realistic expectations of him, which might, in turn, lead to less disappointment.
As mentioned above, this process can also help you to better understand your own feelings. Hate is one of the more basic emotions, so sometimes we drift toward it when something gets in the way of our processing deeper feelings. Thinking about the positive things in your relationship with your father can help you to understand whether things were really that bad or whether your hatred is the result of confusion regarding what you're actually feeling.
Hate can be a valid emotion, but we can't stress enough that it isn't good for you. As stated above, you can't always decide to feel something else, but you can decide to let go of hate.
Set a goal for yourself to let go of the guilt or regret without having negative or conflicting feelings. There comes a time in every child's life when they pass an age of maturity. At this point, they have to accept responsibility for their own thoughts, attitudes, expectations, intentions, and actions. This very well may apply to your estranged relationship. Remember you cannot control the actions or feelings of others, including your estranged father, but you can embrace the power and control you have over yourself.
You cannot control your dad. You cannot choose his character. You cannot make him available to you. You cannot create a strong, healthy, positive, mature, mutually respectful relationship with him by yourself. Once you are confident you are not contributing to the distance or dysfunction between the two of you, let yourself off the hook, even if that means ending your relationship. "Ending a relationship" is something that you can do whether or not your father is still alive. It means coming to terms that the person will no longer be in your life, whatever the reason may be.
Finally, whether your dad is still in your life in some capacity or not, forgive him. If you want a healthier relationship with him or just want to live a healthier life, forgiving him might be essential. Reconciliation requires forgiveness of past wrongs, but even if that is not an option or you have decided to completely remove your dad from your life, try forgiving him – if only for the sake of your own mental, emotional, and relational health. Forgiveness is for your own sake, so you are not attempting to live a healthy life while riddled with bitterness, resentment, or hatred on the inside. Forgiveness is usually the last step after feeling and acknowledging the hurt, anger, confusion and other emotions and thoughts and processing these healthily. Sometimes people forgive too easily and under this façade of forgiveness, lies all the work they didn’t do.
Whatever has happened and whatever happens next between you and your father, it is important that you find someone with whom you can talk about your conflicted feelings and who will listen empathetically. This can be a friend, a family member, or even a counselor or therapist.
Counselors and therapists can help in a number of ways, from repairing and strengthening relationships to helping people process grief. The great news is that you don't need to deal with scheduling weekly appointments or sitting in traffic to drive to an office. Now there are online counselors and therapists. With online therapy, there is a network of licensed counselors ready to help you find a sense of peace and independence.
A study found that the Working Alliance Index (task, bond, and goal) was slightly better with online therapy when compared to face-to-face therapy. The composite score for online therapy was 215.07 and for face-to-face, 205.5. People who participated in the study were primarily seeking therapy for depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. Other issues were school related, dependency, and grief. People who participated in the study cited written communication, cost, and flexibility as some of the factors that contributed to their overall positive experience with online therapy. Online therapy could be an option for you when dealing with your relationship with your father.
How BetterHelp Can Help You
BetterHelp is an online counseling platform, which connects you to licensed professionals at an affordable price. You can search for counselors who specialize in relationships and then access your counselor whenever and wherever you have an internet connection. Your therapist will help you navigate the emotions and thoughts you have surrounding your father and your relationship with him, so you can move forward in a better, healthier way. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"Baruch has been helping me sort out issues in dealing with my elderly father who was distant, very critical, and emotionally unavailable during my childhood and beyond. My father is currently verbally abusive to me and other family members in many instances. Baruch is wonderful. He has helped me with concrete and practical suggestions to help me deal with the immediate situation with my father and also more in-depth analysis of the whys and wherefores of the past. In spite of many years of difficulties with my father, he reminds me of all the positives in my own adult life, which can be hard to focus on when feeling overwhelmed when dealing with crises in an elderly parent. I felt immediately at ease with Baruch at our first session. He is an amazing listener and responds with such clarity and insight. In just a few sessions, he has helped me greatly. Highly recommend!"
"Christine is very empathetic, supportive and responsive. She asks great questions that make you think very deeply to understand yourself. She has given me practical tools and strategies that have really helped me to tackle long standing issues with my family relationships. Her support and advice has been enlightening and transformative. I am so grateful for all her help."
No matter what happened between you and your father and no matter what happens next, no one should have to go through life with hate in their hearts. Some people can let go of hate on their own, but some people need help. If you're not ready to let go, that is completely okay. But, you deserve to live a fulfilling life without the stress caused by your father. Take the first step toward a healthier life today.