Personal Perspective: Words of validation to help you love yourself.

Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, November 1, 2023 

  • Women who were abandoned by a father often feel a strong sense of self-doubt and struggle to love themself
  • They have a greater chance of entering relationships in which they are mistreated or not loved.
  • Understanding that abandonment is not about them is crucial for healing, but it is not easy.

I was climbing the side of a mountain. I had never had any training, yet there I was, stuck to the side of a large mound of rocks, miles in the sky, attempting to locate my father. I found him just out of reach on the mountainside when, like magic, the mountain grew and expanded, prolonging my journey toward him. I continued scaling the mountainside but while I seemed to get closer and closer, the hoped-for reunion was always just out of reach.

If I told my dream to Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung, they would make easy work of analyzing it: Like many survivors before me, I was attempting to navigate the trauma of abandonment and the obstacle of trying to heal from it by getting closure. Climbing a mountain is a common metaphor for the difficulty of both.

The first few years after my own abandonment, I was in denial. I figured we would talk eventually; my father just needed time to cool down. A decade later, I began to realize that was never going to happen. Even now, as I counsel tearful survivors through their own healing, steadfast in my efforts to help them decrease their own self-blame, I still struggle with understanding that his leaving was not my fault.

When I sat down to write the letter below, I thought it would be for myself, to help me process my trauma on my own healing journey. As I wrote, I realized it was for anyone abandoned by a parent—the answers never coming, never truly making sense—who lies awake at night wondering, “Why?” For those readers, perhaps this letter can help: (Note: While this letter is gendered due to it’s personal nature, abandonment is not gender specific- it can happen to anyone, by any parent.)

Dear Survivor,

After the abandonment, you probably wanted to know, “Why?” Questions came in fast: “Don’t they wonder where or how I am? If I’m safe, hungry, healthy…happy?”

Time passed and, without answers, you replaced these questions with your own internalized explanations of why he left: self-blame.

Initially, you might feel resentment, especially during birthdays, holidays, and times when everyone else seems to have a happy family life. You might feel invisible during such times, most prominently during major moments when you should feel the best and most proud: When you cross the stage at your graduation knowing he is not among the crowd. Your wedding, when he isn’t there to give you away. The birth of his grandchild, who may grow up never knowing their granddad.

To escape these feelings of invisibility, you may act out in immature, unhealthy, or even dangerous ways: Being noticed in a negative light may feel better than being invisible.

Years might pass when all you feel is anger. Other people might find you difficult to be around or you might push them away. You might spend years self-medicating, punishing yourself with substances, behaviors, food, relationships — anything to fill the void and stop the pain, even if only momentarily.

You are grieving, though you may not know this yet. Many people associate grief with death but, in a way, this was the death of someone who was supposed to care for, love, and protect you.

Trying to explain this to others—from extended family and friends to those who just don’t understand—will be difficult. They may offer well-meaning, but victim-blaming comments like, “But that’s your father!” emphasizing the devastation you already feel. You might want to reply, “I know he’s my father. So why did he leave?”

Misinformed extended family might even blame you, the child, for the actions of a parent leaving. This is their way of making sense of a senseless behavior, but they are wrong. You were a child. Even if you were over 18 and technically a legal adult when a parent left, you were still their child.

When parents abandon their children, they leave because of their own struggles with mental health, substance use, or legal concerns—not you. No, you were not a bad kid. You were not mentally unstable, a behavior problem, difficult to deal with, or any characterization they gave you to justify their actions. You were normal—a growing human being with the complexities that come with all growing human beings.

The reason they left had nothing to do with you and there is nothing you could have done to prevent, heal, or stop it. Them leaving you was never your fault. Try to let go of the idea that it was.

(Rest of “Open Letter” at