The Relationship between Fatherly Affirmation and a Woman's Self-Esteem, Fear of Intimacy, Comfort with Womanhood and Comfort with Sexuality

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This study investigated the relationship of fatherly affirmation to women's self-esteem and other psychosexual characteristics. Female university student (n=57) completed questionnaires that measured their perception of their father's unconditional positive regard for them, perceptions of their father's feelings about their mother, self-esteem, fear of intimate relationships, comfort with their womanhood, and comfort with sexuality. It was predicted that perceived fatherly affirmation would be positively associated with self-esteem and negatively associated with fear of intimacy. These predictions were confirmed. It was also predicted that there would be a positive association between perceived fatherly affirmation and comfort with womanhood. This prediction was not confirmed. As predicted, women's comfort or discomfort with their sexual experiences was related to their perceived affirmation by their fathers.

Key words: Father-daughter relationships Women's self-esteem Women's comfort with intimate relationships


Research on the effect of the family on women's psychological development has focused primarily on the influence of the mother-daughter relationship. Although fathers might also be expected to have an impact on a daughter's psychosexual development, few studies have addressed this issue despite anecdotal evidence suggesting that fathers can have a considerable effect on a young woman's self-esteem and on her eventual choice of men. Forsman (1989) found that women's perception of their father's unconditional regard was significantly related to self-esteem, whereas their perception of their mother's unconditional regard was only weakly related to self-esteem. Richards, Gitelson, Petersen and Hurtig (1991) found that girls who perceived their father as being warm and supportive had higher self-esteem and that their ego development was only weakly related to their perceptions of the mothering they experienced. Schulenberg, Vondracek, and Crouter (1984) found that career orientation among college women was more contingent on their fathers' influence and attitude toward career roles than on their mothers' influence. Cattell (1982) discovered a similarity between a father and his eldest daughter on central character traits such as ego strength, internalized self-control, and low internal conflict. These observations are not intended to diminish the influence of mothers on their daughter's psychosexual development, but rather to illustrate the limited attention given to the impact of fathers in this area.

In their work on the influence of fatherly affirmation on the psychosexual development of young men, Naus & Theis (1994, 1995) found a relationship between a father's unconditional positive regard and such characteristics as self-esteem and comfort with masculinity. One might expect that a father's affirmation could have a similar affect on a young woman's self-esteem, comfort with her womanhood, and her subsequent openness to the pleasurable aspects of sex. For example, a father who, was intimidating and avoided intimacy might well engender insecurity and fear of intimacy. A father who withdrew from his daughter when she began to develop physically during and after puberty (e.g. by no longer playing sports with her or showing physical affection or perhaps by even avoiding her), might similarly cause her to feel uncomfortable with her sense of herself as a woman and with her sexuality.

There is some support for these speculations in the literature. Based on a variety of sources, including her interviews with 150 U.S. women aged 18-70 and with 75 fathers of daughters, Secunda (1992) concluded that a sizeable number of men and women grew up with a remote and aloof father. She suggested that women who do not feel affirmed by their father tend to respond to the men in their lives as they responded to their elusive father, i.e. they desperately seek intimacy but are unable to believe that men can be trusted to remain close and are thus always on guard. …