Father's Love Shapes Personality

Anxiety and insecurity result from parental rejection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Father's Day is right around the corner. It is a day to remind us to appreciate our fathers and the love they have given us. And that love, according to new research, may be more important than we thought.

Children who are rejected by their parents tend to feel more anxious, insecure, hostile and aggressive.

The pain of rejection can continue into a person's adult years, making it hard to have healthy relationships with significant others.

"Give your children the support they need."

University of Connecticut researchers Ronald Rohner, PhD, and co-author Abdul Khaleque recently reviewed 36 past studies on the relationship between parental rejection and personality.

They found that a father's love has just as much of an impact on a child's development as a mother's love. In some cases, acceptance or rejection from a father may have a larger impact on development than that from a mother.

"In our half-century of international research, we've not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood," says Dr. Rohner.

"Children and adults everywhere - regardless of differences in race, culture, and gender - tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceive themselves to be rejected by their caregivers and other attachment figures," he says.

Research from the past 10 years suggests that the natural structure of our brains may play a part in these shared responses to parental rejection. Studies have shown that the parts of the brain that are triggered during rejection are the same parts that are triggered during physical pain.

"Unlike physical pain, however, people can psychologically re-live the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years," says Dr. Rohner.

Results from study after study show that children feel about the same amount of acceptance or rejection from each parent. However, rejection from one parent can have a larger impact on a child's personality development than rejection from the other. In many cases, rejection from the father has a larger impact on the child.

According to an international team of psychologists working on the International Father Acceptance Rejection Project, the different impact of one parent's rejection over the other may be the result of a child's perception of his or her parents.

That is, children feel more rejected if the more "powerful" parent is the one doing the rejecting.

For example, if a child thinks his father has a higher status than his mother, the father may have a stronger impact on the child's life.

According to Dr. Rohner, this research shows that a father's love is a vital part of a person's development. These findings should encourage fathers to play a larger role in the nurturing of their children.

He adds that recognizing the importance of a father's influence on childhood development should reduce "mother blaming" - a common problem in schools and health care settings.

"The great emphasis on mothers and mothering in America has led to an inappropriate tendency to blame mothers for children's behavior problems and maladjustment when, in fact, fathers are often more implicated than mothers in the development of problems such as these," he concludes.

The studies examined in this analysis involved over 10,000 participants. The results are published in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 12, 2012
Last Updated:
October 24, 2012