Will you call, send a card, give a gift, or hang out with your dad this Father’s Day? Or is Father’s Day not a day of celebration because your relationship with him is strained or non-existent? Father’s Day for many of us reminds us of the broken relationship we have with our dad or the childhood wounds he left. How is your relationship with your father?
At the Ananias Foundation, we talk a lot about childhood wounds as a major cause of domestic violence. One of the frequent phrases you’ll hear us say is, “Hurting people hurt others.” Most of the time, those emotional wounds happened during childhood.
Psychologists state as children we internalize messages we receive because our brain, in its early development, lacks its own sense of self. In other words, we tend to believe negative messages about our abilities and value, even if they are not true. Parents, therefore, have tremendous power to inflict childhood wounds with their words and actions.
Until we intentionally heal these injuries, we will carry them into adulthood and they will affect our personalities, functioning, and relationships. Recovery requires that we become aware of our traumas, examine the lies behind them, then replace those lies with the truth. That process is neither quick nor easy, but it is possible and very much worth the effort.
While harm can come from either parent, dads tend to damage children in unique ways. Excessive criticism, harsh punishment, humiliation, conditional love, rejection, and abandonment are common father wounds. These actions can devastate a person’s self-esteem, self-love, and sense of worthiness.
The emotional damage can personify itself in the form of distrust, over-dependency, perfectionism, or a need to dominate or control. In a futile attempt at self-protection from hurt, we may either not let anyone get too close to us or desperately hang on to relationships. Possibly, we fight hard to maintain the upper hand in our relationships, and in the process, become tyrants to the ones we love.
The good father
What were we supposed to experience as kids? Ideally, our dads would have spent time with us. Quality time sends the message that you the child are deserving of their time, which builds a sense of worthiness. This is why abandonment, whether physically apart or just emotionally unavailable, creates lasting havoc in a person’s life.
Good fathers also teach life skills, give directions, and answer questions. They are positive role models, because kids pay more attention to what parents do than what they say. As the child matures, this builds confidence that they can navigate life situations successfully, which develops their self-esteem.
Affirming a boy or girl’s value is critical. All adolescents need to hear that their father loves them, is proud of them, and thinks they are good. Children whose fathers say those things usually become adults with solid emotional regulation abilities.
Healing childhood wounds
If your dad was more damaging than affirming, and you are now seeing some of your childhood wounds, what can you do about it? The good news is there is a process for healing these injuries so they no longer plague your adult life. The key is to change the internal dialogue you have about yourself.
Replace thoughts or beliefs like, “I’m no good” or “I have to do better to be loved” because they are lies. The truth is you, like every baby, were valuable and worthy of love since the day you were born. That fact hasn’t changed, even if damaging words and events you experienced since then tainted your self-perception.
Don’t blame dad
I’m not blaming your father, so please don’t you either. Most parents do their best and are limited by what they learned about raising kids from their parents and their own emotional baggage. None of us had perfect parents and no one escapes childhood without some impairments.
Blaming parents will just keep you needlessly stuck with your own limitations. It will prevent you from experiencing the freedom of healing, and that would really be disappointing. Ideally, you’ll be able to forgive your father for all the ways he may have fallen short.
Maybe you are a parent and this discussion about how parents can wound their children is making you feel guilty. Please know your relationship with your kids can get better. Check out this post from Father’s Day last year.
I know this commentary is pretty deep and can be confusing. I don’t expect anyone is going to read this one blog post and walk away changed. Regardless, don’t miss the point—if you suffered childhood wounds, healing is possible, and will radically change your life for the better. I also recommend getting help from a counselor if at all possible. It’s worth it.
God is often referred to as “God the father” or “our heavenly father”. The idea of God as our father might not be a good association if our experience with our earthy father wasn’t good. If our biological dad abandoned or abused us as a child, do we really want another father in our life?
Earthly fathers, like all humans, are flawed. However God, our heavenly father, is not. He personifies everything a good father was meant to be: creator, provider, teacher, disciplinarian, advisor, counselor, encourager, and unconditional lover. A relationship with him gives us everything we need to live a full and abundant life: security, confidence, wisdom, and love.
Regardless of what your dad was like, any damage he did can be healed through a relationship with your heavenly father. Accepting these good gifts from God is a quick and sure way to fill any voids left by your human father. I know he is there, waiting for you to call, and is ready to welcome you or welcome you back.