Father Wounds: How to Diagnose, Treat and Heal

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“I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!” was the chorus I received from the twin high school Sophomore brother and sister sitting in my office. I had just asked them what plans they had for the upcoming Father’s Day? I sighed deeply and I was about to respond, when John, violently punched a hole in the wall next to him. He jumped up, cursing loudly, and ran out of the office; his sister, Julia, just sat there, with her head down, sobbing violently. Frankly, I thought that she was crying because her brother’s violence scared her. But she quickly stopped crying and raised her head, and calmly and flatly, without any expression on her face, matter-of-factly said: “our deadbeat dad wants to visit us for…well, you know…” My mouth dropped open in shock.

“What?!” I shot back. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I continued, feeling as if I was in some sort of sick joke: “but wait, didn’t ya’ll tell me that you’ve never heard from your father…your whole life?!” She responded with an affirmative nod.

“My brother doesn’t want anything to do with him. Honestly, I hate him, too. I guess I’m more hurt and sad and wondering why he did what he did…but, I mean, I still want to get to know him. I guess it could always be worse. I mean, he could have died and I wouldn’t be able to have any sort of relationship with him at all. To be honest with you, I don’t know what kind of relationship I’m going to have with him now. I know my brother thinks that I’m a traitor to him and doesn’t think that I should give him the time of day, but…I mean, I only have one dad, you know?”

I was glad that I was sitting down, because I felt sick to my stomach. I had begun to see them both at the same time for the same basic issues. When they began high school, their grades plummeted. Julia began acting out sexually, with several different boys; her brother, John became verbally and physically aggressive towards his mother and peers, and just recently, he had begun to dabble in some substance use.

Their mother was a great mom and worked two jobs to keep the family afloat. She wanted me to speak with them about their lack of a relationship with their father, and from the time that we began counseling, I had tried, but the topic was toxic–I mean, it was nuclear! But today, the exchange I had just had with them was the most that they had both spoken to me about their relationship with their father in two years! It was clear that this issue had caused a deep injury, a wound really, in both their souls. We both just sat there for a couple of minutes in total silence, as I let all the pain just flow through the room.

Father’s Day Trauma

June is the month when Father’s Day is observed—but I can honestly say, that for many, it’s not celebrated at all. In fact, it might surprise you to learn that Millenials and Gen Zers mostly become interested in dating/sex/relationships during two specific times of the year: major holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and Father’s Day. The reason for this is simple: trauma! More specifically, unresolved trauma. We seek—unconsciously for many, to heal our unresolved “Daddy issues” through our dating, mating and relating. However, unfortunately, the vast majority of the time, all we do is add injury to insult and make a bad situation worse. To that end, I’d like to focus on collectively dealing with our “Daddy issues.” And that means that we have to deal with the issue of unresolved trauma from father wounds.

Realistically speaking, no one makes it out of childhood unscathed. You may have had the most loving and kind and engaged father in the world, but he was still human, sinful, and flawed. However, unfortunately, the vast majority of the teenagers in the U.S. are raised in homes without a father. Now, biologically speaking, if they’re alive, they all have had a father—but that might not mean there was a consistent and engaged father, a daddy!

So get ready for some tough, but loving, real talk. Frankly speaking, we’re all adults here and there’s no easy way to address these issues, so we’re just going to “quickly rip off the Band-Aid” so to speak.

 

First things first, you won’t come across this perspective in the secular media. Actually, it might surprise you to know that the counsel that I will be giving to you is something that many–even in larger Evangelical Christian circles–perceive to be “old-fashioned, intolerant, bigoted, and judgmental,” but it’s given with love and it’s objectively true, and most importantly, it’s 100% Biblical. In today’s culture, it’s okay—even desirable—to say that a mother and a child will be okay without a father in their life, but the reality is that they won’t. This makes kids not okay. And when a kid grows up hurt, they tend to turn into a wounded teenager. The problem is that these wounds are so deep, and so normalized, and so comprehensive, that a teenager typically has a very difficult time naming the hurt.

The statistics about fatherlessness, frankly, are shocking and scary:

Across America, 2022 data indicate there are approximately 18.3 million children who live without a father in the home, comprising about 1 in 4 U.S.  children. About 80% of single-parent homes are led by single mothers. Children from single-parent families are twice as likely to suffer from mental health and behavioral problems as those living with married parents. In one study, 70% of youth in state operated facilities were from single-parent homes. Children with an actively engaged father perform much better in school, some data shows that they are 33% percent less likely to repeat a class and 43% more likely to get As in school. In a study of 56 school shootings, only 10 of the shooters (18%) were raised in a stable home with both biological parents. Eighty-two percent grew up in either an unstable family environment or grew up without both biological parents together.

 Three Inescapable Realities

“I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me” (Deuteronomy 5:9, NLT).

When dealing with the issue of father wounds, God promises us that the families we’re raised in have a clear and powerful effect upon our lives. The family homes and environments we’re raised in inform our lives, but we’re not imprisoned by them. We can grow and change and improve—and heal. But it will take work!

In making any changes, our daily and consistent choices and habits end up dictating our success, or lack thereof.

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7, 8, NLT). This is a principle that even the most secular minded person has observed. The most famous quote is by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

In the midst of all the bad news that we tend to be the product of the homes we’re raised in and that we can’t escape our habits, God promises us that we can receive healing from all our father wounds! In fact, God promises us that, when a father kicks you to the curb, God will become your father: Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT). God also gives us this amazing promise about healing our father wounds: “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5, 6, NLT). What a blessing to know that God won’t leave us high and dry, when it comes to healing from our collective trauma. But the reality is that it will be difficult—even painful–and it will take a serious and concerted effort from us all, but, in the end, it will be worth it.

Real Talk about Real Roots

When it comes to dealing with giving counsel related to the father wounds of teenagers, I must share a shocking and embarrassing confession: my grandfathers (on both my mom’s and dad’s sides were uninvolved fathers), which means that likely, their fathers (my great-grandfathers, were uninvolved fathers) and this caused my father to have a father wound.  This meant that my father, as awesome as he tried to be towards me, he and I just didn’t connect well. So, although my father wasn’t physically present and a hard worker and an incredible provider, in terms of meeting the deep emotional father-son connections that I needed from him, he just couldn’t do it. But now the tables are turned. I have a daughter who’s 22 and a son who’s 18. I have two Master’s degrees in counseling and almost 30 years of working with teenagers. And guess what: four generations of Miranda men have been traumatized! I hope and pray that my son—if he chooses to be a father—will be able to be a better father than me. Real talk: I’m a recovering addict! I have also traumatized my kids! The fact is that every parent messes up their kids, in some form or fashion. The hope is that, a parent (in real-time) can begin to recognize and repair the trauma to their kids. But when it doesn’t happen, everyone loses.

Let me be crystal-clear with you all: to heal from unresolved trauma, you will have to face it to resolve it, and that will take concerted, consistent, Christian counseling. It will be hard work. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts. But it’s okay, because you can love Jesus, and your therapist, too. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact the Bible clearly tells us: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, NLT). Getting counseling doesn’t mean that you lack faith. In fact, counseling is one of the spiritual gifts listed.

Diagnosing a Father Wound

So when we talk about father wounds, what are we really talking about? I mean, what people always want to know is what does a father wound look like? Before I tell you this, I have to address three realities I’ve found to be generally true:

  1. The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to pinpoint it, and “put it into words.” People who have father wounds, when they really take the time to think deeply about them, realize that they grow up with a general sense of shame; this sense–not that there’s something wrong with them, but that they, themselves, are the wrong thing! They’re constantly trying to be better than everyone, all the time, at everything. The kicker is that, because of the shame they feel, they’re constantly over-compensating, and will never feel that they can ever be good enough! I know. It’s messed up.
  2. When people have trauma-based shame, they typically tend to not be so nice to be around. They’re generally angry, bitter, moody, irritable, and kind of go from one drama situation to another. It’s like no matter where they go or who they’re around, ultimately they will find a way to start drama, destabilize, and mess up that situation. They’re generally not okay. Ever!
  3. When traumatized people have limited insight into their own emotional needs (point #1), and are walking wrecking balls, (point #2), this makes them acutely emotionally needy. Another way to say this is that they are constantly and unconsciously on the look out for people who they think can plug the holes in their heart and heal their woundedness.

Now that we have those three truths out of the way, let’s get back to our main diagnostic question, which is: what does a father wound look like? I mean, could you go to “WebMd.com” and find a brief summary of the signs and symptoms of a father wound? Unfortunately, a father wound, because of the very nature of the severity, depth, and intensity of the wound, is extremely difficult to describe.

I can say that, in all my years of working with teenagers, I’ve found some generalities to apply to Father Wounds. For young women,  I typically see problems in their relationships, specifically, in sexual acting out behaviors. And, for young men, I typically see more problems with anger outbursts and substance use. This is ultimately about trying to stay away from any pain altogether, and this tends to make teenagers live their lives like zombies—just awake enough to minimally get through their day, but not awake enough to really live their lives; another way to put it would be that traumatized teens with father wounds tend to live their lives, “unplugged”.

Attachment Problems

Our parents are supposed to be the most important people in our lives who love, provide, protect, and affirm us. And when we feel safe and secure in our attachments and relationships with them, things go significantly better for us in all aspects of life. However, as is more common with the loss of one crucial parental relationship (like that of a father), a child grows up feeling an uneasy sense of everything not being okay. Then when they become teenagers they get hormone poisoning, and this sense that’s been on a simmer turns to a rolling boil and quickly boils over and out of control!

So, generally a father wound can be acted out like any other thing that is bothering someone, but the only problem is that the pain and the hurt goes deep—thus the definition: “wound”! This is a soul-damaging thing. This isn’t something that someone can just put a band-aid on. This is generally the kind of thing that messes people up for life, if they don’t deal with it. Generally this tends to cause attachment problems, and attachment problems tend to affect all of a person’s relationships.

These are the different types of attachment styles in relationships. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space to go into this into more specific detail, however in the “Additional Resources” section, I’ll include a couple of really helpful links that you can go to for more information. The four different attachment styles are:

  1. Anxious/Preoccupied: Teens with an anxious attachment style tend to have a negative self-view, but a positive view of others. This means that they may view their partner as their literal “better half.” Because someone with this attachment style deems themselves to be less worthy of love in comparison to other people, the thought of living without their partner (or being alone in general) causes high levels of anxiety. In other words, they deeply fear abandonment. To ease this fear of abandonment, people with the anxious attachment style strongly desire security within relationships, and attention, care, and responsiveness from a partner tends to be the “remedy” for their feelings of anxiety. On the other hand, the perceived absence of support and intimacy can lead someone with the anxious attachment style to become more clinging and demanding, preoccupied with the relationship, and desperate for reassurance that they are loved.
  1. Avoidant/Dismissive: People with the avoidant/dismissive attachment style tend to have a positive self-view and negative one of others. Consequently, they prefer to foster a high sense of independence and self-sufficiency–especially on an emotional level. Someone with the avoidant attachment style tends to believe that they don’t have to be in a relationship to feel complete: They do not want to depend on others, have others depend on them, or seek support and approval in social bonds. Teens with this attachment style generally avoid intimacy or emotional closeness, so may withdraw from a relationship if they feel like the other person is becoming reliant on them in this manner. They also tend to hide or suppress their feelings when faced with a potentially emotion-dense situation, such as conflict.
  1. Disorganized/Fearful-Avoidant: Teens with the disorganized attachment style tend to vacillate between the traits of both anxious and avoidant attachment depending on their mood and circumstances. For this reason, someone with this attachment style tends to show confusing and ambiguous behaviors in their social bonds. For teens with disorganized attachment, the partner and the relationship themselves are often the source of both desire and fear. On the one hand, fearful-avoidant people do want intimacy and closeness, but on the other hand, experience troubles trusting and depending on others. People with this attachment style often struggle with identifying and regulating their emotions and tend to avoid strong emotional attachment due to their intense fear of getting hurt.
  1. Secure Attachment: The three attachment styles covered so far (anxious, avoidant, and disorganized) are insecure attachment styles, so they are characterized by difficulties with cultivating and maintaining healthy relationships. In contrast, the secure attachment style implies that a person is comfortable expressing emotions openly. Therefore, teens with a secure attachment style can depend on their partners and, in turn, let their partners rely on them.

Relationships with someone with a secure attachment style are based on honesty, tolerance, and emotional closeness. Although someone with this attachment style often thrives in their relationships, they also don’t fear being on their own. Secure attachers tend to have a positive view of themselves and others, so they do not overly seek external approval or validation–they can successfully identify and regulate their emotions, and even help a partner do so with theirs.

 Symptoms of a Father Wound

Keep in mind that these are generalities, and there will always be exceptions to this, but in my experience, this is what the mental health professionals have found to be the case:

  • Mental health problems: Research repeatedly shows that the father wound and other forms of attachment trauma in childhood are associated with mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) in teens.
  • Emotional outbursts: Those with a father wound often struggle to manage their emotions in later life and may use anger and aggression as coping mechanisms to shield the pain underneath.
  • Low self-esteem: A child forms their sense of self-worth based on the love and care they receive from their attachment figures. They may blame themself for their dad’s absence or internalize their anger or hurt, causing them to hold negative views about themselves.
  • Unhealthy relationships: People develop an understanding of how they should be treated based on their caregiver’s behaviors. Those with a father wound may be more likely to accept abusive, unhealthy behaviors from friends and partners as this is what they were taught was acceptable in childhood.
  • Perfectionism: A child with an overly critical, belittling, or abusive father may be taught early on that mistakes lead to punishments or insults. As a result, they may fear making mistakes as teens and in adulthood, leading to perfectionism.
  • Boundary issues: Someone with a father wound may be more willing to compromise their boundaries due to their inherent shame and resulting low self esteem, as their lack of self-worth may make it difficult to say no to others and assert their needs.
  • Rigid behavior: The absence of a father can leave teens feeling like they have no control. In adulthood, they may become controlling and demonstrate rigid behaviors, attempting to control as many details of their lives as they can, as this may ease their anxiety.

 

Healing the Father Wound

There are five steps to successfully addressing the father wound:

  1. Get honest about the depth of the wound: it all starts with acceptance and beginning to grieve the loss of your father. A saying my clients get tired of hearing me repeat is: “You can’t deal if you don’t reveal, and ultimately, God can’t heal what you don’t reveal.” As I said before, there are no short cuts in counseling, and especially dealing with trauma and father wounds. It will get messy. Expect it to get worse before it gets better. A good way to begin this process is to write your story or even draw a timeline of your life, or you can write your father a letter. Just begin the process of unloading. I promise, as hard as it is to begin, you will feel better once you get it all out; realistically speaking, this isn’t something that you will be able to complete quickly. It’s definitely a process and a journey, but be courageous enough and value yourself and your future enough to start the journey of healing.
  2. Forgive your father: yes, you read correctly. Regardless of what your father has done to you, it’s not as bad as what you’ve done to Jesus! “. . . be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, NLT). Forgiveness is something that you do, first and foremost, for your spiritual and physical and emotional health—and then others in your life can benefit from it. The decision to forgive is a one-time, static decision; in other words, this is something that you can say: “on this specific day and this specific time I forgave my father!” However, the process of healing from that forgiveness only goes so far as you consciously and consistently practice choosing to let it go and not holding it over your father.

Additionally, if you don’t forgive someone who has hurt you, then God won’t forgive you; well, that’s not really true. God wants to forgive you, but He will be unable to. Jesus Himself made this point clear: “ ‘If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins’ ” (Matthew 6:14, 15, NLT). Simply put, the heart and hand that is closed to forgiving others is also closed to receiving God’s forgiveness. Unforgiveness and holding grudges causes us all to become cold, calloused, and finally, dead inside. When this happens, we will literally be unable to feel and accept forgiveness. Truthfully, I’ve seen this happen many times, and there’s nothing sadder than to see someone who could have been a joyful person, just be this dried up, prune of a person. Angry, bitter, mean, hurt, and hurting others.

Real talk: out of all the steps I’m listing, this will be the most difficult thing that you will do; but it’s crucial, if you want to be free from all the cancer of this wound.

  1. Accept the truth about yourself as a child of God  replace it in your heart: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (Romans 8:14-17a, NLT).
  2. Accept yourself as a child of God: realistically speaking, when you make the decision to accept God’s perspective about who you are vs your own, there will be a battle happening between your logic and your feelings. It’s okay. Be patient with yourself. As much as I don’t like the whole secular “self esteem” movement (because it teaches people the lie about hyping themselves up about how awesome they are…and the Bible clearly says that none of us are awesome at all, in fact, we’re all sinners!, Romans 3:23), but I do like the practice of daily positive self affirmations. I think it would be great to write this down on an index card or a sticky note and keep it somewhere where you can look at it multiple times a day. A great thing to do would be to put Bible verses beside each of these affirmations. And as you begin to meditate upon these truths and rehearse them, they will ultimately become your reality! Receive the words of truth:
  • I am accepted
  • I am chosen
  • I am loved
  • I am God’s creation
  • I am precious in His sight
  • I am forgiven
  • I have been redeemed
  • I will never be left or forsaken
  • I have an eternal inheritance
  • nothing can separate me from the love of God

As you understand the truth about God’s love and come to know your True Self in Christ, it will free you to let go of the pain and forgive your birth father. This new perspective created in you will now enable you to see your birth father through different eyes, and allow you to live in freedom, forgiveness, power, purpose, and joy!

  1. Connect with an appropriate male father figure. As followers of Jesus, God doesn’t expect us to walk around by ourselves, justifying our solitary life with the fact that we’re filled with His Holy Spirit. Seeking the companionship and warmth of human relationships is normal and healthy, and you still need to know and love and be known and loved by an older male. Instruction was given to an early church leader about the most effective way to teach and train others, and it might surprise you to know that people just don’t know how to act. In the Southern U.S., we have a saying when we see someone acting a fool—especially when they’re a child or a teenager (and it’s just embarrassing when they’re an adult); we say: “they need some home training!” Well, that’s exactly the prescription that God told Paul to write to Titus: “These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely” (Titus 2:4-6, NLT). There are wonderful things that that person can do for you that no one else will be able to do! So make a point to connect with someone who you can do life with. Remember the research that we shared at the beginning of our time together: people raised in a two-parent home simply do better at life. Don’t limit yourself.

God Can Heal

Father’s Day, for many is a time of re-living old wounds, but today, you can make the decision to begin the process of healing from those wounds—regardless of what your father has or hasn’t done. God promises that He will restore to you what you thought was once lost: “The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts” (Joel 2:25a, NLT). But it’s going to take concerted effort on your part. Healing and restoration is something that God promises! “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT). So, on this Father’s Day, give God permission to do His healing. I know that, no matter how painful your specific circumstances may be, God can resurrect them.

 

Additional Resources

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-basics-of-attachment-and-why-its-important/

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/healing-the-father-wound-part-1-of-2/

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/healing-the-father-wound-part-2-of-2/

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/overcoming-the-father-wound-part-1-of-2/

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/overcoming-the-father-wound-part-2-of-2/

 

https://www.familylife.com/podcast/familylife-today/?cru_source=GOOADS&cru_medium=ppc&kw=family%20life%20today&mt=e&loc=9011123&n=g&d=m&adp=&cid=12843023007&adgid=124291377991&tid=kwd-303266689578&gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwvIWzBhAlEiwAHHWgvaGKPMVHjJFPjeQlYqksmFeg7N2TTxeJBzHnG4V2Hgd-AVDdZm2GDhoCx0AQAvD_BwE

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/understanding-and-healing-the-father-wound

 

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teen-defiance-look-for-emotional-wounds/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Father-Wound-Christian-Time-Tested/dp/0764205358?ref=d6k_applink_bb_dls&dplnkId=3099ca79-248c-451e-a03b-8f3290309cb4

 

 

[1] Downloaded on June 6, 2024 https://americafirstpolicy.com/issues/issue-brief-fatherlessness-and-its-effects-on-american-society

[2] Downloaded on May 23, 2024 from https://www.forbes.com/quotes/659/

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