How our Family Relationships Impacts Us: The Father Wound

One of my supervisors in graduate school and a mentor of mine is one of the top therapists in the country in Attachment theory and Attachment work. As a mother and wife, I am so intrigued by this. And as a therapist, I use this to help people understand their upbringing and how it impacts their relationships with others and themselves in the present day.

Essentially Attachment theory focuses on how our family met (or did not meet) our physical and emotional needs in childhood reverberates and impacts how we relate to ourselves and others in friendships, relationships, parenting, work, hobbies, self-esteem, and more.

I explain more on this in therapy and other blog resources, but I highly recommend The Attachment Project quiz to determine you attachment style, articles on Psychology Today, Focus on the Family for Christian Counselling resources, and my favorite book, Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well by Dr. Joshua Straub.

We will highlight the Father Wound here in an article from Dr.Marvi Kovanen’s 8 Consequences of the Father Wound on Well-Being and Relationships, and scrolling further down below is the Father Wound from a Christian Counselling perspective. You can also read my resource on the Mother Wound here.

Check out Dr.Mari Kovanen’s article on the Father Wound below:

The father wound, which refers to father absenteeism, whether emotionally or both emotionally and physically, and/or your father being very critical, negative and even abusive character, can impact individuals and their future relationships in so many ways

Dr.Mari Kovanen

8 Consequences of the Father Wound on Well-Being and Relationships

Relationships with men have always been difficult for Jane*. She has often ended up having relationships with emotionally unavailable men. They may initially show interest yet as she starts to attach and show interest in them, they disappear or withdraw from contact by coming up with various excuses. She has been in a relationship with her current partner for three years and Jane feels like she wants to take the next step and start settling down but her partner does not feel ready. He says that he wants to focus on his career he has no time for thinking about having a family. Jane is devastated; she doesn’t know what to do. She has lost her faith in men.

Jane group up with a father was away for work a lot. When he was around, he was often hiding behind his newspaper. Jane and his younger brother were often told to be quiet because “daddy” was tired and in a bad mood. Occasionally Jane’s father would drink and then he frightened her. Jane had a friend whose father was often playing with the kids, laughing and joking with them and she wished her father was like that. As a child, she wondered why her father did not like spending time with her and blamed herself.

Jacob* is a successful business owner. He feels that his work is a place where feels the most at ease. He grew up most of his life without knowing his biological father. They struggled financially and Jacob decided early on that he wanted his life to be different. Her mother was vague about his father until he was in his 20s and his mother said that his father had left when Jacob was two years old. He had no recollection of him. His mother had various boyfriends over the years and some lasted longer than others. Jacob always told himself that he is “fine” without knowing his father.

When he then became a father himself in his early 30s he was flooded with feelings of anxiety and dread. He didn’t have a clue about how to be a father and he often hid at work as it felt so uncomfortable having a child that needed him. He felt ashamed as he had always told himself that he would be present for his children and suddenly he felt that he could not be that father he wanted to be.

Is there something that resonates with you about either of these stories? I have previously written about “the mother wound” from a more female perspective and how “the mother wound” impacts men. The father wound, which refers to father absenteeism, whether emotionally or both emotionally and physically, and/or your father being very critical, negative and even abusive character, can impact individuals and their future relationships in so many ways. I wanted to write about the pain of not having a “good enough” father because it is such an important area. I hope this brings some relief for your pain in terms of understanding its impact if you have experienced “the father wound”.

How does “the father wound” impact adult well-being and relationships?

  • Low self-esteem & low confidence: Children are self-centred by nature. They often blame themselves for anything negative that happens in childhood and particularly if it is not clearly explained to them. Your inner critic (the internal voice) may be saying you are not worthy of good things or you are not good enough (because your father left). Growing up you may have felt different as a child if all your friends had two parents and you grew up without a father.
  • Anxiety: There could be a combination of things and events that have contributed to you experiencing anxiety. Growing up with an (emotionally) absent father may have left you with a feeling of “I am not good enough” and perhaps you have hidden feelings such as a sense of loss, anger, shame, sadness and anxiety is trying to keep those deeper emotions at bay.
  • Low mood / depression: Over time your anxiety can turn to low mood. On the other hand, you may have internalised your anger towards your father and him being absent and feel depressed as a result.
  • Anger & rage: Perhaps you have had the worst kind of experience with your father. Perhaps he used substances, was abusive, lying and otherwise unreliable man, whose behaviour deeply hurt you. You may feel like you are stuck in anger and this can manifest in many ways. You may displace your anger that doesn’t have an outlet somewhere else like experiencing road rage if it feels that it is not appropriate for you to express anger in other ways. You may also often feel anger and rage whenever there is a conflict in a relationship.
  • Too rigid boundaries: If your father has been unreliable perhaps by not showing up or even being absent from your life, you may have decided that you cannot let people (romantic partners) close to you and you have to protect yourself. The pain of dealing with the aftermath of being let down your father especially as a young child may feel worse than the loneliness rigid boundaries can course. I recently wrote a post about “Is fear of being influenced by the other influence ruining your relationship?”
  • Too loose boundaries: You may feel that you have to be available to everyone else all the time. Perhaps deep down you feel that to be loved by others, you cannot hold your boundary and say “no” when something does not suit you. You may wish to read “People pleasing can make you anxious and resentful – How to stop it”
  • Having relationships emotionally unavailable partners: Unless we are aware of it, we often seek the same dynamic in our romantic relationships as we experienced in our childhood. You may have an unconscious wish to repair the early father wound by having a relationship with a person that creates similar and familiar feelings within you as you experienced in your childhood. We often gravitate towards something that feels familiar because at least we know what are dealing with. Being in a relationship with someone consistent and reliable can feel potentially emotionally threatening. I have also written a post about the impact of how early relationships impact adult relationshipsIf you often choose emotionally unavailable partners, you may experience a lot of relationship anxiety. The partner is for their reasons unable to offer you the security you need and you may end up engaging in various behaviours to get their attention, such as nagging, excessive messaging, oversharing or other behaviours that may feel unsettling for your partner.
  • Parenting – repeating the pattern of (emotionally) absent parent: Parenting is hard and when you first become a parent you are flooded with feelings that may be linked to your own experiences of being parented or experiencing lack of parenting. You may distance yourself from your child and struggle to build an identity as a good enough parent.

If you experienced childhood emotional neglect you may repeat the pattern as you don’t know any different. Perhaps you become a practical parent and struggle with emotionally engaging with your child(ren). You may find this post useful: Parenting when you have experienced childhood emotional neglect and/or trauma

Next Steps

If you now thought that “wow what can I do with this?” the first step is acknowledging your emotions. This may feel difficult for you. Finding someone who can discuss your father wound and how it impacts you today is important. Perhaps it is with your partner or a trusted friend. “

Therapy can help you to heal those emotional wounds that have been caused by the father wound. If you are looking for a therapist to help you to address your difficulties, please contact us at Alive Counselling today.. We also offer a free 10 minute phone consultation. 

Understanding and Healing the Father Wound: Christian Counselling Perspective

Here is a great article by Alfred C.W. Davis on Focus on the Family. on the Father Wound from a Christian Counselling perspective.

Check it out below:

“We all come into the world helpless, dependent and needing acceptance, to be treated as worthy, and to be blessed. The father wound is the absence of this love from your birth father. The wound can be caused by:

  • Neglect – I am unimportant
  • Absence – Divorce, separation, death
  • Abuse – Mental, physical, sexual, spiritual
  • Control – Oppressive domination
  • Withholding – Love, blessings and/or affirmation, deficiencies that lead to a profound lack of self-acceptance.

The effect of a father wound is low self-esteem, a deep emotional pain inside and a performance orientation that makes us “doers” rather than “beings.” While salvation makes us new creations in Christ, it does not necessarily address this wound inside. We tend to have four barriers that inhibit the healing of this wound:

  • Pride – No will to confront or change, “I’m alright”
  • Sin – A blocked will that neither seeks to confess sin or receive forgiveness
  • The wound itself – Continuous emotional hurt inside
  • Lies – Misconceptions about the Self, birth father and Father God.

Instead of going to the pain and receiving the healing we need, we tend to respond to life events by creating a misconception about our “Self.”

Relationship to our birth father

When we hold a conception of our birth father as angry, violent, uncaring, indifferent, distant/withdrawn, absent/abandoning, alcoholic, condemning and/or critical, we tend to believe the following words about ourselves:

  • I am unworthy
  • I am stupid
  • I am incompetent
  • I am unloved or unlovable

As long as we accept these words as truth, we will experience depressed, anxious and angry lives.

Relationship to God the father

Often a person’s image of God the Father is contaminated by the personal experience he or she has with the birth father. When misconceptions about God are present (i.e. that He is angry, judgmental, unhappy with me, fearsome, legalistic, quick to punish and slow to forgive . . .) the words we tend to believe are:

  • I am not good enough
  • I am guilty/shameful
  • I must work harder to justify myself

As long as we accept these words as truth, we will seek to perform and prove our worth through perfectionism and materialism, or seek addictions to cover up the pain.

Addressing the father wound

There are four steps to addressing the father wound:

  1. Understanding the heart of God
  2. Inviting Jesus into the wounds created by the birth father
  3. Accepting the truth about one’s Self as a child of God
  4. The heart of God

As seen in the Prodigal Son story:

  • we are free to choose our own path
  • the father waits patiently for us to return to Him
  • when we return, He accepts us unconditionally
  • He runs to accept and embrace us 
  • He values us by celebrating God’s provision for salvation
  • He loves us first
  • we are His beloved creation
  • He offers salvation for our sin
  • He wants a relationship with us

Jesus as the Wounded Healer:

  • He was tempted by Satan to know our temptations
  • He experienced suffering to know our suffering
  • He was rejected, mocked, beaten and crucified
  • He fully understands our pain and wants to help
  • 1 Peter 2:24 “By His wounds you have been healed”

Jesus Heals:

  • when invited into memories, He comes
  • when He comes into memories, my clients describe Him as gentle, kind, caring, loving, warm, friendly, hugging, accepting and healing.

When you understand His love:

  • confess to Him the misconception you have had
  • receive His forgiveness
  • receive His love

Invite Jesus into the wounds created by your birth father

Do inner healing for the memories:

  • invite Jesus into the specific memories
  • understand the words that you accepted at the time
  • ask Jesus to reveal His truth to you
  • receive His truth about who you are

Choose to forgive your birth father:

  • for hurtful words
  • for hurtful actions
  • for not loving you
  • for not blessing you
  • for affecting your image of God the Father

Accept yourself as a child of God

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.

If you’d like help processing this with a trusted Christian counsellor, please contact us at Alive Counselling to walk with and pray with you.

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