Wendy's Blog

Coping With The Legacy of Childhood Wounds

by Wendy Keller, author and inspirational speaker

My Dad took off when I was four, for reasons that I can’t really blame him for now that I’m an adult.  I scrounged him up again when I was 28.  That didn’t turn out so well in the long run.

An author who is a literary client of mine calls that a “father wound” and he believes it’s pretty common in our world: a father who wasn’t there physically, emotionally or financially – or one who was there but caused deep damage to our little psyches as kids.

When things go wrong in human relationships – with women or men – I tend to eventually deduce there’s something wrong with me. I’ve noticed a lot of people do the same thing.  That’s when you believe you are essentially, at your core, just “not enough”.  Maybe somewhere deep in your heart you wonder, “Is there some defect in me that is causing this challenge in my life? Maybe this is all I deserve.”

I battled these kinds of feeling pretty much since I was that four-year-old little girl, wondering why no one would tell me where my Daddy was or when he was coming home.

In the decades that have followed, here’s what I’ve figured out to help me deal with it.  If you’ve dealt with a “Father Wound” too, please jump in and share your tips. This is one of those subjects few people ever talk about openly because it is fraught with feelings of shame and vulnerability. I figure as a blogger, that makes it my duty to discuss openly. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1.  Sometimes, things that happen are my fault, and sometimes they aren’t.  I may never know for certain which is which, but there’s no harm in being brave enough to look honestly at how I have contributed to the circumstances of my life in a fair, realistic, self-loving, honest way.

2. The bottom line is this: we are ALL enough. We’re all worthy of being loved for who we are.  We’re all capable of loving another person.  We’re all capable of doing good while we’re here hanging out on the planet. Seize every opportunity you get to do something good for yourself or another person.

3. It’s important to find a balance between loving and caring for myself and loving and caring for others.  Too much other-love and I could become an enabler, co-dependent, a martyr, a fool.  Too much self-love and I can become blind to areas where I need to grow as a person, or ways I could treat others more kindly.

I’m sure there are many lessons to be learned from each of our Father Wounds. I wish my parents had never married, but since they did, I wish they’d had the ability to work out their many problems without causing so many for me.  I wish my former husband had figured out earlier that his behaviors would cost him two marriages and impair my daughter and his other children for a lifetime.  Sure, we can all work through the childhood damages we all get, but what could we accomplish as individuals, as citizens, as a species if we didn’t have to?

No matter what mistakes our parents made, we can forgive them if we so choose and because of that forgiveness, we release the strength to manage the impact they’ve had on us.

For all of us, I repeat this admonition: You are enough, you are lovable, you are worthy of happiness, joy, peace, love and compassion just as you are right at this moment. 


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  1. kris Bailey- Gladson says:

    I am still working on the coping thing after all these years. It’s been made worse in the past few because I want to connect with siblings I never knew existed and I don’t know how and it feels strained and awkward. It’s like that whole part of me in just beyond my reach and I’m hurt and angry about it.

    • Oh, Kris! That sounds so uncomfortable! But you know, not to be trite, but I’ve learned that people respond to slow, patient overtures of love. If you remember the little things for your “siblings” – like birthdays and holidays and general “how ya doin'” calls, you’ll eventually infiltrate – and win them over with kindness.

      Best wishes to you and your expanded family!

  2. Adopted by my step-father, I have to reaffirm that is ok to still recognize my original “father wound.” Ever since my mother’s successful marriage and adoption of me there has been a “she’s so lucky” attitude that has led to me accepting less than just because I’m “lucky enough” to have what I do.
    It’s a difficult battle in mind and relationships to find the balance of thankfulness and ability to speak for what I want and deserve without just accepting what is.

    • Wow, Kay! My mom spent my whole childhood dissing my “real” dad and telling me how lucky I am that my step-dad loves me. Well, I’m sure in some ways he does, but I wasn’t an easy kid for him to raise since I’m my bio-dad’s identical twin visually and they know one another well. It IS a difficult battle of the mind, but I’ve found that realizing that NEITHER Dad could have ever loved me as storybook perfect as every little girl wants makes it all easier to bear AND gives me an alertness to how this shows up in my adult life.

      Sending love,

  3. I appreciate this message. My 2nd husband and I have been seperated for 3 yrs. (Divorce is in the making.) Our, now 10 yr. old, son, is having self-worth doubt and problems coping with feelings. I have a few things I can tell him now, that I’m hoping will help him with this transition…Thank you again.

    • Hi Veronica,

      My former husband had a hard time staying loving toward my daughter because he only saw her on weekends and had other kids with his second wife. Although the work-around wasn’t ideal, me constantly reminding her that she was valued and loved – BY ME – and also by male role models (mostly neighbors and friends) whom I personally chose for her DID seem to help a lot. And I had her in therapy from age 11-18!

      Sending you and your son my best wishes,

  4. i found out that the man who raised me was not my father when I was 6 yrs old. What has allowed me the grace to accept this about me is that everything happens for a reason, to make you a stronger person, to learn how to forgive, to appreciate what you do have instead of dwelling on what you dont. Once I surrendered what I thought had victimized me, I realized I am not that, I’m a survivor! And when I was 21 my father looked for me & now he is always there for me as an adult. I chalk it up to God sending me who I needed at the right times in life.

    • Hi Mia,

      What a great attitude! That must have been quite a surprise! I love the way you’re handling it. More power to you!

      Sending good wishes for your happiness,

    • Oh, Cheryl! I’m so sorry to hear that! You’d be astonished at how often women tell me that same thing. I don’t know why some men do that, but I DO know this: it has nothing to do with you and your worthiness. No matter what you think about “why” – your age, weight, height, PMS symptoms or favorite toe nail polish color – you are intrinsically lovable. Start by doing things to prove to yourself you love yourself, and realize his decision is only his. And your decision to be happier than ever before? Well, that’s completely yours!

      Here’s a big hug and my best wishes for your love-filled future,

  5. Joanne van Tonder says:


    This is a stunning article. How I wish from the bottom of my heart that my daughter, now 12 years old, would understand what you are saying here.

    My x-husband & I got divorced when she was only 9 months old, & even though I never changed my contact details, he just never tried to contact her. I got married again when she was 3 but she always yearned for her biological father.

    Two years ago I got divorced again & went looking for her dad. I eventually found him & he promised that he wanted to be part of her life. What a disaster! For 6 months he made the most wonderful promises to her, & saw he for a few hours once a month, according to him due to his working hours. Then he just disappeared again! Its been now 16 months since she saw him!

    He totally broke her heart. She feels that she is worth nothing! No one will ever love her!

    Please, if there is any suggestions on how I can make her understand that the problem does not lie within her but with him it would be much appreciated!

    Thank you very much for sharing your story!

    Kind Regards,

    • Oh, Joanne! This comment brought tears to my eyes! Your poor daughter! Poor you as a loving mother!

      While it’s apparent you’ve learned your lesson about her dad’s ability to love, my own personal remedy for the time when my fiancee and I broke up and he left without saying good-bye to my daughter (they were best friends and the main reason I was with him) – and left her heartbroken as a result – was to search out male role models of all ages. I involved them in her life by having them over for dinner or parties, or inviting them to do things with us. I made sure to comment on the nice traits of these men – all of whom were only platonic in my life. I wanted to show her men – married and single – who were wonderful. I got to hand pick who I wanted her to see, and I consistently indoctrinated her with how nicely they treated their wives, their sisters, her and me, other people, their pets, whatever. I wanted her to learn that Good Men Exist – even if your Dad isn’t one of them.

      It’s not a cure-all, but it does have a strong effect. My daughter often refers to those guys as her “extra dads”.

      Meanwhile, I don’t know if you feel this way or not, but realize it isn’t your fault. This is part of her journey, as awful as that sounds, and his failure as a parent is a fact you cannot now change. Forgive yourself for procreating with a loser and move on.

      Much love,

  6. I just want to say that there are also mother wounds. They may not seem as obvious since statistically speaking, mothers tend to stick around while a lot of father wounds are caused by leaving. That said, the number of mothers who are unable, probably due to their own childhoods, to provide the nuture that their children need is astronomical. There are literally hundreds of books in psychology and counseling that address the issue of mother wounds. I just wanted to put that out there so that people coming across your article don’t discount those as well.

  7. I stumbled upon this by accident while looking at facebook entry from Positive Outlook. Yes, yes, yes I agree with you 100 %. After 50 + years of life on this planet I have finally come to accept that sometimes things are my fault and sometimes they are not. I am worthy of having someone love the genuine me and finding balance is so important.
    My father wound started the day I was born. He left and went back to the States when my teenage Mother went into labor. Though I received love and acceptance from my mother, we were a “quiet outcast” in our family(accepted but talked about,critized). My life turned dark whenI was assaulted at 10. I truly believed that I was lower than the dirt on the ground and followed that belief for the longest time. Though I never got into drugs /drinking I didn’t value the spirit that I was given the day I was born. I lived by the motto “Don’t tell me you love me, just like me instead.”
    My one saving grace is that I did marry a man who is very good at seeing the genuiness of me and was VERY patient and persistent at allowing me the time to discover that for myself.
    One thing to add to your list about sometimes things being our fault and other times not si that when it’s not our fault we don’t have to make it ours (peace keepers). Take care. Kimberley

    • What a wise comment, Kimberley! That we don’t have to “make it ours” if it isn’t our fault! I hope everyone takes your wise advice to heart – and congratulations to you for finding a supportive partner.

      Sending you wishes for much joy, love and peace,

  8. Dear Wendy,
    Several years ago I was devastated by divource. In the years that followed there have been many aha moments. Some of those relate back to child hood issues, mainly with my Dad. Long story short…..did the work, got nto recovery, 12 steps….coda work, but what I feel helped the most was actual role play theropy and the healing restucturing of replacing hurtful situations with healing and loving situations. there are very few theropists that are willing to go into depth with a client, and therefore most of the issues get talked about and revealed, but there is limited resourses to actually restructure the thinking. I would like to see more theropists take off the kidd gloves and actually do some healing work with patients. Theropists/ councillors, and phychiatrits are the most powerful people in the universe as they have very vulnerable minds in their control. I wish there were more good ones than just listeners. thanks for the time.

    • Walter,

      How right you are! Role playing can be so effective – I went through a lot of that to resolve my issues with my mom. I share your wish that therapists could/would be more interactive, but I can see why that’s dangerous territory, lest they accidentally impose their own will and issues on the client in the process.

      I admire and respect your dedication to your own healing. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      Wishing you much love, joy and peace in your life,

  9. My father suffered life long from an alcohol addiction and was absent all my life physically, emothionally and financially. I still struggle with the effects of his addiction however forgave him a long time ago for real and perceived wrong doings. Dad died recently 18 months after by-pass surgery and I looked after him in various ways. The bottom line is although Dad didn’t know how to be a father to me, that didn’t excuse me from being a daughter to him. Not a door mat – a daughter who was priviledged to be with him at his time of death sending him to new life with my love and forgiveness. And I know “I am Enough”

    • Cheryl,

      Thanks for this inspiring story. It really does all start when we first forgive the parents for being human (and full of their own weaknesses and foibles) and then release our own worries about their problems being our fault. I love your story – congratulations on your strength.

      May your life overflow with love, joy and peace,

  10. I think it is inappropriate to call it a father wound. I think there needs to be a law against women depriving fathers of a loving relationship with their children. Too many fathers are being deprived of this type of relationship because their ex wifes / partners are not intelligent enough to no damage their children by positively encouraging the children to have that relationship with their father. How can we expect individuals to turn out well rounded if the child cannot have the best of both worlds. So I want to see a change in the law and these women held to account for their actions and actually I would go one stage further by making them meet all court costs etc because it is approx £3k to fight in court for your right to see your own child, I’d women had to meet these costs they wouldn’t be so quick to stop the access to the child. I understand that each case is different and some children need protecting from their fathers however if he is a good dad, get a grip, get over yourself and put your bloody child first!

    • You make a GREAT point, Shelly. Although here in the States, the laws are different in each state, I was particularly referring to fathers like mine who knew exactly where the child was and had unlimited access and still refused to take any action to build, create or sustain a relationship.

      However, I’ve seen women poison their child’s mind against the father, too, which to me seems to be a foolish and blind action. You will not only damage your child for life, but you will have to clean up the messes that child will create in its own life as a result of the damage to its spirit AND you’ll suffer along with your child when the damage causes problems. Children raised by hateful mothers, distant fathers and sparring parents are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors – even dangerous ones – as teens; to have learning problems in school; and to create their own highly dysfunctional relationships as adults.

      That’s why I think it is SO important to heal ourselves – so we can be better role models for our children and contribute to society as adults to the fullest extent to which we are capable.

      Thank you for your perspective. Wishing you peace, love and joy.


  11. I know this feeling well and have overcome it, for the most part. My father is still married to my mother but as a child I spent many nights crying because I could hear them fighting. There was a period of 2 years, in which my father did not call me by my name but some ugly, derogatory filthy word and I felt so incredibly low. My father was in the military and a raging alcoholic who didn’t care whose feelings he hurt. He has been sober for 19 yrs now, but I was already an adult when he finally admitted the problem and sought help. Because of how he treated me, I felt stunted in how old I felt. I never felt grown up, if you know what I mean. I didn’t allow myself too many friends for fear they’d see my weaknesses and hurt me and personal relationships were difficult. I got married for the first time at the age of 23, moved to Japan ( he was in the military) and was divorced a year and a half later wondering what I did to ruin it? The thing I did was marry someone like my father, but I didn’t see it for awhile. I am almost 13 yrs into my 2nd marriage and he knows all the baggage my father gave me and he sees me gradually allowing myself to put it down piece by piece. I made the choice to let go when I couldn’t get answers from my father about why he was so hurtful to me as a child. This came during a counseling session in which I expressed this feeling and told them my father said he couldn’t remember doing/saying the things I asked him about. The therapist looked and me and asked me if I had thought that perhaps he truly couldn’t since he was such an alcoholic. After all it’s not good for the brain. I was able to forgive and move forward then. My father and I have a decent relationship now. I can only spend so much time around him though before the old feelings creep in. He’s still a grouch who doesn’t always treat people well, but I have come to accept that he doesn’t want to change and that I can only control my reactions and the amount of time I put myself in his company.

    • You make a great point, Cindy. I’ve read repeatedly that we all marry the parent with whom we had the most challenges. I married my mother, that’s for certain.

      I did another blog that’s very much about this same issue – “Rate Your Pain”. If you go to WendyKeller.com and click Blog, scroll down, it’s right there.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      Sending you best wishes for a life full of peace, love and joy,

  12. This is about my father (now deceased) and my mom. It took me 55 years to realize that I have/had toxic parents. I was always trying to compensate for their behaviour and as the eldest daughter, I was never good enough for them. I tried so hard to get their love and attention by spending time with them and giving them gifts, but it was never enough. After suffering from depression and anxiety and some counselling I now realize what an unhealthy relationship existed. Since I’ve told my mom about my feelings and the terms of a new relationship going forward, she has become very mean to me. She never takes responsibility for her actions and finds ways to lie and twist the truth and I realize what a pro she is at being so manipulative. She has said so many negative things about me to my siblings that they refuse to have a relationship with me. She has even stooped so low as to say these things to my adult daughter who is struggling because she wants to belong to this very dysfunctional family (just like I did). So many people do not understand or prefer not to deal with the pain that comes with understanding the truth. I struggle every day to forgive my parents and my family so that I can move forward with my life and focus on my happiness.

    • Ellen,

      I can’t help but respect the very forthright way you are working to overcome the issues with your mother, now that your Dad is gone. I am strongly reminded of something I read – maybe in the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or the Teachings of Buddha, I don’t recall. Maybe Kahlil Gibran? Anyway, it was asking the reader to answer the simple question:

      “If someone gives you a gift and you do not accept it, to whom does it still belong?”

      To me, this applies to the rudeness or unkindness of others, like your mom. If she hands you “meanness”, you can choose not to take it, not to internalize it and to release her from your presence in that moment. You may be able to “train” her if you just quietly leave the room/building when she says awful things. I’ve been doing that with my mom for years (she’s got a meanness problem, too, sometimes). She’s starting to connect “Oh, when I say something vile to Wendy, she gets up and leaves. Therefore, if I want to talk to her, I may have to try to restrain myself.” Just a suggestion – it’s working with mine.

      Sending you wishes for peace, love and joy in your life,

  13. I have struggled with self esteem issues all my life and never feeling good enough. I suffer from depression and ended up in hospital after trying to take my own life. All this stems from my father committing suicide when I was ten years old and then finding out how he died by reading it in the local newspaper as my mother wouldn’t tell me. Then I found out that my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother, also took her own life. I was so hurt and angry when I discovered that he had been through the same thing….how could he do that to his own children, knowing how he suffered himself?
    I don’t think I will ever get over this, it has affected my whole life.
    I have seen psychiatrists and psychologists who all say my problems stem from my father’s suicide but I am unable to change my opinion that I am worthless.

  14. Hi Wendy, in response to
    Coping with the legacy of childhood wounds:

    Many of us have experienced an incestuous relationship with our father. In my case, this started when I was a very small child and ended when I ran to my mother when my parents split up. I was nine years old, no siblings. My father had been my primary caretaker and was kind and playful with me – but I had to pay a price. My mother was frequently absent, leaving me at home alone during the day and coming home late after much drinking and partying. I was terrified of her when she was around. She was physically and verbally violent but still, I chose to go with her – perhaps she wanted me so she could ‘win’ one over my father; who knows… She certainly seemed to detest everything about me, but something in me knew that my father would cause me more serious damage if I were to stay with him.

    In my early twenties, I began a journey of healing. At 57, I’m still dealing with chronic health issues brought on by so many years of living in terror at the hands of both my parents and believing that I was unworthy of love and happiness. Here is what I have learned so far:
    · I am fabulous. I am flourishing. I love and approve of myself. (This is my mantra, thanks to Louise Hay!) I deliberately let new, harmonious and loving thoughts enter my mind and my heart. Over time, the old destructive thoughts and beliefs simply got less and less energy; they rarely come around anymore but when they do, I catch them almost immediately and cast them away!
    · I often read passages from ‘A New Earth’ by Eckart Tolle so I can continue to raise my awareness and stay in the present. The past is over and I have removed its tremendous burden from my heart and shoulders.
    · Forgiveness is a process; I learned to give myself time and embraced any limitations I found in my heart. Eventually, I was ready to let go. I forgave myself for taking so long to get there and I forgave my parents for their own limitations. I realized how deeply their wounds were and how they were blinded by pain.
    · Gratitude gives me wings! I still have emotional issues to transcend, so I remember every day to marvel at the many blessings that Life offers. On the tougher days, I give thanks that I can breathe, walk a little, read, talk to a friend or just look up at the sky.
    · Joy is always there. I have often wondered how I managed to survive my childhood traumas. I noticed that in spite of all the hurt my heart had endured, there was a part of me that could not be crushed. It is in all of us. It is a powerful spark of light that glows in the darkest of darkness and it is made of pure, indestructible JOY. If you can’t feel it, just listen to your ‘inner child’ and do something silly! I like to put on my ‘Monkees’ CD and dance around or read Harry Potter for the umpteenth time…Whatever works for you is fine because you are perfect just the way you are. So let in the JOY.

    I have found that as the song says: (In fact the whole song applies.)
    ‘The greatest love of all
    Is easy to achieve
    Learning to love yourself
    It is the greatest love of all’.

    • Hi MY –

      THANK YOU for so openly sharing your journey with us! That’s amazing! I’m a Tolle fan myself. Your recovery is inspiring. I wish you much continued success.


  15. As usual, the universe sends messages in mysterious ways. A few weeks ago, I had a chakra reading. She told me I had issues with a man holding me back. Of course, the first person coming to mind is the father. Or as I call him, the man my mother married. For starters, since I was raised by my grandparents, I never considered him an influence in my life. After my reading, I was thinking about it. Of course, even only seeing this man for a week or two a year, the largest influence on me was on how he treated my mother. When they first married, he was an alcoholic, did drugs and slept with hookers. Wow…and I wonder why I have trust issues! Anyway, I had always thought my problems were rooted in my mother…she wanted to abort me but the pregnancy tests were negative until past the cut off day, I ended up being raised by my grandparents, while my sister who is only 2 years younger than me was raised by her. I am thankful for that since I was not around for the abusive step father times. But as a child, I still felt like she wanted to give me away. My grandparents told me she asked them to adopt me, she told me they asked her. Since I know she is the type of person that doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings with the truth, I believe them. Although all this is in the past…and I did have two very loving grandparents, I still have those unloved feelings. I am slowly dealing with them. I only see my mother about once a year. I have tried to make a relationship with her, but she doesn’t listen to me, and she doesn’t open up to me. I know she is my mother, but I think, with our history…I am better off to just cut her out of my life and not try to make things work out. If she wasn’t my mother and just a friend, I’d have walked away long ago. I need to do what is best for me, and I don’t need to surround myself with people that put me down. I understand as an adult why she made the choices she made, but I don’t need the attitude every time I see her or the man she married. And I’m going to forgive myself for not letting my son ever know his dad. His dad didn’t even get the chance to be a deadbeat, I never told him I was pregnant. But my son knows…it wasn’t his dad walking away. So, in my long winded way…thank you for your blog today. I needed that.

    • Hi Laurie,

      Thanks for your courage in sharing your sad story. When someone talks so openly, I am always impressed because I believe that in order to heal/fix the things inside of us, like a cancerous tumor, we have to pull it out, look at it, decide what to do with it. I think it’s great that you are aware and alert and working to make different choices in your life.

      Continued good wishes to you and your son. May your lives overflow with love, joy and peace.


  16. My parents divored when I was 5. My father was pretty much never there unless he was forced to be and my mother was a physically abusive and neglectful alcoholic. My mother took my oldest sister and abandoned myself and my younger sister when I was 13. My youngest half sister was put up for adoption when she was 2 and my younger sister & I were shuffled around in foster care till my father had no choice but to “raise” us for the next 4 years, till my younger sister turned 18 then we were on our own. I grew up learning afraid to count on anyone, became codependent and never feeling like I belong and making the wrong relationship choices. When I was 21 I had my son, who I later learned was autistic. I never felt like I could do anything right and it snowballed for the next 20yrs. My mother and I never bonded and I still dont have much of a relationship due to her own “issues”. When my father died 3yrs ago, for some reason it was very tramatic for me and I went into a deep depression which I am still battling to overcome. I am now 50yrs old and I’ve just started figuring it all out. I’ve struggled to forgive my parents but it’s still a work in progress.

    • Oh, my dear! What a lot of sadness to endure! I’m so sorry for your pain! This is a lot to handle alone – if you can, please try to find and work with a good, loving female counselor. My instinct is that for you, it needs to be a woman older than you are. Maybe someone at church or school, or a paid counselor. This is too much for one woman to handle on her own!

      Sending you a big hug!

      May your life one day overflow with peace, love and joy – and may that day come soon!


  17. I wonder what your thoughts are on losing a father from death. I lost my dad at 9yrs old. The 2 long term relationships I have had have resulted in finally giving in & giving up after they had taken everything from me. I just put up with SO much in the name of seeing it through. I know it has something to do with losing Dad, but how do you face that, or work with it when it wasn’t his fault!? He died, the poor guy, at 40! I can’t very well BLAME him.

    • Oh, Barbara! I’m so sorry for your loss of your Dad. My beloved grandmother, my Protectress, died when I was 9, too. (I know that’s a different kind of relationship.) I am sure that one key to resolving issues with parents who died is to confront our feelings about it and see where our brains are misfiring in other relationships with other people – in this case, men. Of course a therapist is good, but at least journal about it. Ask yourself questions like:
      “I believe men are…”
      “Men will always…”
      “The one thing I know for sure about men is…”
      “The thing I hate the most about men is…”
      “The thing I most admire about men is…”

      and similar questions, just so you can take your own temperature about your beliefs. Write until you cry. Then put it away, re-read it tomorrow and see if those beliefs are supporting you or not.

      May your life overflow with love, joy and peace,


    • Hi Tita,

      I’m really so sorry about this betrayal! I won’t get into details, but my birth father did something similar two years ago, also over real estate, and it has really annoyed me. I tell myself that’s his nature and everyone is in my life to teach me a lesson. I think the lessons are compassion, forgiveness and patience with my own emotions. I hope you find a place where you can realize this is his drama, not yours, and you can “release him back into the wild” and just go on your merry way.

      Sending you love and good wishes,

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