All of us remember some distressing childhood experience with our parents where we felt unprotected, afraid, abandoned, neglected, rejected or ridiculed etc. Research shows us that the impact of parent wounds can last a lifetime if these are not properly addressed.
Psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Douglas LaBier, says in Psychology Today that we often fail to “consider some less visible forms of abuse, beyond the physical, that can create lasting consequences. For example, parental neglect; indifference to the child’s needs or temperament; outright humiliation; deliberate denigration. All may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, or narcissism. Examples range from the parent who leaves a child in the car or home alone for hours. Or the parent who rebuffs the child who excitedly says, “look at my new drawing!” or “see what I wrote for this school project!” and who receives a curt, “Don’t bother me now. I’ve got to finish up this report.” Or the parent who consistently and vocally praises one child, while ignoring or criticizing the child’s sibling. And there’s the classic, “You’ll never amount to anything!” Or, why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?”“
Different types of parental sins
The sins against us as children can leave a trail of destruction over decades. The Bible points out that sin is not just limited to our actions, but includes the attitudes of our hearts (Mark 7:20-23) and the things we neglect to do for others (James 4:17).
Mark 7:20-23 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Parent wounds impact our ability to bond with God
Jesus called His Father, “Papa” in Aramaic i.e. Abba. Once we invite Jesus to be our Saviour and the Holy Spirit to fill us, we too are entitled to call God “Papa”. Abba is the source of pure and unconditional love, acceptance and affection for all His children.
Mark 14:36 ESV And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you…
Romans 8:15 ESV For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Unfortunately, we are all born into a broken world to imperfect parents and our earliest insights into love are through our parents’ negligent and sinful nature. No adult, no matter how well-intentioned, will love a child like God does.
1. Our identity: We (incorrectly) ascertain our self-worth through our parents’ behaviour
Young children learn a lot simply by observing adults. Before we develop emotional filters or boundaries, our little brains soak up signals from our environment as the “truth”. Adult actions, attitudes or neglect “teach” us whether we are valued, accepted and wanted. Unintended negative “lessons” about our self-worth early in life can imprint deep blows to our identity, purpose and self-value – and lead to emotional and psychological weakness and paralysis later in life. This in turn, affects our ability to value ourselves as God values us.
2. Our ability to trust God: If we don’t feel secure and accepted around our parents, neither will we feel safe to trust and bond with God
Children who have repeated positive experiences with their parents develop an innate ability to trust and bond with others. On the other hand, children whose parents were absent, abusive, unpredictable or prone to sharp words “learn” not to place too much hope and trust in love. This cripples our ability to trust that our Heavenly Father truly loves us.
3. Our ability to accept love: If we always felt the need to win our parents’ approval, it will be hard to comprehend and receive God’s generous love
Children will subconsciously learn to “perform” to earn love if they are only acknowledged, praised or affirmed them when they do something “right”. This pattern can become so ingrained in a child’s psyche that it follows him or her into adulthood. As Christian adults, we may feel guilty to enjoy God’s love without “earning” it.
4. Our definition of prosperity: If we were taught to focus on the things of this world, we will find it hard to obey God wholeheartedly
Affluent parents are often unaware that they impart worldly values to their children by encouraging them to strive to be more popular or earn more money. Our earthly parents, out of concern for our futures, often lean too heavily on their fears rather than on God. “Parenting by fear” trains us to cling on to short-lived symbols of success; money, status and popularity. This was never God’s plan. We only prosper in God’s economy when we are willing to be meek and last.
Matthew 19:30 ESV But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
5. Our tendency to sin: We unwittingly mimic the ungodly role models we observe at home
Our parents draw the line for us in terms of what is acceptable behaviour. Their actions will always speak louder than their words. Even if we hate the sins that our parents have committed, there is a high chance we repeat their sins and inflict the same wounds on our own children.
Clinical psychologist Ana Nogales said in an interview that “55 percent of adult children that came from families where one parent was unfaithful ended up being cheaters themselves”. Her research showed that they committed adultery even though 75 percent felt betrayed by their cheating parent, 80 percent said it affected their attitude toward love and relationships, and 70 percent said they believe it impacted their ability to trust others.
Proverbs 22:6 NLT Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
6. Our tendency to idolise our parents: We mistake honouring our parents with worship
As children, our parents are our “heroes”. If we are not careful, we may fall into the trap of idolising them and not being able to acknowledge the sins they commit against us – especially when we know they had the best intentions. Parents who tend to impose their views and “rule” over us are more likely to encourage us to lionise them, instead of teaching us to honour and worship God first.
Ephesians 6:4 NIV Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Parent wounds continue to affect us as adults
1. Biblical evidence: Parent wounds continue to impact us as adults
Jacob (also named Israel) openly showed favouritism to Joseph, his second youngest son and the first son by his beloved second wife, Rachel. This bias offended Jacob’s other sons deeply and they grew to hate Joseph. As a result of their father wound, the rest of Jacob’s sons plotted to kill their half-brother and bore the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.
Genesis 37:3-4 ESV Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
2. Scientific evidence: Parent wounds continue to impact us as adults
A study conducted by researchers at UCLA has shown that a lack of parental affection will even harm our entire mind-body system and health. Toxic childhood experiences alter our responses to stress, making us more alert to and anxious about what we see as emotional or physical threats.
In a TEDTalk, Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explained that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. Watch Burke’s TEDTalk.
3. Practical evidence: Parent wounds continue to impact us as adults
There are countless examples of how parent wounds affect us. A good case in point is the generations of young adults who grew up with parents who both worked and spent the majority of their lives away from home. Such young adults will struggle with their identity and self-worth, often striving to gain approval for themselves.
Overcoming our parent wounds to love and obey God fully
1. Study God’s Word about our identities in Christ
First, we have to “unlearn” tainted childhood lessons about our self-worth and replace them with God’s truth; that we are precious, valued and purified by the blood of Jesus when we repent and return to our Father in heaven. We must renew our understanding of who God is and put away our incorrect views of our Heavenly Father.
Isaiah 43:4 ESV … you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you..
2. Repent of any idolatry, make God first above our parents
Secondly, we should repent for idolising our parents and desiring their love and approval over and above God’s. This often translates into a sense that God’s love is not enough to satisfy us.
Ezekiel 14:3 ESV “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces…
Luke 14:26 NLT “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison–your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.
3. Forgive our parents
No parent goes to “super-parent training academy”. Very often, parents end up hurting their children because they did not know what they were doing or were simply mimicking worldly behaviour. We need to acknowledge that our parents did their best, no matter how good or bad it may have looked like to us at the time. To be truly free of parent wounds, we need to first forgive our parents for any abuse, pain or negligence we experienced as their children.
Luke 23:34 ESV And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” …
Matthew 6:14 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
4. Thank God for our parents
God chose our parents for us and has a purpose and plan for everyone. While it may be hard sometimes, we must make it a point to thank God for our parents and acknowledge that His ways are higher than ours. Just as we are to bless our enemies and those who hurt us, we should also choose to speak blessings over our parents and submit to God’s plans.
Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
5. Confess our own sins
Next, we should also acknowledge the worldly values we subconsciously inherited from our parents and confess our own sins. Through pain and unforgiveness, many adults have sinned against their parents, including dishonouring, judging, slandering, cursing, neglecting or even physically hitting them.
Ephesians 6:2-3 ESV “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Exodus 21:15,17 ESV “Whoever strikes … curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.
1 Timothy 5:8 ESV But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
6. Cut off ungodly spiritual ties
It is also important to cut off ungodly spiritual ties with our parents in Jesus’ name, especially if they had participated in the occult such as idol worship, ancestor worship, fortune telling, fengshui etc.
Exodus 20:4-6 NLT “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. 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. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
7. Learn to enjoy our God-given identities as His adopted children
We should make time to just praise God regularly, without doing anything, and rest in our Father’s delight.
Psalm 27:10 NLT Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.
8. Be sure not to pass on our parents’ sin to our own children
Parents are to teach their children wisdom from the Bible day and night, so they grow up to fear God and follow His commandments. That will ultimately ensure their safety and ability to make wise decisions i.e. to prosper. Let us learn from our parent wounds and be on the alert not to repeat our parents’ mistakes.
Deuteronomy 11:1,19 ESV “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always… You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.