One day while chatting with a group of preteens, Ivanna* asked me what she could do in order for the father to accept and love her. The father who was an alcoholic repeatedly told Ivanna that she was the reason he was suffering, the reason why he turned out to be an alcoholic. The father spoke these words every time she did something he considered wrong.

This father was very bitter because when he was in form three, he got a certain girl pregnant and when she gave birth and breastfed for four months, she brought this child to him at his parents’ house. Ivanna’s paternal grandparents were very disappointed with Ivanna’s father and to punish his action, they decided that Ivanna’s father would stay home and raise the child.

Distraught by his parents’ decision and disappointed with himself, he started raising his daughter at 16 years. Ivanna felt even more unwanted when she learnt that her biological mother had completed secondary education, travelled abroad for her university education, had married another man and together they were expecting another child.

What hurt most and robbed Ivanna of her childhood is having a mother who did not choose her and having a father who made her feel like everything was wrong with her. That has caused her to work very hard at being a better girl. At 8 years, she had learnt to make meals so that when the dad came home late, he would not miss a meal.

Ivanna reasoned more like an adult and started taking care of the father at the age of 8 years by ensuring that the father had warm meals. The mother’s absence and the father’s behavior robbed her of her childhood. How was her childhood robbed you may ask? I will share several ways parents can rob their children of their childhood.

Not letting children play is a major step of robbing children of their childhood

Virginia Axline, a Child Therapist, puts emphasis on child play. She says that play is the children’s universal language. This means that denying children play time is robing them the ability to tell their stories, to express their emotions and to communicate.

Child play helps children in brain development, improving creativity and imagination, it improves social abilities and improves capacity to think. When parents take away play from children, they rob them of their childhood.

Giving duties is okay for children but that is never meant to take the place of their play. Skill training is best done with the parent modelling what they want the child to learn and thereafter children doing what they observe. After this, they need to find time to go back to their play.

I have experienced parents who do not allow their children to play indoors because they will disorganize the house. Others are not allowed outdoor play to avoid dirt. Lack of play not only robs children of their childhood but also denies them an opportunity to develop in a healthy way.

Ignoring children’s needs and making them meet the of their siblings or other people’s needs.

While Ivanna mentioned that she had asked the father severally why he hated her, the father always responded by calling her ungrateful words and reminding her how much sacrifice he had made in his life for her. Slowly by slowly Ivanna was learning that her need to be loved did not count, and that her fathers’ need for her to be grateful is what she needed to focus on.

This was a perfect way of robing her of her childhood because her need of love and affection stopped to matter when with the father. As a result, later in life, Ivanna is likely to attract relationships that will violate her, that will not meet her needs of love and affection because this is all she learnt from her first model, the father.

Making a child carry parental responsibilities

Ivanna is a classic example of a child who became the father’s parent. She continued to work harder to please him by making hot meals so that when he got home drunk, he would be comfortable and find something to eat. The father unknowingly robbed her of her childhood by letting her take such heavy responsibility.

In other cases, some parents overburden children by sharing the contents of their parental conflicts with their children who have no capacity or skills to handle such challenges. Some of these parents, just like Ivanna’s dad, depend on the children to offer comfort and emotional support.

I have heard of parents who constantly shared their emotional burdens with children citing that family is the safest place for them to share their burdens. The work of emotional support and care is that of the parents and when roles are reversed, the child get responsibility overload and as adults they tend to accept responsibility for everyone.

Parents who live their expectations and dreams through their children rob them of their childhood

I have met parents who felt because they wanted to win medals in certain areas and they were not able to, this will be achieved by their children. Others feel the grade that they missed can be attained by their children because their children have what the parents lacked. This is robbing children of an opportunity to be themselves.

Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book, Conscious Parenting, puts it this way, you are not raising the mini you and for this reason it is important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. She continues to explain how high achieving parents expect their children to be automatically high achievers, artistic ones expecting children to be artistic or Sporty parents pushing their own children into sports. This robs children of the opportunity to experience life for themselves.

In my experience of working with children and their parents, I have found it true that a good number of parents expect their children to get to the level where the parents never got to, or to do things exact same way the parent did. Either of this means that we are raising the child within and not the actual child that we bore. We rob the child we bore of the opportunity to live their lives.

When a child is not allowed to be an authentic self, they get robbed of their God given abilities, potential, ability to make productive decisions for their lives as well as to create initiatives that benefit them. These children are denied the opportunities to experience their individuality and that is robbing them of wonderful experiences.

Lack of love and affection to the child robs them of their childhood

Dr. Hemfelt his his book, Love Is a Choice, gives an example of the parents having love tanks. The two love tanks have a connection to the child’s love tank. The child gets as much love as there is in their parents’ love tank. If the parents are at 50 percent, they can only offer as much as 50 percent or less to the child since they have to remain with some.

These children who were robbed of love and affection have their love tanks more empty than full and they tend to idolize romance. This means the emptier the tank, the more one is likely to prioritize romance. Does this explain why some children get totally absorbed in romance as pre-adolescents and adolescents while other children transit it with a little more ease?

Does it explain why some young adults have exaggerated feelings of romance? Does it help to understand why men and women even in marriage keep secret extra marital affairs? These are pointers to children who were robbed of their childhood. It points to the emptiness of their love tanks. 

Comparing a child with a sibling or another robs the child of their childhood

Many parents when comparing a child with another have the intention of challenging the child to do better. Unfortunately, it not only robs the child of the opportunity to be authentic but makes the child feel not good enough.

These children labor to do everything possible to try and win the parents affection. Among siblings, it increases the sibling rivalry and it causes children to grow with low self-esteem. As adolescents, they easily fall into peer pressure as they try to find acceptance.

One thing that parents do not acknowledge is these children who are not compliant have their strengths, they are unique, independent beings. If only this was nurtured with gentle correction instead of robbing children of the same, they would end up being amazing leaders and innovators.

Parents who blame their children for their misery rob them of their childhood

Children have no capacity to filter heavy negative statements that are said by their parents, so they take them to mean that something is wrong with them. A child who grows believing that they have defects is surely robbed of the ability to experience the wonder of life. We see this clearly in the case of Ivanna.

During therapy, I get children to repeat statements they were told by their parents such as; if the parent did not get pregnant with them, they would be a graduate, that the child is the reason why the father abandoned them or that if the parent had no children they would have a better life.

The argument by these children is that the parents do not love them, others feel that they have some deficiency that makes the parents stay away. These kinds of children are robbed of the most important thing, acceptance. They grow up with self-doubt and self-hate. They may grow up to become people who do things that harm them.



Ever heard people who were raised using unhealthy methods by unhealthy people say that they turned out just fine? I have always sought to understand what turning out just fine is. Is it that they are successful in their career? Is it that they ended up in a marriage and are still in it? Is it that they became religious and they live peaceful lives? What are they comparing with in order to determine what turning out fine is as opposed to not turning out fine?

One time while attending a party, the emcee stated how fine he turned out after being raised by a successful abusive dad who divorced the mother when the emcee was 9 years. The mother who left the country to fend for them lived abroad since he was 10 years. He was raised by maternal grandparents and became very successful in his career. Emceeing was a side hustle that earned him good money.

He was married twice and divorced the two times and he was now raising his children alone. While I do not blame him or anyone else for the circumstances, I acknowledge that all those experiences had shaped him and even if they may have brought out so much good in him, they had also wounded him and caused him to take certain directions in his life.

One thing I loved about him was the ability to speak about his success in other areas of his life without shame. He repeatedly shared with his listeners that even if the dad rejected both him and his mom, and the mother left him (he seemed to understand the reason and appreciate it), he turned out just fine and that he could ran his life and that of his children.

This brought me to the question. How do we know if we turned out fine or that the experiences of our lives left us wounded? How can one tell a wounded person? How does a wounded person perceive life? Can a person be wounded and still be successful in their career? Can a person be wounded and keep a marriage for many years? Here are some ways to tell that a person is wounded.

Wounded people do not know how to manage their emotions

While it is human and normal to experience any emotion, it takes a healthy person to manage their emotions. Wounded people become aggressive when angry and engage in outbursts or abuse those around them. Others go silent for long and torture those around them. These behaviors portray extreme examples of a wounded person.

Wounded people get offended when people do not appreciate their efforts and success

The work of appreciating and affirming is mostly done by parents to their young children, and this is how individuals learn to appreciate themselves. If this affirmation isn’t given, the individual becomes wounded and seeks to have the world “bandage their wounds” by giving them the affirmation.

Healthy people appreciate being affirmed but when that lacks, they appreciate their own progress. They are satisfied appreciating themselves even if no one else does. They know that they have no control over what other people choose to do.

Wounded people self-sabotage

Wounded people have an unconscious belief that they can never carry a task to completion and, if they do they cannot excel. If one believes they do not have what it takes to keep a relationship, by all means they find methods to sabotage it in order to prove themselves right.

Wounded people will say or do things that rob them of success. Maybe one is being considered for promotion at work then he loses his cool and tells off the supervisor. They could speak hurtful words to someone who was genuinely going to help them.

They do these things unconsciously to sabotage themselves because they believe that they don’t deserve it. Other wounded people are always giving reasons why it is their colleagues who need to be promoted and not themselves. Michelle Obama puts it this way, failure is a feeling long before it is a result.

Wounded people repeat the harmful patterns on their children or other people

Wounded people swear to never repeat the methods their family of origin used on them that hurt them. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology talked about repetition compulsion being a phenomenon where people repeat behavior that they experienced as children, or chose circumstances that they are familiar with.

Some example of repetition compulsion that wounded people repeat include the emcee’s case in the story shared whose parents got divorced and he ended up divorcing twice, a case of a lady with a violent dad who ends up marrying a violent man and a mother whose method of discipline by their own parents was biting and who ends up using biting as a method of disciplining their children.

People who are always in competition with those around them

Rogers, one of the humanistic theorists calls it living outside inside which is typical of wounded people. This only means that wounded people lack the joy of living and enjoying their success their own way.

They end up feeling very unfulfilled because they look at their own achievements through the eyes of other people. At any point of life, there must be someone doing better than yourself so you can’t live your life chasing the wind.

Wounded people consistently experience feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and emptiness

Randy Hix in his book father wounds explains how lack of a father (not necessarily absence but inability to connect emotionally) causes such deep wounds that the feeling of lost-ness and loneliness become entrenched in the life of an individual.

Fatherly wounds and any other adverse childhood experience such as death of a loved one, chronic illnesses, form part of these feelings of inadequacy.

Wounded people are insecure and have difficulty trusting others

While it is natural and human to choose who to trust, wounded people cluster people together. They see the world through their own pain. They find it very easy to generalize; all men are, all women do, all mother in laws are…all parents should …all children must…

These are people who project their hidden fears and insecurities on other parties who have absolutely nothing to do with their pain. They bleed on people who did not cut them.

Wounded people believe that performance makes them accepted

Have you ever met someone who told you about their performance or achievements within a very short time? People who spoke about their achievements and wealth accumulation and any other discussion brought up gets cascaded into the achievement story? Have you met people who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and they expect anyone else to accept them for that? These are deeply wounded people.

While part of our self-actualizing tendencies is productivity and ability to perform, it is not the only one. A healthy person needs to have other human aspects, values, interests, hobbies and life skills that make it easy for them to have relationships with other people. Human beings who only work on performance as a method of self-acceptance and acceptance by others are wounded.

Wounded people flip between having a sense of entitlement and being victim

Have you met people who felt that you need to treat them in a certain way because they were disadvantaged? That you need to fix their lives because you are more blessed? Who imagine that it is wrong for you to enjoy life simply because others are suffering?

Those who guilt-trip you for having what they do not have? Others who threaten the stability of your relationship because they are not enjoying what you have? These are deeply wounded people.

Wounded people struggle with letting go of past hurts

It is human to get hurt when your expectations have not been met. There is nothing wrong with that. A healthy person is able to let go the pain and embrace the lessons. If a person has suffered so much pain and has not been able to heal from painful experiences, it only takes little pain to awaken all the unhealed wounds within leading to massive pain that becomes difficult to heal.

Wounded people have low self-esteem

They see themselves as not deserving and they tend to feel that other people are better than them. In other occasions, they feel that those around them are against them even when they have done no wrong.

They are too cautious of their actions because they are so afraid of making mistakes and are deeply concerned about how others feel about them. A wounded person takes criticism very negatively and can end up rehearsing it over and over again and feeling worse.

Wounded people are afraid of being rejected

It is not possible to be accepted by everyone, this kind of expectation is unrealistic. Wounded people feel the need to be perfect because they believe if they are not, they will be rejected. They tolerate emotional abuse just to avoid being rejected.

They hide their true self believing that if they show their authentic selves, they will be found not good enough and rejected. They live not for themselves but for others because they are constantly trying to please everyone else.

Wounded people are uncomfortable with being around themselves

A healthy person is very comfortable with being alone, they find things that still make them fulfilled. Wounded people panic when someone takes long before responding to their text or email, they constantly worry about what they may have done wrong.

Wounded people become clingy and demanding when they feel someone is pulling away. They assign the distance to something they did or said and because of the discomfort of being alone, they suffocate those around them.

Wounded people avoid relationships for fear of being “left”

A healthy person is free to experience life and the beauty of relationships. They allow themselves to love and be loved back. According to Abraham Maslow, these are some of the needs to be met before a person gets to higher levels of functioning.

Wounded people on the other hand avoid relationships. They also leave relationships before being left or they avoid getting so close lest they fall in love. Even when the relationship is pleasant, they continue to find reasons why they should quit. They end up sabotaging relationships so that they can break.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera