I sat in a hotel waiting for my friend and on the next table was a couple shouting at each other. The source of conflict was that the man had been sending money to his family of origin while the wife and children depended on the wife’s salary. His argument was that he needed to send all his salary to his family to cater for his younger siblings’ school fees.

The wife, very devastated did not seem to understand what was the husband’s primary responsibility; Was it his three children or the five who belonged to his parents? She kept asking him what the role of his parents was. To calm down the wife whose emotions were running high, he told her that once he educates the siblings and builds a house for the parents, he will be free to take over to care for their three children.

He begged her to understand the importance of him doing that is because he really needed the blessings of the parents. He therefore, needed the wife to continue paying their bills. The wife was getting more uncomfortable as the man continued to beg. Finally, as more people settled in the hotel, they left because they were clearly attracting attention.

This husband is an example of a person who has not left home. Leaving home is manifested in the presence of clear boundaries when it comes to finances. It comes in many other ways such as the kind of feelings experienced, the beliefs held and the behavior displayed.

 It is true that if the two parties in a marriage do not leave their respective homes, they will not successfully form their own healthy and stable family. Leaving home is not only done when one gets married, it needs to be done by any adult person.

Leaving home is not keeping physical distance from your parents. It is the ability to be separate at thought, feelings and behavior level. Leaving home refers to the ability to let go the patterns picked from the family of origin that are not working in an adult individual. Psychologists call the process of leaving home individuation.

Leaving home entails healing from the pain caused by parents and siblings, breaking dependency on one’s family, being able to make separate decisions, creating a separate identity from the other family members, learning to be near without anger and being away without guilt.

Here are some indicators that one has not left home

Inability to communicate.

When one party in a marriage is completely cut-off and does not visit their family or has not seen or heard from them for years, or is not able to communicate because they are afraid of their parents, it is clear indicator that they are wounded and leaving home has not happened.

Inability to make independent decisions

When one member of the marriage finds it necessary to counter-check most or all marital decisions or even personal decisions with his family, then it is clear that they have not left the home. We all need to consult from time to time because we are not all knowing but if the only consultants one has is his own family, then clearly there is a challenge.

A healthy person is able to make decisions and question those that have been made on their behalf.

Letting go the friends when your family does not approve of them.

Unless the family of origin is offering valid reasons that directly affect your core values on why you need to drop certain friends, letting friends go because your family did not like them is a clear indication that one has not left home.

Inability to love someone else without losing a parent’s love.

Those parents who are constantly telling their children that they are all they got, those who parents constantly tell that they are their one and only love. These are the parents who use their children to meet their emotional needs (mostly unintended).

For these children, having to choose a man or woman to love in life can be very difficult because they constantly feel that they are betraying their own parents.  Some of these cases end up badly because the moment they get intimately involved with someone else, they end up losing their parents love.

Adults who hide their true selves in order to appear perfect.

The other lot of those who have not left home are those who were expected to be perfect, to make no mistake and to not fail. Most of the time these individuals come from setups where the standards were very high or homes that were very dysfunctional and high achieving made them feel closer to normal.

I have met many adults who cannot tell parents demanding financial support that they are jobless or struggling financially, those who wait for the parents to leave the party so that they can take alcohol, those who borrow certain things to meet their parent’s expectations are some example of people who have not left home.

Might that be the case of the husband in the hotel? Could he have felt obligated to relieve his parents completely because he was doing slightly better than his parents? In what other ways do you feel the need to present a perfect self to your home? These may be indicators to the fact that you have not left home.

They feel responsible for their parents and sibling’s problems.

Have you had a spouse who is called by his family to solve most or all the family problems? These ones are highly likely the family heroes. They spend most of their time and resources thinking how they can save their families from trouble. Such people have not left home.

In healthy setups adult children may be required to help from time to time but they do not take full responsibility of what the parent is capable of doing. A functional adult needs to be able to take care of their physical, spiritual, social, economic and mental needs.

 Those who have not left home are the ones who bill out the family, mediate the parental conflicts, travel home to sort the family worker’s issues, solve relationship issues for the siblings, they sometimes are made to solve the problems of the community.

Those who feel that their spouses should automatically comply to their parent’s demands.

One time I met a young lady who was a stay home mum and who felt the husband should be contributing 20,000/= monthly to the parents. The parents had tasked the 3 adult children they had to build rentals for them and these children felt that defying that would attract a curse.

Since the lady in question had no money, she felt that being one with the husband, he was automatically needed to pay the money monthly as a show of solidarity. Even when the husband felt more responsible to provide for his nuclear family, the wife would hear none of it. People who have not left home struggle to say no to even what they have no capacity to do.

When there is guilt for having some form of pleasure when your family has none.

Every adult is responsible for having the life they chose, at least that is true to a large extent. The fact that one member of a family makes a choice to heal their past pain, work harder and succeed more does not warrant the other members of the family the same success.

A person who has not left home struggles to acknowledge this fact and feels guilty for having little pleasure. Some cannot even do a small holiday because one sibling is struggling to build a house, raise school fees for their children, or get by with normal life. They feel those resources are better used to better the family members. Every time they purpose to enjoy some form of pleasure, needs arise and they feel guilty and turn their resources into meeting the needs of their home.

Carrying shame as an adult for what parents are doing.

I have known adults who buy clothes, food, household items for their aging parents and instead of the parents enjoying what has been brought to them, they sell or give away, some in exchange for alcohol and others simply because their children are “rich” and will bring more.

Shortly after, the parents or community people make calls explaining that the parent is starving or has no clothes or household items. The adult children feel ashamed for their parents and replace the items, only for the cycle to keep repeating itself.

A healthy individual who has left home will decide to let the aging parent deal with the consequences of their behavior and make peace with the fact that they did what needed to be done in the first place.

By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: Joan Kirera, YouTube: Joan Kirera



One time I lived near a neighbor who would issue all kinds of threat on his four-year-old daughter and his six year old son every night. One day while she was using the rod to “discipline” them for not eating their evening meal well, I decided to engage and get to know what made her shout, issue threats and spank the children, was there some skill training lacking?

I found her explanation both concerning and saddening at the same time only later to realize that, this was a common occurrence in many more families. She said that children had to eat to full because she did not want them to wake up hungry at night and bother her. Understandable, right?

While I agree that children sleeping well is most beneficial to them, I also ask myself if there are skills the parent can train to help the children feed better and sleep better. Is there training that can help children get better? Do children need to be skilled and do things for themselves or do they need to be supervised all the time?

In another family, a five-year-old would throw tantrums for hours if she needed something and the Nanny did not give it right away. This child would ask for milk and when placed before her she would cry to be fed, she would insist on the Nanny doing things for her including carrying her to bed during sleep time. This was a school going child.

One time on social media, a parent was asking for help on their child who had refused to wear part of her clothes because she constantly chose a red dress and so long as it was clean, it is the single one she picked. This parent was met with criticism on how she had allowed her child to rule over her while others comforted her and helped her understand that the child was just seeking her own independence.

This bring us to the question, what should we do for our children and what do we train them to do for themselves? At what stage do we begin skill training? Will the little children understand what is happening? These are some of the questions I have heard from parents.

Skills to train Between 1-3years

  1. Potty Training – if the parent is harsh, angry, and mostly punishing the child at this point, the child becomes too neat, perfectionist and also carries toxic shame. This child is highly likely to be mean. Moderation is key in Potty-Training.
  2. Allow children to make decisions for themselves. Wearing clothes, feeding themselves, wearing their shoes. If they do it well, praise, clap, simply reward behaviour.
  3. Create safety in their learning, if they wear sweater inside out or shoes wrongly, praise them first, then show them how to do things better.
  4. Pouring food is okay as they learn to feed themselves, have them be in a space where you won’t need to get angry if they pour. Expecting perfection at this point is simply raising damaged children. At this stage do little for children, let them do most of their self-care work.
  • Teach them to arrange the toys after play. If you are struggling to train, or you find it difficult training, that is normal, if you are constantly angry when they do not learn, you may benefit from finding professional help for yourself.
  • Assertiveness training begins form age 1-3 and progresses to all other ages. If you allow children to make decisions for themselves, to talk to you, to ask you questions, to question your decisions over them, then you teach them how to defend themselves out there.

Is it okay to reward work well done at this time? Yes.

What kind of reward? Balance gifts with praise and encouragement.  When gifts are used alone, they create a culture in children that every effort they take deserves money or gifts.

Assertiveness training begins form age 1-3 and progresses to all other ages.

If you allow children to make decisions for themselves, to talk to you, to ask you questions, to question your decisions over them, then you teach them how to defend themselves out there.

Skill training for Ages 3-6 years

Train them how to protect themselves against sexual predators. If parents are comfortable and are able to pass good lessons in sexuality, the children get confident sexually. For sex education skills, go to

Train them relationship skills -this is where girls become attracted to their daddies and boys their moms, while identifying with same gender for begging to learn gender roles. This age, both parents are supposed to be as present as possible and connect with children.

For single parents, get models of the opposite parent that you are not. (models are people you consider able to connect emotionally, non-abusive and have similar values with yourself)

Let children select meaningful activities for themselves. Train them how to take initiative by allowing them to choose their activities and only intervening when its necessary. Over protecting children at this point from imagined hurts only denies them an opportunity to learn the necessary skills.

So if you as a parent want to play with your children, ask them what they want you to play together and most of the time, allow them to choose. This is how they learn decision making skill. When this lacks, you will produce adolescents and adults who cannot make decisions.

Let children fix their own problems. They need to be able to open a packet of biscuits or candy (not healthy though), if they fight with friends, do not go and confront the friends, train your child how to be assertive (assertiveness is not telling them to go and fight outside too) if you are doing this, you need help as a parent because you are teaching violence.

 This is the age where no child should be fed, unless they are special needs children or with developmental challenges. Ordinary children need to eat by themselves until they are full. If they refuse to eat, no pressure, let the food remain in specific place, when hungry, they will come back and eat.

6 years and above

  • Begin to train actual skills.
  • Washing their own inner wears and handkerchiefs.
  • Making meals under your supervision.
  • Doing dishes.
  • Watering the garden

Let a child have some consistent role/ duty so that they learn the work culture.

This is the age to train value for money. Let them work for pay so that they understand that money is earned after work. Also at this point, you can teach that the money earned is not all spent. Some parents whose value system allow teach about Tithing at this point.

Saving part of what they earn needs to be taught too. Basically, for every money earned some is saved and some spent. When teaching savings, help children understand why saving money is important and answer all appropriate questions.

What kind of work do you pay?

  1. Eating?
  2. Clearing the table?
  3. Bathing well?
  4. Feeding well?

 No.  Don’t pay children to take care of themselves.

You pay what you ideally would have paid someone to do. You decide what that is since it differs from house to house.

When the children do not learn skills at this point, they end up feeling inferior among their peers. Research has showed that the child who lack skills by the age of 12 are less competent and have low self-esteem.  It is also true that the children with no competences gained below 12 years find it difficult to function productively as adolescents.

Skill training between 12 to 19 years.

Relationship skills – train and give children the liberty to relate with opposite gender. Let them have healthy relationships without specializing in any one in particular. This is the right stage to normalize sexual attraction. Let the adolescents know that it is okay to feel attracted to the opposite gender, in fact, it means that their sexual development is okay when they get sexual attractions.

It’s important for adolescents to understand that fantasizing is normal. That feeling too careful of their looks is fine. What they need to learn is how to manage all these new feelings and developments.

Management skills – how to manage the new bodily changes, the societal expectation of them, peer pressure and peer expectations, how to manage the new freedom they are seeking out for and how to fit into the family setup even as they deal with enjoying their new space.

Assertiveness skills – They seem to be finding it interesting to share and spend time with peers more than the parents. While there is nothing wrong with that, they need to learn how to say no to what is being done by others and is not acceptable to them. Being different is not a sign that something is wrong with them, it’s a measure of their own uniqueness.

Self-care skills – train adolescents how to always care for themselves when undertaking any activity or learning to ask themselves if it benefits them and if yes, in which ways? If it doesn’t benefit them then its important to understand that it may not work for them in the long run and that continuing with the activity is self-hate.

Communication and negotiation skills – they need to learn to share their perspective their thoughts and feelings without shame. They need to learn that their thoughts and emotions matter. When they are given rules that do not go well with them, they need to feel free to negotiate their way to achieve something that works for them.

Problem solving and decision making – they need to learn to effectively solve problems and ask for help when they cannot. The adolescent needs to be allowed to make decisions and then countercheck with the parent or the adult in their life so that they can perfect the decision making.

There needs to be additional physical self-care skills where they can be able to make their own meals and do their own laundry, take care of their own bedrooms and study space so they learn to be overall responsible for their lives. No adult needs to clean after a teenager.

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


Few years ago, I bumped into young children between three years and four years, well known to me. the boy and the girl were kissing on the lips. I observed them for about thirty minutes as they consistently kissed. I called the two of them and started to engage in a kids talk. While in my presence they continued to kiss.

Curious I asked both where they had learnt how to “chum” as they called it. At this point, my tone or voice did not change as we continued to playfully engage. The boy told me that he had learnt from older friends who were around 7 and 8 years.

I invited the seven-year-old and the 8-year-old who ended up sharing that they had watched pornography in one of the houses accompanied by their nanny. It turned out to be such a chain of many people being involved including some parents.

How do children learn about sex?

In the meetings that followed, we talked about how the other children got involved and the two young ones told me that during their play, they had been going to some corner where the boy and the girl had severally been asked to remove their pants and the boy asked to lie on the girl as others cheered on.

We ended up having a meeting with the parents and we discussed that each parent needed to give the child sex education and explain to their children what is sexually appropriate and what is not. This helps the children to learn how to protect themselves and also protect others from child sexual abuse or sexual violation.

Talking with many school going children has helped me realize that very few children have had sex education from home, and that the little they have been taught is by teachers. Most of the people I have interacted with seem not to have been taught anything about sex by their parents.

What makes it difficult for parents to give children sex education?

  1. The parents do not know exactly what kind of education to give to what age.
  2. An unhealthy parents’ view of sex and sexuality – beliefs and perceptions such as sex is bad, sex is shameful, calling sexual organs by name is indecent, sex is never supposed to be talked about around children, or children will not understand /children know nothing about sex or their sexuality. Unhealthy sex education is more damaging.
  3. When the parent harbors unhealed sexual wounds – this mostly emanates from childhood sexual abuse or sexual violation. Any person who was violated or even abused as a child may find it difficult to have healthy conversations around the children on matters sex and sexuality because unconsciously it reminds them of the pain caused by their own experiences.

How does one heal child sexual abuse so that they can parent better?

Sexual abuse in childhood does not heal by remembering it. That is just one step and a very necessary one. Healing is a journey and a process and one needs a professional who is competent in handling child sexual abuse.

What is normal behavior for children between 3 years to 6 years?

Normal here means natural, nothing to worry about. It doesn’t imply  that its acceptable.

  1. Masturbation (touching of genitals) in private or in public.
  2. Wanting to see (and sometimes to touch) the other children’s genitals.
  3. Showing genitals to peers.
  4. Standing/sitting too close (to anyone, parents of opposite gender or even strangers of opposite gender).
  5. Trying/struggling to view adult nudity.

Should any of the normal behavior be punished?

The answer is no. If you punish a child for doing any of these, then you either lack information, or you have unresolved issues with your own sexuality.

What needs to be done?

Sex education should start latest 3 years of age.

While training starts at 3 years, sex education needs to continue until young adulthood depending on your child’s capacity and milestones.

At 3 years or slightly below according to your child’s milestones.

These ones learn better using songs or games. I recommend that the children at this stage be taught using a song or a story or a game. I personally use this song:

These are my (private parts *3) These are my private, no one should touch them, no one should see them and no one should lick them.

Demonstrate what touching is, what seeing is and what licking is. While singing, show what the private parts are, preferably by touching.

Repeat until the children get it. At this point begin to teach them how to clean their genital area and also begin to teach them how to dress themselves if you already haven’t. Reward or praise them when they use the potty in private or when they close the toilet. If you do this enough, they learn how to correct the normal behavior and embrace the healthy.

Why keep their parts private?

They are precious so should be kept hidden, let them know they need to touch them only while bathing or urinating ………explain well until your child gets the message.

Do not shame the child for being normal especially when they touch their penis, gently remind on when it needs to be touched.

May I say that by 3 years, children have developed some form of sexual attraction, just that it doesn’t manifest in the way we know it. They become aware of their own sexuality and therefore the masturbation needs not bother anyone. If done excessively, like a child cannot sleep until they have touched their genitals for long, or they masturbate so long in the day, that may point to something else that needs assessment by a child therapist.

At 5 years

At this age, the children need to know the body parts by name as part of consistent sex education. If the parents have spent time connecting emotionally with the child, there is likelihood of getting to know what is happening in the life of the child and that will help a parent to continue giving appropriate sex education.

You may need to have either diagrams, Kids friendly books or simply words as you continue educating them on the names of their private parts. At this point help them to understand that each gender has its own private parts- for boys, name the actual parts and for girls, name the actual parts. Give the correct names like Vagina, Penis etc.

At 6/7 years

Possibility that the child has heard about sex at this point is very high so contrary to what parents believe that the child knows nothing and educating them is corrupting their minds. Part of my sex education to parents has been letting them know if we can pronounce penis and vagina without shame the same way we pronounce leg or nose, then the children will take them as simple body parts.

When we attach negative emotions to the body parts or to sex, we teach them to relate with their sexuality negatively. It is damaging to teach children that some body parts need to be referred to through funny names and not the real names. We are the first best educators of the children and that they carry different subjects with the kind of emotions that we educate them.

Sex education at this point is better done with simple diagrams. Show them that the boys have different sex organs from the girls (some people prefer to use private parts than sex organs). With the simple diagram, either drawn or typed then explain how sex happens. It is easier to educate children about the human body as a whole and that includes the sex organs.

That the Vagina is set in such a way that it accommodates the penis and so the joining together of the Penis and Vagina is what sex is. Many parents argue that this is not different from pornography and my answer is, they are way different. This kind of genuine education is meant to entirely share the truth and prepare children adequately.

After the lessons, let children know that sex is allowed only for the married (personal family values). Some parents believe that sex is allowed after a certain age maybe 18 or 21 so if you feel premarital sex is allowed for adults, then feel free to share that with them. Let your sex education be as factual as possible, so that as they grow, they learn to trust you better. I personally go ahead and share with them that sex is a good thing and a God given gift in marriage.

Why can’t children have sex at this point?

Genuinely, children ask this question and it is important to answer honestly. Their bodies are developing and starting sex early can lead to addictions, diseases, infections. It can also lead to early pregnancies which are harmful when the body is still developing.

Children’s questions

Many that I have done sex education to constantly ask me if we – husband and I – usually have sex. My answer has always been yes, and I add that it is God’s gift for us as the married.

Do we see or touch each other’s privates? and again it’s a yes and that they too will be free to touch when they get married?

What happens if someone tries or violates them in touching, coercing or even luring them into sexual activities? Let the children know you will listen to them, believe them, protect them and that no one can harm them or you. This is because perpetrators use threats of harm or telling the child that no one will believe them.

By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit: www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera



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 www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera


Who attracts an abuser?

I have heard severally that not everyone can get into abusive relationships. While I know this to be true, I acknowledge that people who get into abusive relationships carry certain traits developed in their early childhood.

Robin Norwood explains this concept further that people tend to marry those who enact the same environment they are familiar with – the environment that they learnt as children. To simplify this even further, people tend to marry people who take them through the same emotions they went through as children.

This means that the person one attracts has everything to do with the background where the person was formed – the family of origin. So what are some of these traits that attract potential abusers?

  1. A person who believes that if they love someone else in an exceptional way, that person will change and becomes better. The common thing that abusive people do is to convince the person they intend to win over that the people they dated/married previously did not love them and that is why they feel and behave the way they do. The impression given is that they will change if the new person is different.

Potential abusers will show you how it is just you that truly loves them among all the others that they ever loved. Love, acceptance and making every possible effort does not change an abuser. The person needs not only to heal and love themselves well enough to teach others how to love them, but also accept that no one can love anyone more than they love themselves.

  • A person who believes that the other can be productive, successful and wealthy if they had someone to boost them, give them resources, get a job for them or finance their venture is setting themselves up for abuse.

 Any adult who needs to be rescued from their own helplessness learns to depend on the purported saviour. If they are not able to use their God given resources to get themselves out of their position, send them to a therapist or any other professional who can equip them with the required skills.

  • A person who believes the other is a victim of circumstance. I am in this situation because I am an orphan, because my parents did not educate me, because I was treated as a black sheep at home… Every single person has had challenges, some bigger than others. The question is, what makes particular people get stuck in their challenges while others get enriched by the lessons?

This victim mentality may continue even in relationship and it may end up as a “state of being”. This means that the other partner will feel abused as they carry most of the burdens in this relationship to keep the victim from feeling further victimized.

  • A person who believes that marriage/settling down will provide escape from poverty, “single person” labels, from a violent family, from lack of love, etc., is likely to attract an abuser. This is because they live in fantasy of getting their needs met that they do not watch out for the “red flags”.

This person forms an image of what they want in the long run and continues to pursue their mental ideal in the person they are dating. They only see the strengths, overlooking the weaknesses. The healthy way is to acknowledge, heal and grow so that the decision is not influenced by one’s unmet needs but by facts.

  • A person who engages passionately only when together or during sex but gets cold when away is a potential abuser. They either lack capacity to emotionally connect or they have no intention pursuing it.
  • A person who believes they will heal a wounded person through their love and patience. Healing takes more than love and patience, it takes deliberate effort, it takes work. Since it is true that hurt people hurt others, instead of reciprocating your love, they are likely to continue to cause pain because they see life through the eyes of their pain. Continuous pain is abuse.
  • A person who was emotionally abandoned by parents and has not healed is likely to seek after a person who will complete the love they missed which plays out in patterns of clinginess or emotional detachment. (parents may be physically present but emotionally absent to a child)

Clingy individuals attract those people who easily offer superficial love and that is the fantasy they dream of. These people cling onto their imagination of the love they share that when abuse happens, they begin to believe they are at fault because the other person is so perfect. They continue to fill their void of love by not letting go.

In the setups where a person internalized the detachment style they learnt as children, they may live with the constant feeling that their partners will walk out on them. This makes them insecure, picking signals of being abandoned even where they do not exist.

  • A person who believes that by avoiding conflicts they will have a peaceful relationship.

Conflicts are good for the growth of any relationship, they are evidence that two different people are free to express their different opinions. Some feel that it is entirely their fault that that conflicts in a relationship are happening and if they do more, conflicts will end.

Others believe that for their partners to behave in any unpleasant way including being aggressive, it is their fault. When we take responsibility for other people, we entertain abusers who will blame the victim of abuse for their behavior.

  • A person who gets involved with a partner who has addiction issues or, has manifested some form of risky sexual behavior. This person may blame it on loneliness so that the person they are dating believes that, by accepting to cure their loneliness, they will become responsible and stop their addictions. Love does not cure any addiction because addiction is a disease.
  1. A person who meets another and feels the need to upgrade their lives so that they can own a better car, have better wardrobe, live in better neighborhood or eat in better restaurants. If you do not feel comfortable with a person as they are, its only better to move and find one that fits what you want.

Insistence on upgrading another is a form of control and the controlling person is likely to become the perpetrator of abuse.  The perpetrator is likely to dictate how life needs to be while the victim continues to follow even when its unpleasant for them.

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


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How does parenting contribute to bullying?

Bullying is repeated attack which may be physical, verbal, social or emotional by person or persons in place of power (real or perceived) to those who are powerless. Bullying is done with the intention of causing distress.

Bullying includes teasing, use of offensive jokes, insults, constant harassment, name calling, racist remarks, spreading rumors, mimicking, deliberately excluding a person from some activity, damaging someone’s reputation, body shaming, hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, etc.

Parenting contributions are:

Lack of emotional bonds between the parent and the child

John Bowlby puts emphasis on the role of emotionally bonding with children in their early years of infancy and that when proper bonding happens, individuals are able to relate positively later in life.

When proper bonding does not happen (insecure attachments) the growing children appear emotionally detached from the parents and by extension they are detached from the world. Since they have not experienced love, these children do not care for the feelings of others and therefore they can hurt others easily through bullying.

Some of the children who lacked emotional bonding are constantly in a state of doing anything to “buy love”. They work hard trying to please the people they feel need to love them just the same way they learnt to work harder and do everything in order for the parents to accept them. This “people pleasing” attitude attracts the bullying and these children then become victims of bullying.

Parents who use strict/rigid rules with no warmth

This is called authoritarian style of parenting. This style of parenting produces bullies. The parents who use this style of parenting expect obedience without question even when they have not explained the reasons behind the rules. They believe by virtue of being parents, they know what is best for their children and as such, the children need to follow without any discussion.

This kind of parenting leaves children feeling controlled and angry and immediately they get someone to displace this anger to, they do it. The children from such families displace their anger to other vulnerable children as they demand obedience with no excuses. They learn the act of bullying right from their homes.

Neglected and abandoned children

The children who were neglected and abused are likely to turn into bullying others. Neglect and abandonment involve failure to meet physical and emotional needs of children. Children who feel that their parents are uninvolved in their lives are likely to act out their frustration and aggression towards others and in this case they turn out to be the ones who bully others.

Another set of neglected and abandoned children are likely to embrace the victim mentality and feel completely powerless therefore becoming the victims of bullying because they feel incapacitated to do anything about the perceived state of being victims.

Permissive parenting

Children who get everything that they want grow up with the sense of entitlement that is directed towards the other children and the world. Since they do not take “no” for an answer, anyone who says “no” to them deserve punishment and that is how they turn to bullying as a way of punishment directed at those who do not comply.

Child abuse

Children tend to replicate the very behavior they have learnt from their homes. These behaviors learnt whether use of verbal abuse such as name calling, hitting, biting, punching, or demeaning others are forms of bullying. These children may repeat the same behaviors and become the ones that bully others.

Some of the children from abusive homes become so fearful and traumatized anytime someone else repeats any patterns of abuse that they observed in their homes. These children get frightened that they are not able to speak for themselves so they become victims of bullying.


The children who were largely criticized lack self-confidence because they grow up believing that something was wrong with them and that is why their parents could not find something good in them. Children who lack confidence become victims of bullying because they are easy to pick on and they have no capacity to protect themselves.

Overprotecting children (enmeshed) families

These families where parents do not allow their children to interact with the other children are slowly raising children who will be victims of bullying. These children live in enclosed spaces and therefore they have not learnt how to interact with others. Over protected children lack social skills and when placed in an environment with other children, they are likely to be picked on and bullied.

Lack of skills

Children who lack life skills such as interpersonal skills, communication, problem solving, taking initiative, creative skills, self-care skills (such as feeding, dressing, using the toilet etc) find it very difficult when interacting with children who already have these skills.

These children feel inferior to their peers and this opens up an opportunity to be victims of bullying. Needless to say, adults who lack life skills because they did not acquire them in childhood are likely to be either bullies or victims of bullying.

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

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Martin fell in love with Diana when they were 23 and 20 years respectively. Martin got attracted to Diana because she was orphaned and taking care of her two younger siblings. Apart from the fact that he thought she was responsible, he felt he was better placed to help Diana raise her siblings since he had a job and she didn’t.

When they got married, Diana stayed home to take care of her siblings and the husband continued to work. Three years down the line, they had two children of their own and a household of 6 members in total to care for. Martin started feeling overwhelmed by his situation and felt like the wife was comfortable, doing nothing to improve their situation.

On the other hand, Diana felt helpless and wondered what is it she needed to do. She felt the work of the husband is to provide for the family while the wife was to support him. Even when it was clear that the burden was too unbearable for Martin, Diana did not do anything to make the situation better.

Martin, being a first born raised by a father who was struggling with alcohol addiction, took up the role of taking care of his younger brother and mother who both had no source of income. He felt very guilty saying no even to his brother who could use all the money on alcohol. When asked, the brother blamed his problem on joblessness and the father who was absent in his life.

Martin was getting tired but found it very difficult to share his feelings with his family or his wife. He felt unloved, unappreciated and overworked. Everyone praised him and regarded him a hero because he cared so much and helped anyone who came his way, something that led him into accumulating many debts.

At work where he was a supervisor, his juniors praised his goodness. He would severally warn them of misconduct yet he took no actions. When some failed to report to work, he would end up covering for them because he couldn’t imagine them losing their jobs.

These characteristics described above are synonymous with codependency. Codependency is a behavioral condition caused by unhealed childhood trauma whereby an adult attempt to meet their bonding needs on other people. (http://joankirera.com/2020/03/30/childhood-trauma/) These bonding needs are supposed to be provided by parents.

Dr. Hemfelt in his book “Love is a choice” puts it this way; it is the responsibility of two parents to fill the love tanks of their children. If the two love tanks of the parents are empty or very low, the child will only get very little on its love tank. These children who get so low are always looking out for someone who can fully fill the tank, or add to the love tank.

 Symptoms of co-dependency.

  1. Inability to leave relationships that are hurtful, controlling and demeaning.
  2. Taking blame for what others have done –  an example is the case of Martin, he constantly owned to his juniors’ absenteeism afraid that they would lose their salaries and end up like his family.
  3. Inability to speak one’s thoughts, feelings and needs for fear of rejection.
  4. Forgetting, neglecting or delaying self needs to meet other people’s needs before yours.
  5. Depending on what others say about you to feel good about self.
  6. Difficulty in being vulnerable making it hard for them to experience intimacy.
  7. Feeling of need to save and rescue others from their troubles- they tell themselves that if they do not intervene, the person will not find help.
  8. Codependents find it difficult saying ‘no’ to loved ones.
  9. Even when codependents do very well, they still second guess themselves.
  10. They are dealing with one or more addictions to numb the pain caused by the attachments they never got during their childhood.
  11. Codependents control those close to them – they expect people to behave in a certain way for them to feel okay.
  12. They experience so much shame and have their self-worth and self-confidence challenged.
  13. They often feel they do not deserve the very opportunities that they have.
  14. They do not take responsibility in areas of challenge, they blame someone else for their own issues.
  15. Codependents use magical thinking- if I improve on this area, the other will automatically change certain behavior and get better.
  16. Addiction to caregiving – they are not attracted to stable individuals (these appear boring to them), they attract people who are in need of some fixing. (those challenges and instabilities give them a high as they figure out how to fix them)
  17. Self-made guilt trip where codependents believe the reason why anything negative happens to them is because they are not okay or they actually attracted it.

Who is more prone to codendancy.

  1. Firstborns.
  2. Parentified children– these are the children who were given the parenting roles because their parents were at work, the parents worked away, the children were too many that the parenting roles were divided or because parents were incapacitated in some way, are more likely to be codependents.
  3. Children whose parents had addiction issues.
  4. Children of parents with untreated and unmanaged mental illness.
  5. Heavily criticized children.
  6. Family heroes/ saviours – they are high achievers who work so hard to change their lives and that of their families.
  7. Children from violent homes.
  8. Abandoned children – children whose parents were emotionally unavailable.

By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit: www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera



Joseph was four years when his parents were involved in a road accident. Both parents were admitted in hospital for 6months when his father died. Joseph could remember being told that his father went to heaven and seeing many people going to bury him.

After the funeral, the mother came back home in a wheelchair and from five years to eleven years, Joseph was his mother’s helper. He learnt to go downhill where the mother couldn’t go to and pick firewood and also pick the things that the mother couldn’t.

A child robbed of a childhood

Joseph’s life was not like that of the other children. He never had any time to play because he spared the time after school to go and help his mother. He also learnt to deal with missing meals because the mother could ask him to pray for God to provide them with meals when his uncle or the moms family did not bring food on time.

By the time Joseph was 9 years he was too tired of his life and and become suicidal. He attempted suicide by using some pesticides that the mother had sent him to use on the pests. One neighbor who saved him asked their village elder to get the young boy helped. The case of joseph is a classic example of someone who experienced developmental trauma.

What is developmental trauma?

It is a condition experienced by children who have been exposed in early life to multiple adverse conditions, such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, parental substance abuse, domestic or community violence, young children taking the role of parents, death of loved ones, neglect, or abandonment.

Did you experience developmental trauma or is your child experiencing it?

Here are ways one can tell they experienced or are experiencing developmental trauma:

Repeated changes in primary caregivers or long periods of separation from the primary caregivers. When the primary caregivers are constantly changed in the life of a child, the child does not bond securely and they constantly experience the world as insecure. This explains why children who had no stable parenting in their first years of life end up having relationship challenges.

Recurring painful illnesses such as colic or other chronic infections keeps the child in a state of chronic stress. This compromises the child’s growth and attacks their immune system creating developmental trauma to a child such that throughout life they get overwhelmed any time there is a painful experience.

Inability of the parent to meet the needs of children which includes emotional coldness, leaving the child to cry for long without providing comfort, delays in feeding the baby when hungry, having no physical touch with the baby and inability to meet the child’s needs during stressful times.

Children raised by mothers who had postpartum depression, alcoholic parents, workaholic parents or parents who were not available for their children for any other reason. One commonality with all these children is that the parents are so overwhelmed by their own situations that they have no time, energy or resources to take care of their children.

Adults using the children to meet their own needs – children in dysfunctional homes suffer the developmental trauma because they largely learn to take care of their parent’s needs, learn to meet their parent’s expectations. As they grow, they learn that their own needs are not important, the needs of other people are more important. This leaves the growing children overwhelmed with other people’s needs but not theirs.

Children whose mothers were depressed or in substance abuse are likely to have difficult births or have overwhelm mothers after birth. Premature births, traumatic births and invasive lifesaving medical interventions also cause developmental trauma.

Use of tough methods of discipline such as beating, severe criticism, comparison with others, control and manipulation cripple children’s use of their abilities, and reduce ability to learn skills. By the time they are twelve years, these children feel more inferior than their peers and this is a cause of developmental traumas.

Patterns of anger, domestic abuse, substance abuse, abandonment, polygamy or polyandry (where one parent is neglected by the spouse and all their energy is spent fixing the marital relationship). These patterns passed through generations cause developmental trauma as children in such setups suffer neglect and emotional pain.

Growing up in dysfunctional families that were heavily conflicted such that the model of love the children learnt were merged by conflicts, neglect, despair, infidelity, abuse etc.  For example where a loving parent is also physically abusive, the child learns that love is merged with abuse and is likely to attract a man who loves her but is also abusive either emotionally, physically or financially.

Another such case is where a child’s parent was in alcohol addiction. The child learnt that love is merged with addiction. The child may largely hate addiction and even swear never to marry an alcoholic, only to marry a religious leader who is addicted to religion, or marry a person who is addicted to work, or another addicted to sex and is having extramarital affair.

 As these children grow, they attract peers, friends and even spouses who fit into the model of relationship they saw with their parents. Developmental traumatized children get into setups that cause them more trauma in adolescence and in adult life when they do not heal from their traumas.

Effects of developmental/childhood trauma

Trust issues – as young children they learnt that the world is not trustworthy and so as adults, they view the world from that perspective. This may explain why some individuals in marriage insist on looking for information from their spouse’s phones/laptops/clothes that incriminates them because deep inside they imagine their spouses are not trustworthy.

Difficulty managing emotions – the people with developmental trauma respond not to what is happening around them but to the pain deep within them. Every small thing only triggers the pain within.

Chronic suicidal thoughts/ideas. While there are other reasons for suicidal thoughts, the larger population of individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts have unresolved childhood/developmental trauma.

Difficulty managing life situations. When crisis happens, the mind of a person with unresolved developmental trauma becomes flooded with stress hormones which interferes with the brains ability to think clearly.

Low self-esteem and reduced self-worth.

Exaggerated sense of guilt and shame.

Inflated self-image. Individuals who have unresolved developmental trauma are likely to have a sense of entitlement and expectation of being specially treated by others.

Addictions that may range from food, sex, alcohol, religion, drugs etc.

Children who suffered developmental trauma depend on others emotionally as adults (they find it difficult to let go a relationship because they feel like their survival is dependent on certain people). This then explains why some people find it difficult to exit life threatening relationships.

How does one heal developmental trauma?

Since it is difficult to understand what caused developmental trauma in different people’s lives, then it helps to seek professional therapy so that one can be helped to understand and also heal the trauma.

By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera


In school, during college days, a girl I related with closely had been complaining about an alcoholic father who was hardly home. She constantly told stories of how the father would come home once a week on the day of choice and when he did, she and her siblings ran into their bedrooms to escape Daddy’s wrath.

They would get to bed and cover themselves but still listen carefully to the noise that came from their parent’s quarrels. This repeated itself so much until it became a lifestyle. Most of those days when the father came home, she never got to sleep and so she would come to class very tired. Most of the classmates she would talk to seemed understanding and supportive.

After dealing with so many issues such as their family issues, academic demands, challenges of being a young adult and the accumulated fears that their father may kill their mother someday, she got very sick and was admitted in hospital where she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Soon after treatment and discharge, she kept saying that she was better dead, that she did not understand what she was on earth to do, that she preferred to be dead other than live and suffer. One day she came to class carrying so many of the tablets and told us she wanted to take them after break so that she could die.

While I did not understand the causes of even how to help a person with the thought of suicide, I prayed for her and talked her into not taking away her life. I embraced her and shared that we would miss her badly if she died by suicide. My other friends supported me but one particular one asked her to grow up and stop seeking attention (he categorically called it tough love).

All of us were trying to help in ways that we knew how. I remember some telling her that a problem shared is halfway solved and therefore they encouraged more talk, they even suggested that we allocate more time so that she could talk out more of what was causing her pain. Most of these suggestions were done in good faith.

The question to ask is, were these methods helpful? I will say yes they were helpful to a level but not fully. Research shows that at the time someone is having thoughts of suicide, S/he may be dealing with a mental illness and with high possibility of having suffered childhood trauma. Other causes of suicide may or can be caused by grief, induced by drug abuse or mental illnesses.

This means that apart from the spiritual support (prayers and any other form of spiritual nourishment), social and family support (allowing others to share what they are going through, and not being judgmental), one needs professional treatment where proper assessment can be done and the right treatment offered.

Myths about suicide

Suicide is a choice and that a person can chose differently – this is not true because at the time one is thinking of suicide, they may be suffering from one or more mental illnesses and these affect the brain functions.

A person thinking of suicide is Selfish. This is not true and it makes it harder for people with thoughts of suicide to seek help if they think they’ll be called selfish.

When some tells a person with thoughts of suicide that they are taking a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This means the person telling is completely insensitive to what the person with thoughts of suicide is experiencing at that moment.

Those with thoughts of suicide are unreasonable and are out to punish their family –  Most people who die by suicide or attempt suicide do so because they feel that they do not belong and that they are a burden to others. They believe that death will free their loved ones from the unnecessary burden.

Only certain people die by suicide – there is no way to tell a person who can attempt suicide from those who cannot because just like other illnesses do not discriminate, suicidal thoughts does not. When dealing with people, pay attention to what they are saying and the behavior as opposed to who they are, or their social economic class.

Talking about suicide will make people think about dying by suicide – this is not true. In fact, talking about suicide is likely to open up a discussion for those who feel that suicide is a topic that cannot be discussed.

People who talk about suicide want to die – the truth is people who talk about suicide want to end their pain. They have mixed feelings about death, they want to live then again want to die. If help is availed, they can clarify their thoughts.

Warning signs of suicide.

  1. Speaking suicide which may include someone saying they have no reason to live, someone feeling they would be better dead than being alive, wanting to leave to unknown place and live there alone and never come back, saying goodbye to people, inviting people to attend their funeral.
  2. Isolation, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, feeling worthless.
  3. Extreme guilt and shame and feeling like you are a burden to others.
  4. Consistent search for suicide or ways one can die by suicide.
  5. Change in eating and sleeping patterns, irritability, lack of coordination and sadness.
  6. Spelling plans and exact ways they intend to die – in this case it’s okay to ask how they intend to die, the means and when the intend to implement the plan.
  7. Making preparations for their death and even giving valuable stuff that they clearly need.
  8. Self-harming behavior such as reckless driving, sometimes cutting self may be an attempt to bleed to death, excessive use of alcohol or drugs and risky sexual behavior.
  9. After long periods of sadness, a person suddenly becomes calm and suddenly seems to be excited about life. This is largely mistaken for healing but it needs keen observation because most people feel like they have suddenly found a solution which is death. Their excitement is not about life but the new found solution-death.

How to help a person with thoughts of suicide?

 I have heard people diagnosing depression with loved ones because the loved ones have thoughts of suicide or they have attempted suicide. Depression is not the only cause of suicide, one needs proper assessment and treatment that may involve a psychiatrist, psychologist, good social support and spiritual interventions.

Assessment helps in discovering what the real cause of suicidal thoughts because unless the cause is known, proper treatment may not be administered. Once assessment is professionally done, the family is helped on how to support their loved one and together get involved towards the journey of healing.

By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera