What Happens to Children When They are Abandoned?

Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection a child deserves equates to abandonment. Being abandoned tells a child, “You are not important—you are not of value.” Abandoned children then develop a deep sense of toxic shame. They grow up to believe that the world is unsafe, people cannot be trusted, and they do not deserve love and care. Abandoned children often believe that they cannot live up to their parents’ expectations (which are often unrealistic), that they are held responsible for other people’s behavior, and that the parent’s disapproval is of the child’s personhood rather than their actions. Common beliefs include:

  • It’s not okay to make a mistake.
  • It’s not okay to show your feelings.
  • It’s not okay to have needs—everyone else’s needs are more important.
  • It’s not okay to have successes—accomplishments are not acknowledged or are discounted.[i]

My wife was abandoned by both her father (whom she only met briefly twice) and by her mother, who quit parenting her at ten years old (she subsequently left home at age thirteen). Hence she had great abandonment issues when we got married. She didn’t trust that I wouldn’t abandon her, and she jealously guarded her heart. Being abandoned again was her greatest fear. She even had a tendency to try to push me to the point where I would leave (probably an unconscious attempt to test my level of commitment). It has taken the better part of three decades of modeling commitment on my part for her to start trusting that I will not abandon her. My level of commitment has at best healed and at worst scarred over the jagged wound of abandonment in her heart.

Our ministry works with hundreds of boys and girls (and adults) who have been abandoned by their fathers. To a person, they struggle with issues like self-esteem, self-confidence, risk-taking, trying new things, fear of failure, and developing intimate relationships.

These problems manifest themselves in several ways. Like girls, who so ache for a father’s love, they willingly accede to the sexual advances of the predatory (and equally fatherless) boys who eagerly take their love before tossing them aside like used tissues. One of the effects of being fatherless is boys trying to feel like a man or cross the threshold of manhood through sexual conquest of girls. The effects of fatherlessness on girls is just as damaging, resulting in the longing and desperate search for affection through sexual encounters with boys. What a damaging collision of the effect of fatherlessness.

One woman said this about her childhood: “I think the biggest wound is abandonment from a father. Mine left when I was fourteen. This was especially devastating because our home was really a ‘happy one.’ We all got along, and there were no signs of problems. But then, midlife crisis hit my father. And he was gone. Everything fell apart.”

For this woman, abandonment has plagued her entire life: “Abandonment has been the greatest issue for me. Divorce and abuse plagued my life. Believing I am worthy and capable of a peaceful life has been a challenge. My core unhealthy belief I came to believe from my brokenness . . . I will never measure up to others expectations, therefore I’m not worthy of love.”

We even see children adopted into loving homes who still struggle with abandonment issues well into adulthood. Kids who are abandoned develop attachment disorders and fear close relationships. Sometimes even with God. If an earthly father (or mother) does not love you enough to stay, how devastating would it be for a heavenly Father to abandon you as well?

[i]Claudia Black, “Understanding the Pain of Abandonment,” Psychology Today, June 4, 2010,


Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Ovecoming Toxic Parentimng: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Males are Angry

Many boys and men in our culture today are angry.  They are angry for a variety of reasons; some justifiable and some not so good.  For instance boys raised without the benefit of a father to teach them how a man acts, thinks, solves problems, and relates to the world around him are at a distinct disadvantage in life and thus are understandably angry.  Other males are angry for reasons more related to how they internalize the world around them—lack of hope, childhood wounds, and a culture that seemingly tells them they are unnecessary or at least need to change to become some things that they were never meant to be.

Males generally are not very adept at understanding their emotions nor very comfortable dealing with them.  Emotions are powerful and often uncontrollable.  That’s why many males keep such a tight lid on their emotions–once released they are difficult to predict or control and often result in a situation ending in vulnerability.  The one emotion however that they are relatively comfortable with is that of anger.  Anger for many men is an old friend; one they call upon in a variety of circumstances.  Like all powerful emotions it can be used destructively or for good.  For instance anger can be terribly destructive in relationships.  All we need do is look at the devastation caused to women and children through a man’s uncontrolled wrath and anger.  Anger can lead to emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse.

On the other hand anger can be channeled into productive pathways.  Anger can be used to motivate a man to achieve more than he might otherwise be able to accomplish.  It can be used as a mechanism to encourage perseverance under duress or in grueling circumstances.  Many a boy accomplished some difficult task all because they got angry when someone told them they couldn’t.  When teased many males use that anger to motivate themselves to “prove” their offenders wrong.  One method in coaching sports is to get young men angry in order to motivate them to perform beyond their self-imposed limitations.  In fact, many men propel themselves with anger and grit to succeed in life because a father-figure constantly told them they wouldn’t amount to anything.  Warriors often used anger towards their enemies as motivation to succeed in battle or even a school yard fight.

Anger produces a physiological arousal in males.  It creates a state of readiness and heightened awareness.  It creates energy that can be directed outward in the form of protection or even as a weapon.  Anger causes a fight or flight response designed to protect us.  It is frequently a powerful tool for boys and men to use to cover actual or perceived inadequacies.  Many young and even older males react with anger when they become overly frustrated or are hurt emotionally.

The surge of adrenaline and associated arousal can be addicting to some males.  Young males need to be taught how to deal with and control their anger.  In order to do that, they must learn to own their anger and identify the source of that anger.  Then they can learn to determine how to choose to respond to their anger.

Regardless of how it is used anger is the emotion most familiar to males.  Oftentimes anger in males is a secondary emotion used to cover underlying emotions such as fear, hurt, or frustration.   Anger is used by males to cover or mask other emotions.  For instance, certain emotions such as fear, anxiety, vulnerability, or distress often produce a feeling of humiliation in males.  Humiliation is considered a weakness by males.  Remember, for most males to show weakness is to be vulnerable and open to criticism.  To be vulnerable is an invitation to be attacked.  But anger is a defense against attack and may even be a weapon to attack others.  Very angry men and boys are seldom messed with, even by bullies.

Rather than feel humiliated by these “unmanly” emotions, many males instinctively and automatically use anger to cover those feelings.  Even pain (physical or psychological) can be covered by anger.  Notice how most males react when they hit their thumb with a hammer.  They’d get mad than cry.  Most men also get angry rather than depressed or hysterical when faced with an emotional crisis in a relationship.  Again, this is a protective mechanism for their fragile egos; egos that are often covering secretly ingrained feelings of inadequacy and incompetence.

Sometimes anger is even used consciously.  I was raised in an alcoholic and abusive home.  I can distinctly remember at about the age of 12 when I first discovered that if I just got angry I didn’t have to feel that humiliating emotion of being afraid.  In typical naive boyhood fashion I told myself, “This is great.  I’ll never be scared again for the rest of my life!”  However, this was foolish as I just spend a significant portion of my adult life being angry.  Angry because I was really afraid because I had never had a positive male role model show me how a man lives his life and faces his problems in a healthy manner.

Young men who are not taught (generally by positive male role models) how a man acts, what his roles in life are and how to fulfill them adequately and competently are very often angry.  They are angry at life and at the world.  They take this anger out on others, hoping to hurt them before they themselves are hurt; even if that hurt is just humiliation from their own ineptness.  When that happens men have a difficult time being the kind of loving, caring fathers and hubands that they want to be.

One solution?  Let’s provide boys (and men) with healthy male role models to teach them how a male processes his emotions.  We’ll explore that topic next week.


Excerpted from That’s My Teenage Son, by Rick Johnson, Revell Publishing.