“Do I Have Daddy Issues?” Ask a Therapist

Published on: 28 Mar 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
woman holding onto male partner's arm

Daddy issues have long been the topic of conversation regarding blanket explanations for relationship troubles, self-esteem and self-worth problems, trust issues, and more. The reality is the relationship you have with your father, the man whose actions you watch (or miss) through your formative years, will likely have a significant impact on your adult life. 

Though the term “daddy issues” itself doesn’t have a clearly defined history, it is thought to have come from Freud’s concept of the “Father Complex” (more on that in a bit). Loosely related to Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex — which states a young boy may be attracted to his mother and feel competitive with his father — daddy issues can affect people of any gender.

People with daddy issues have at least one thing in common: their relationships with their fathers did not offer the love and support they needed to thrive. Keep reading to answer the question: what are daddy issues and to learn more about the psychology behind the concept. We’ll also look at signs that you may have daddy issues to deal with. Finally, we’ll offer you tips and ways to cope with any daddy issues you may be experiencing.

What Are Daddy Issues?

Daddy issues are adult challenges that can result from one of two likely past experiences — either growing up with an absent father or having an abnormal or poor relationship with a father who was physically present. The resulting psychological challenges can manifest in several ways. Commonly, there’s an inability to trust other men in your adult life and/or a simultaneous strong sexual desire for them (this can also indicate the person having an abusive relationship with the father).

“Daddy issues” is generally a catchall phrase, often used disparagingly to refer to women who have complex, confusing, or dysfunctional relationships with men. It can describe people (most often women) who project subconscious impulses toward the male partners in their life. The impulses can be negative or positive, and they’re caused by an insufficient paternal relationship.

A negative impulse towards a significant other could be shown through distrust or fear. A positive impulse, on the other hand, could be expressed through admiration.

The psychology behind daddy issues

Many people grow up in homes with fathers who are either physically or psychologically absent. As a result, people with daddy issues can have difficulty establishing mature relationships with males in adulthood. Though the term is generally used in relation to women, the fact is, anyone who grew up with a dysfunctional father, father figure, or other male caretaker can develop daddy issues.

“The term “daddy issues” is often a way to describe women’s attachment issues in a relationship. This usually comes from insecure attachment with a father or father figure(s) at a young age.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

How ‘daddy issues’ evolved from the ‘Father Complex’

“Father Complex” was a clinical term originally used to refer to men who had distrusting relationships with their fathers. As this complex was explored further, psychologists discovered it has relevance to both genders, not just males. Since then, society has colloquialized the term into “daddy issues.” 

“‘Daddy issues” is not a clinical term but has become part of popular culture to describe women who date older, unsuitable men as a result of dysfunctional relationships with their father.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Though the phrase daddy issues is now mostly used to refer almost exclusively to women, modern mental health professionals still use the term “Father Complex,” which still refers to all genders equally for clinical purposes. Having daddy issues is not a major mental health condition, however. 

What Causes Daddy Issues?

Daddy issues in adults are caused by an ongoing need for understanding, love, support, and approval that wasn’t received in childhood. These needs can transfer into bad relationship decisions during adulthood.

Attachment styles

It’s not uncommon for daddy issues to result in 1 of 3 types of insecure attachment issues. Additionally, some studies indicate that certain attachment styles — like those seen in people with daddy issues — even increase the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder later in life. 

Fearful avoidant  

Some people with daddy issues avoid getting close to anybody. When challenges arise in a relationship, they tend to run away. They also worry about and have difficulty with intimacy.

Anxious preoccupied  

Anxious preoccupied daddy issues cause some people to feel unsettled when they’re not with their partners. It’s common for them to be very clingy and worried about being left.

Dismissive avoidant  

People with daddy issues who avoid conversations or who are dismissive are likely trying to navigate serious trust issues. They’re afraid to depend on anybody else because they don’t want to be hurt again.

Types of fathers

There are several different types of fathers and father figures that can cause the type of trauma that results in relationship difficulties during adulthood. Let’s take a closer look at six different types of fathers who are likely to cause children to develop daddy issues.

Fathers who overindulge children

These fathers spoil their children by giving them rewards they haven’t earned. They give a lot of attention and love, which seems like it would be a positive thing. However, this creates unrealistic expectations of what the child, as an adult, should expect from relationships. 

A daughter with this type of father may end up having unhealthy ideas about her future partner. She also may seek out someone who she believes will be capable of providing the lavish lifestyle that she’s used to.

Fathers who are emotionally unavailable

These fathers may be physically present in the home, but they do not offer the emotional connections their daughters need. A daughter may feel abandoned and incomplete, even though her father was there during her childhood.

Fathers who are violent or abusive

The abusive father may mistreat their daughters or others in the family by being impulsive, angry, or unable to control his emotions. Children who grow up with abusive fathers often end up living with mental health conditions in the future.

Fathers who are controlling and toxic

The controlling father wants to be overly involved in every area of his daughter’s life, always trying to shield her from being disappointed. Growing up with this type of father might result in seeking out dominating partners and, maybe even subconsciously, expecting to be micromanaged.

Fathers who are always distressed and filled with anguish

In a normal father/daughter relationship, the daughter looks up to her father and admires him. If a daughter grows up around a father who’s always negative and defeated, her faith in him may dwindle. As a grown woman, she may be rebellious and possibly depressed. 

Fathers who are physically dependent upon their children

If a child must provide basic daily needs for her father’s survival, it can lead to low self-esteem as an adult. A daughter who grows up having to care for her father because he’s unable to care for himself might be easy to manipulate or exploit for financial or sexual purposes.

6 Signs of Daddy Issues

Let’s examine some of the possible daddy issues signs that might indicate you’re dealing with issues from your past relationship with your father. While these signs are meant for general indication purposes only, if any of the following scenarios describe you, you may have attachment issues that need to be addressed.

You’re possessive and clingy

Legitimate daddy issues can result in feeling overly anxious when a partner must go somewhere. If you’re constantly worried about being alone, making you act clingy or possessive, you may have an anxious attachment style. This can make you irritable, suspicious, and constantly worried about the integrity of your relationship. Possessiveness and clinginess can also indicate needing constant reassurance.

You demand an overabundance of love and assurance

When people grow up not having their needs met in terms of the love and reassurance they received, it can put excessive pressure on adult relationships. You might be seeking a partner who can deliver on what you missed. You may compare yourself with other women who’ve been in your partner’s past life. You might suffocate your partner, feel unloved, or even believe that you’ve been abandoned when you haven’t.

You want sex all the time

Some women who grew up with dysfunctional father-daughter relationships feel that sex can offer them the love they didn’t receive as children. You may believe that regular (or perhaps excessive) sexual intercourse will make your partner love you more. You also might try using sex to build your self-esteem or to feel accomplished and good about yourself.

You’re only interested in dating older men

This is the classic trait most associated with the concept of “daddy issues.” If you grew up in a home with a dysfunctional or absent father, you might hold a subconscious desire to be with someone who can protect and provide for you, like your father should have. You may believe that an older man can give you the affection and/or financial stability that you missed as a child.

You’re afraid of being alone

People who jump from one romantic relationship to the next without any real connection are often afraid to be alone. You may be so apprehensive about loneliness that you’re willing to settle for any relationship, even if it’s one that’s abusive or unhealthy. Your relationships may be tumultuous and end in a toxic manner, and you might find that you’re constantly and anxiously searching for the next one.

You repetitively choose to be with abusive men

Some women with daddy issues find themselves in relationship after relationship with abusive partners. This could result from having a subconscious desire to mend a broken relationship with your dysfunctional or absent father. You may only be attracted to abusive or self-absorbed men because they represent your father, who you want to please so badly.

How to Resolve Daddy Issues

The most effective way to overcome a father complex, or “daddy issues,” is to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist can first help you to spot and understand your dysfunctional behaviors and emotions. Then they can teach you personalized coping skills to build healthy relationships. 

Talkspace offers a new kind of therapy, with online sessions that are designed with your needs and schedule in mind. Therapy is an evolving process where you can address a range of topics that might stem from your daddy issues. It might be time to get professional help if you feel that your relationship with your father caused you problems, including: 

Therapy can help you find closure on some of the negative experiences from your past that have altered your current ability to form healthy, positive relationships.

If your relationship is suffering because of your daddy issues (or even mommy issues), and your partner is willing, you might even consider couples therapy. This modality can be very effective for restoring integrity in a relationship, possibly even saving it.

Whether you’re single or in a relationship, it’s always vital to love yourself first. Without self-love, over time, you’ll have less and less to offer a romantic partner. Spending time and resources on yourself can help you learn how to overcome your intense need for the love and support you didn’t get from your father as a child.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, do I have daddy issues, it might be time to get help…and we promise, help is out there for you. And if you can’t meet with a therapist in person, we also recommend online therapy

Sources:

1. Serra W, Chatard A, Tello N, Harika-Germaneau G, Noël X, Jaafari N. Mummy, daddy, and addiction: Implicit insecure attachment is associated with substance use in college students. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2019;27(6):522-529. doi:10.1037/pha0000266. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30855152/. Accessed March 5, 2022.

2. Brumberg H, Shah S. Got daddy issues? Fathers impact on perinatal outcomes. Semin Perinatol. 2020;44(4):151238. doi:10.1016/j.semperi.2020.151238. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32273130/. Accessed March 5, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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