What are “daddy issues”?

Man back view, touching his shadow on the wall, photo in black and white

Although most people have heard the term “daddy issues”, there is no specific definition of it.

It is not a proper psychological term or disorder that’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to diagnose mental health conditions.

“Daddy issues” is most often used in terms of how someone’s relationship with their father in childhood affects their adult “romantic” relationships.

Most frequently it is directed towards a woman who prefers to date older men or who is in a long-term relationship with an older man – one who’s old enough to be her father.

It is sometimes used in a derogatory manner about some women. In fact, both men and women can have daddy issues.

In the same way, although not spoken about anywhere near as much, there will be “mommy issues”. But we’ll refer to daddy issues throughout this article as it’s by far the most used term of these.

Father complex

Any adult who has unresolved psychological trauma from their relationship with their father can have daddy issues.

Also sometimes referred to as a “father complex”, its intrinsic nature is that people are looking for validation from the men in their lives.

This is due to basic needs in childhood not being met. Every child needs to feel loved and protected by their parents or key caregivers.

If a child is physically or sexually abused by a parent it understandably has devastating consequences. Also, if for some reason, someone’s father is absent it can leave that person feeling unloved and unlovable.

Absence makes the heart break

These sorts of absences include a father who’s abandoned their child, has died, is struggling with alcoholism or another addiction, and/or suffers from a mental illness.

Or it could be one who’s away for some reason such as always working (perhaps a workaholic), in prison or posted abroad in the armed services.

For a child growing up with an absent father, it can leave them as an adult craving the love and protection that is so painfully missing. They are trying to fill an aching gap that always seems to be there.

Perhaps this is even more pronounced in women due to the nature of a healthy father and daughter relationship.

A small girl with a healthy relationship with her father will see his physical strength and self-assuredness – and that will transmit to help her develop self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love.

It’s the same for a small boy of course. But perhaps the physical differences between males and females make it more defined in the father-daughter relationship.

How did the “daddy issues” concept form?

Its origins are mostly likely to have been founded in the theories of psychotherapist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).

He spoke of the father complex – about a person who has subconscious impulses because of an unhealthy relationship with their father.

These can be positive when they admire and seek out father figures; or negative when they are fearful or distrusting of father figures.

It’s connected with Freud’s Oedipus and Electra complexes. These describe a young boy’s (Oedipus) or girl’s (Electra) attraction to the opposite-sex parent, and the want to deny and be in competition with the same-sex parent.

Relationship styles

If someone had an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship with one parent, in adulthood they are often attracted to someone similar. Subconsciously they hope to gain the love and approval they didn’t get from that parent.

There might be a feeling – again, a subconscious one – that they can deal with any unresolved issues they had with their parent through the person they are with who is similar.

This most frequently is not what happens though because they have never been given or shown adequate emotional abilities or coping tools. So history repeats itself.

For instance, it’s very common for the child of an alcoholic parent to vow never to drink like their parent. But they end up in a significant relationship with an alcoholic.

Our relationship attachment styles are formed as we grow up. People go to the familiar, even if it is extremely uncomfortable.

Psychologist John Bowlby (1907-1990) is considered to have started what is now the accepted attachment theory. He believed that someone’s childhood attachment style with their parents deeply impacted their adult attachment style.

As an example, someone who felt safe and protected in childhood will continue to have a secure attachment style as an adult. But if someone did not feel safe or protected as a child they will develop an insecure attachment style as an adult.

Thankfully, through talking therapy, a great many people have found a solution for these sorts of issues.

Our friendly experienced team has helped people with all types of mental health problems for decades now.
Call us today for a friendly confidential chat about how we could help you or someone you know.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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