What Does It Actually Mean To Have Daddy Issues?

Have you heard of the term "daddy issues"? Are you often described as someone with "daddy issues"? While this phrase has no psychological or medical standing, it carries much weight in our social circles and society. Many people throw this term around as a joke towards women who have a romantic relationship with an older man or have an active or troubled love life. It's insinuated that these women chose these lifestyles because they lack a father figure or maybe even have a poor relationship with their father, but there's more to this phrase than meets the eye.


Now is the time to have an open discussion about the phrase "daddy issues." In reality, this phrase can cause a lot of harm. While many identify or use this term to refer to others, no medical diagnosis for this phrase correlates with other recognized mental issues in the DSM-5, like depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety. Not to mention that when misused, it can diminish valuable relationships and ignore the healing process for others who are struggling. So to better understand this phrase, let's take a deep dive to uncover its origin, causes, and impact and discover what it actually means to have daddy issues.

Signs of daddy issues

There are several signs or behaviors associated with the term daddy issues that influence the way it is often used, father-daughter relationships expert Linda Nielsen, Ed.D. tells Psychology Today. As stated before, it is used when women date older men, but there's more to it than that. Truthfully, daddy issues can look like several things considering there is no specific list of symptoms. Daddy issues can also look like trust issues, a lack of -self-confidence, an intense fear of abandonment, or maintaining emotional distance from your partner at all times. You could also see a significant focus on the partner's mental state and well-being over their own happiness.


Several of these behaviors are developed and adapted over time, but any person can exhibit these behaviors, meaning all of these actions are not exclusive to women. It simply marks the signs of a dysfunctional or complicated relationship. Several of these signs overlap with common relationship problems. But the theory of daddy issues suggests that these women dealt with an absent father or maybe even an abusive father. While the phrase "daddy issues" itself is shaky, the origin of this phrase holds plenty of value and could help those struggling in their romantic relationships.

The cause of daddy issues, in a nutshell, is trauma

We now know that daddy issues usually signal that a woman has or had a poor relationship with her father or any father figures during her early childhood. Additionally, this phrase is often used as a jab, but when you look at it on a basic level, daddy issues equate to early childhood trauma or attachment issues. Your father is the first male encounter you come across as a child. With this in mind, it is a no-brainer that having a dysfunctional relationship with your father can translate into your romantic relationship as an adult.


According to Talkspace, are a few examples of father figures that are more likely to produce daddy issues with their children. One example is a father that overindulges his daughter. While this scenario seems like a trope, behind the scenes, this situation could illustrate a father that spoils his daughter with gifts but not providing his attention or time to their needs, which can still help develop an insecure attachment style. There's also something to be said about fathers that showcase abusive behavior or fathers that depend on their daughters. Both of these scenarios display a father that provides little to no security for their daughters during their formative years, which is critical to their emotional and mental development and, in turn, creates the unhealthy relationship we see as daddy issues.


Can a father's absence play a role?

Now that we have touched on the type of fathers that cause daddy issues, what about the fathers that are entirely absent from their child's life? The absence of a father can be detrimental, increase the chances of certain life hardships for the remaining parent, and negatively impact the early stages of a child's life. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, children are more likely to grow up in poverty, face abuse, and neglect, or have difficulties in school due to a father's absence. But it may be worth mentioning that we also see these same risks in ANY one-parent household.


Aurora University reports several statistics that solidify that one-parent households come with similar risks. For instance, the data found that 42% of children in households with a single parent were low-income, while only 13% of children in households with two parents faced the same economic hardship. It is also fair to mention that the pay gap between men and women definitely contributes to this issue. Legal Momentum reports that the median income for single mothers is $25,493, while for single fathers, the median income is $36,471. Less income means less food and housing security. While these statistics make seem irrelevant or minuscule, it gives a clear view of our early childhood hardships that can affect us in our adult life and adult relationship, which can yield daddy issues and add to how women perceive men in their love lives.


Parents work as role models

So, why do our parents and childhood affect our lives so heavily? In short, our parents raise us and show us what it means to be human. Our parents are not just our caregivers; they are role models, and we pay attention to their behaviors for years and years on end. It eventually shapes the way we behave in external settings, like school, among friends, and around other family members. In addition, if your parents had or have an unhealthy relationship, it also increases the likelihood of you getting into one in the future.


If you view your father or mother behaving in catastrophic ways, when you grow up, you will either gravitate towards that same behavior in others, stay far away from it, or maybe even become it yourself. Certain negative behaviors will become acceptable and affect how you navigate your romantic relationships. Behaviors that are seen as toxic or abusive were probably a normal part of your environment and perceived as standard to you. The age-old phrase "do as I say, not as I do" definitely has no bearing in real life, and we can see that in the way daddy issues and attachment issues manifest in our adult lives.

Daddy issues are closely related to insecure attachment styles

As expressed before, daddy issues, at their core, are attachment issues, per therapist Kati Morton. Attachment theory links every adult relationship to how our caregivers treated us and how we viewed them treating others. There are four recognized attachment styles commonly known as secure, disorganized, anxious, and avoidant, which can all look like daddy issues. If you were supported by your caregivers at all times, then you are more likely to develop a secure attachment style, which means you are less likely to fall into a dysfunctional relationship in your adult life. It is important to note that other relationships and the environment we grow up in also has an effect, but the one with our caregiver(s) tends to hold a stronger weight since we are around them most of the time.


In contrast, an inconsistent caregiver results in any of the other three attachment styles. Why? It makes it harder for us to recognize a healthy relationship, know how to treat other people, feel secure by ourselves, or feel secure and trust others.

What happens in each attachment style?

Secure is the healthy attachment style out of the bunch, while the others are the total opposite. Disorganized is also called fearful-avoidant, which paints a pretty clear picture of what this attachment style can look like. So, disorganized or fearful-avoidant attachment can look like when craving and developing your relationships to be a winding rollercoaster; think of a constant make-up and break-up scenario. Anxious attachment, also known as anxious-preoccupied or ambivalent, involves the person being stressed and concerned about their relationship 24/7, while avoidant is sidestepping intimate and strong emotions connected with the relationship altogether.


Understanding and knowing your attachment style is a great asset to add to your toolbox whether you have "daddy issues" or not (via HelpGuide.org). Why? Because knowledge is power, and being aware of your attachment style makes healing and thriving in your personal and romantic life much simpler and less of a headache. Curious about why you have trust issues? Hopefully, you have found your answer with the knowledge of your attachment style to guide you. It is also important to mention that attachment issues can stem from either caregiver, meaning your father, mother, or both can influence these greatly. Although mommy issues is a lesser-used term, it does exist and, like daddy issues, illustrates our attachment styles in action.


The roots of daddy issues: the father complex

Believe it or not, but before there were "daddy issues," there was the father complex (via Perspectives Counseling). Like most things in history, a shift occurred. The father complex, stated to both genders, was suddenly rebranded as "daddy issues" and then nearly exclusively used to describe women with complicated relationships with an older man, though some gay men have also seen the term hurled at them. There is little research or evidence as to why this shift occurred. Still, it could possibly be its very close connection to the Oedipus complex theorized by renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud. The main theory of this complex states that children envy their parent of the same sex and have the desire to be with the other. Due to its lack of credibility, the term is less accepted nowadays.


Regardless, we still see its effects on society and how the phrases in used amongst everyday people. This is interesting, to say the least, considering that psychology supports today's father complex over daddy issues, which sounds more sensational and pointed. While daddy issues are objectively real, they could be labeled as several other things, not to mention that they may miss the mark and cause a warped view of relational trauma among women. In truth, a father-and-child relationship happens across gender, so the same goes for daddy issues and attachment issues. 

Daddy issues in media and pop culture

We have to take a deep and hard look at our culture and how it stigmatizes people with "daddy issues." One notable and infamous character associated with daddy issues is Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney, in HBO's "Euphoria." Cassie is a pivotal character that portrays innocence and anxious attachment issues rolled up in the typical trope of the "damaged" hot girl. Her parents' divorce is marked by substance abuse, and her value in the family is focused on her appearance only. In short, Cassie is conditioned only to see herself one way. We can see this in her tedious and laborious morning routine to keep Nate's attention.


There are plenty of discussions surrounding "Euphoria" and its possible glamorization of real-life situations. No matter where you sit on this debate, this is a great conversation to have. Of course, "Euphoria" is a highly-dramatized show, but it scares people because it has a hint of realism. The stories are familiar to us. Cassie is clearly written and placed as the poster child for daddy issues, but most importantly, we might know or have been a Cassie at one point. We see her hurt and feel her pain, so why not transfer some of that empathy to the real Cassies out there? 

Identify if it is really a problem

If you don't identify with "daddy issues" or attachment issues, then you are most likely fine! We see a lot of people unfortunately throwing around the term daddy issues around to categorize women or dismiss their mental traumas. So, if you don't see a problem with your own life, then there probably isn't any. Ignore your nay-sayers, keep being yourself, and love whoever you please. Dating an older man is not a hallmark sign of an abusive father, his absence, or any sort of daddy issues, for that matter.


As expressed before, the phrase "daddy issues" is often used as a slight against women who society deems unconventional or participating in relationships that they see as odd or inappropriate in their opinion. While a poor relationship with your father can lead to you stepping into a toxic relationship, pointing to daddy issues is not a definite solution. Hopefully, now with your understanding of its origin and the dispelling of a few misconceptions, you can have the confidence and fortitude to walk into your relationships with full clarity. But if you find this is not the case, do not fret. There is a path toward coping and healing.

How daddy issues impact your relationship (especially with yourself)

It is fully accepted that daddy issues can wreak havoc on your romantic relationships throughout your adult life. Still, the most overlooked relationship that it also influenced is the one with yourself. For sure, it is important to recognize how it can impact your external relationships, but many would agree that your relationship with yourself is the most important. Someone struggling with daddy issues may feel like they are walking on eggshells out of fear of losing their relationship or possibly resisting the urge to be vulnerable and let their guard down with their partner.


You can release the constant anxiety and attempts to measure by learning how to self-soothe. It takes time, but like most mental and emotional health journeys, it starts with the self — and it is most definitely worth it. And this is what we should all learn as we grow, both in age and perspective: working on ourselves in time well spent.

Healing #1: Get back to you

We need to tackle how someone with daddy issues can take the first steps toward healing and growth. One of the first steps to healing is tapping into yourself and being conscious of your thoughts about men. Get back to loving yourself and prioritizing your needs. This practice is especially beneficial if you also connect with an anxious attachment style. You can start with classic self-care daily to build that self-love muscle. This could look like noting bad thought patterns, reigning in on your negative self-talk, staying present in your life, focusing on what brings you joy, or taking up the habit of journaling. Additinally, you can confide in a trusted loved one to provide support while you unlearn many habits and switch to a more ideal and comfortable life for yourself.


Ultimately, your journey towards a more fulfilled and happier life starts with you, which means you can choose however you want to heal. Just stick to what feels good to you, feeds your soul, and nurtures yourself mentally.

Healing #2: Consider seeking out the right kind of professional help

Sometimes, the final or necessary step towards healing requires obtaining the help of a professional, especially if you are struggling with daddy issues or your attachment style. Once you have had time to feel all of your feelings fully, consider seeking out a mental health professional or life coaching to advance your healing. Preferably look for professionals who specialize in attachment styles or early childhood trauma. One of the biggest hurdles when finding a therapist is not knowing where to start, but finding one that specializes in your mental health needs almost guarantees that they can help you get on the right track.


Do not hesitate to ask your prospects about their experience in these areas either. Discuss timelines openly, what changes you would like to make within yourself, and see if you both connect. Feel free to test things out and find your perfect therapist within your budget with the right personality to vibe and open up to. If these are your next steps, hats off to you for taking the first step into your healing journey! It is definitely not easy, but totally worth it.