The term “daddy issues” gets tossed around a lot, but most of the people doing the tossing are getting it all wrong. Learn the real meaning behind the term.
It’s become a catchall term to describe almost anything a woman does when it comes to sex and relationships.
If she has sex “too soon,” doesn’t want to have sex, or is looking for reassurance, she’s got “daddy issues.”
If she prefers older men, likes to get spanked and called a bad girl, or calls her partner “daddy” in bed, it must be “daddy issues.”
To set things straight and get you in the know about this almost always misused, misunderstood, and overly gendered concept, we reached out to Amy Rollo, triple licensed psychotherapist and owner of Heights Family Counseling in Houston, Texas.
It’s hard to say, seeing as how “daddy issues” isn’t an official medical term or recognized disorder in the recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
This could explain why many experts have an issue with the term, including Rollo.
“For the record, I don’t believe in the term ‘daddy issues,’” Rollo says. “Many see this phrase as a way to minimize females’ attachment needs.”
Children need a dependable adult in their lives to form secure attachments, Rollo explains.
“If this isn’t formed, many people can form avoidant or anxious attachment styles. If a child doesn’t have a father figure in their life consistently, this could lead to an insecure attachment style later in adulthood.”
She adds that, for many people, these attachment styles ultimately present as what some refer to as “daddy issues.”
We can’t say for sure, but the consensus seems to be that it dates back to Freud and his father complex.
Freud used the term “father complex” first in his 1910 paper “The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy,” where he wrote about male patients and their resistance to treatment derived from the “father complex.” The term “complex” is Jungian, so Freud and Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, coined the term “father complex” together.
From that theory came the Oedipus complex. The terms “Oedipus complex” and “father complex” were the same, but Freud used “Oedipus complex” more frequently in his work.
Oedipus complex refers specifically to boys with unconscious sexual urges toward their mother, often resulting in feelings of guilt or castration anxiety. According to Freud, this is a natural developmental phase all boys go through.
Electra complex, a concept introduced by Jung, is used to describe the same theory as applied to girls and their fathers.
Yep! No two people’s experience with their parents is exactly the same. The attachment patterns formed during childhood can affect your attachment styles in your adult relationships.
Attachment styles are categorized as being either secure or insecure, with several subtypes of insecure attachment styles, including:
- Anxious-preoccupied: People with this attachment type may be anxious, and crave closeness, but feel insecure about their partner leaving them.
- Dismissive-avoidant: People with this type may have trouble trusting others for fear of being hurt.
- Fearful-avoidant: People with this type may feel unsure about intimacy and tend to run away from experiencing difficult feelings.
Secure attachment styles result from having a caregiver who was responsive to your needs and emotionally available.
Insecure attachment styles, on the other hand, result from having a caregiver who was unresponsive to your needs and emotionally unavailable.
Secure attachment styles typically develop if your caregiver readily met your childhood needs.
As you can probably guess, people who have a loving and secure relationship with their caregivers are likely to grow into confident and self-assured adults.
These folks likely have their life together in various aspects, including their close relationships. Their relationships tend to be long lasting and built on real trust and intimacy.
Then there are the insecure attachment styles.
As Rollo pointed out, some insecure attachment styles could look like “daddy issues.”
She explains that they often appear as:
- being anxious when you aren’t with your partner
- needing lots of reassurance that the relationship is OK
- seeing any negativity as a sign that the relationship is doomed
It isn’t just about romantic relationships, either. Your relationship with your caregivers and your attachment style also affect other close relationships, including your friendships. This can be described as an attachment disorder.
Everyone. “Daddy issues” aren’t just a female thing.
It doesn’t matter what sex and gender you were assigned at birth or how you identify; your relationship with your caregivers will always have some influence on the way you approach and deal with your adult relationships.
The way a person’s issues present might not look exactly the same, and so-called “daddy issues” could actually be mommy, grandma, or grandad issues.
Or something else entirely! No one is immune.
Who knows? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher given that Freud’s theories first focused on the relationship between father and son.
What we do know is that making females the “poster gender” for “daddy issues” is inaccurate and potentially harmful, according to Rollo.
“When we talk about ‘daddy issues,’ it’s typically a way to dehumanize a woman’s needs or desires. Some people even use the term to slut-shame,” she says.
For example, if a woman desires sexual intimacy with men, it must be because she has “daddy issues.” In other words, something must be wrong with her for her to desire sex.
“‘Daddy issues’ could also mean that a woman desires a strong attachment with a man,” Rollo says, adding that in these cases, “using the term is minimizing a woman’s basic needs in a relationship.”
Again, Rollo emphasizes that anyone can have attachment wounds from not having strong relationships with their parents — even if the term is usually reserved for females.
It’s believed that people will gravitate toward the type of relationships they’ve had in the past, even if it was a troubled one.
If your relationship with your caregiver was traumatic or disappointing, you might be more likely to choose a partner who will disappoint you the same way.
For some, it’s because that was their “norm” growing up, so this is the type of relationship they think they should have.
For others, having a partner similar to the parent is an unconscious hope of getting that parent’s love.
If you haven’t dealt with these issues, they can still affect your relationship with a great partner.
Insecure attachment styles can lead to behavior that pushes your partner away and creates the disappointing relationship you’re expecting based on your previous experiences.
A poor relationship with a caregiver can definitely affect your sexual behavior, but evidence on if and how it affects a person’s sexual identity is mixed.
Not to push the gendered stereotype, but a lot of the research available on how a poor relationship with a father affects a child’s well-being and development is focused on females, mainly cisgender and heterosexual.
Several of those studies have linked less involved or absentee fathers to everything from earlier puberty to increased sexual activity.
That doesn’t mean it’s only females whose issues can equate to baggage in the bedroom, though.
Males who didn’t get a chance to identify with their fathers might be insecure about their masculinity.
This type of insecurity — that’s further fueled by pressure based on gender norms — might make someone shy away from dating and sex, or lead to compensating by engaging in overly macho or aggressive behavior.
According to the
Of course, not everyone with a troublesome relationship with their dad will become a sexual predator. And “daddy issues” also aren’t at the heart of every person’s choices when it comes to sex.
Everyone should be allowed to create the sex life they desire, Rollo says. She adds that your sex life shouldn’t be pathologized as long as it’s within your value system and not harmful to your life.
Think that wanting to call a partner “daddy” in bed or preferring sexually dominant partners translates to “daddy issues”? Wrong!
The role of a father is traditionally seen as a role of authority. And for some, authority is like catnip.
Rollo wants people to understand that healthy sex can look like a lot of things. Role-playing, for example, is more common than many may realize.
Wanting to slip into a naughty nurse costume and *take care* of your partner is just as valid as exploring a daddy dom/little girl (DDLG) dynamic, regardless of your motivation for doing so.
If you keep ending up in relationships that are like déjà vu of the painful aspects of your childhood, then it may be time to make a change.
Think about your current or past relationships: Can you spot a pattern in the type of partners you choose? Are your relationships usually plagued by insecurity, anxiety, or drama?
Reflecting on your experiences and learning about the different attachment styles can help you figure out yours, so you know if a change is in order.
Taking some cues from different — healthier — relationships and family dynamics around you may help you see how things can be. Try to take what you learn and apply it in your own relationships.
You may also consider taking with a counselor or therapist. They can help you work through unresolved issues and help you identify and change your attachment patterns.
If you’re underinsured (meaning your insurance won’t cover what you need) or unable to pay out of pocket for mental health care, low-fee or free community mental health clinics can provide the care you need.
You can use the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator to find a qualified psychologist in your area.
We all have our own version of “daddy issues,” whether they stem from a poor relationship with a caregiver, a parent who was absent by death or divorce, or having parents who fought a lot.
But remember: You aren’t destined to a life of heartache and poor choices just because you didn’t get the security you deserved or were given a less than stellar example to lead from.