“That’s so heavy,” a friend writes in the Zoom chat after I disclose my plan to write about daddy issues.
“The way you need to send that to us when you’re done.” The idea of daddy issues, of being “scarred” by failed father figures never fails to evoke reactions.
Daddy issues are liberally sprinkled around to describe women that date older men, are sexually open, or have trust issues. The question…
How did daddy issues become an insult to women when it’s men who’ve failed as fathers?
While most of Freud’s ideas are debunked, our understanding of daddy issues is linked to his idea of the father complex.
According to the Austrian psychotherapist, the Father Complex, or Oedipus complex, is a male’s unconscious competition with his father for his mother’s affection and love. Freud believed that this wasn’t just parental affection but an unconscious sexual attraction to the mother.
Note that in Freud’s understanding the father complex only happens in men and is ultimately positive; because of the anxiety boys feel when competing with their dads, they adapt traits from their fathers as defense mechanism which eventually allow them to grow into strong individuals.
It was Carl Jung, a swiss psychiatrist and friend of Freud, who saw father complexes in both boys and girls. Jung conned the lesser known “Electra complex” for women with “daddy issues.”
In Jung’s understanding, the father complex is not always positive. When daddy issues aren’t resolved they leave women either hyper-sexual or hyper-submissive, all in a desire to receive validation from stand-in father figures in their adult lives.
“Daddy issues are a carryover effect from difficult childhoods into adulthood whereby familiar behaviors are replicated in romantic relationships,” John Moore Ph.D. writes on psychcentral.com.
He also believes that daddy issues are related to an unhealthy, distant, or absent relationship with the father. (Yes, men can have daddy issues as well, but the term very rarely is used to dismiss their romantic feelings or needs.)
Hoi papa… Let’s reduce the complexity
Saying a woman has “daddy issues” is similar to men calling women “crazy” and general gaslighting; an insult used to silence and derail conversations from the topic at hand.
It’s a way to dismiss feelings, trauma, and struggles. It’s a catch-all term to avoid conversations about attention, affection, and consistency; all normal things to want in a relationship. It’s often an insult used when emotionally unavailable men can’t live up to the expectations set for them by their partners.
Gabriela*, who has a strained relationship with her father, hates the term daddy issues for those exact reason:
“I think to reduce the complexity [of the issues] to just “daddy issues” is kind of fucked because these are real emotional things that people deal with and are not addressed appropriately.”
Speaking from personal experience, I wouldn’t say I have daddy issues for similar reasons as Gabriela. My father (if you’re reading this: hoi papa!) wasn’t absent but he also has never been the most emotionally available parental figure.
My emotional development largely dependent on my mother and I do believe that not having a strong father daughter relationship with my dad has influenced my adult romantic life.
“There could be daddy issues where you’re really turned on by a daddy type,” Stephen Snyder, MD told Vice.
“That could be from a relationship with your dad when there’s not enough love, and you’re always craving more.”
I personally struggle to set boundaries with male partners, crave validation from them, and, as my therapist has often gently condemned me for, have been known to describe myself as clingy.
Would I blame all of my adult struggles on my father?
Definitely not. But the problem with daddy issues is that using it as an insult shifts the blame from the men actually responsible. It victim-blames women while letting men with shitty parenting skills off the hook.
“Daddy issues” also fails to hold future, adult-life partners responsible for mistreating their partners. They can dismiss any issues that arise in the relationship under the umbrella insult of the woman having “daddy issues”.
This is especially important considering how childhood affects our future choice in partners.
“The father-daughter relationship almost models the kind of relationship one might have in later life – not just in your 20s, but in your 30s as well,’ Dr. Ohemaa Nkansa-Dwamen, a counseling psychologist, told Grazia.
Barbara Greenberg Ph.D. had a similar thought in an interview with VICE: “People who haven’t worked out their issues will (…) chose a spouse similar to a parent, in hopes that getting that person’s love is a form of getting Daddy’s love.”
Gabriela* doesn’t believe she personally has daddy issues but has noticed patterns in her past relationship. “My very first relationship was, now looking back at it, emotionally abusive. I’m pretty sure that even though I was so unhappy, I felt comfortable in it because it was familiar because my dad is someone who emotionally abused me,” she said.
“I am used to, in intimate relationships with men, being used and being a caretaker figure and I ended up having really parallel issues with my boyfriend that I had with my father.”
Why it’s time to hold men accountable…
Acknowledging the negative influence of distant fathers, how can we shift the blame from women and start demanding more and better from our male-identifying caregivers? When daddy issues are so prevalent that they’ve become a cultural joke, isn’t it time for us as a society to reevaluate our expectations of fathers?
We can begin by teaching men emotional vulnerability. It’s crucial for boys to learn that emotions don’t make them weak or “effeminate” or “less of a man”.
Considering that daddy issues so often stem from emotionally sterile, detached father-daughter relationships, teaching boys’ feelings can go a long way.
Allow boys to experience their emotional range so they can grow up to be men that can adequately support and meet the emotional needs of their children and others close to them.
For folks with distant father figures, therapy can help. Gabriela speaks from personal experience: “Whatever problems I’ve had with my father I’ve very much have [sic] solved. They’re never going to be fully solved but I’ve been to therapy; they’re not these unresolved things.”
Now to what might be the elephant in the room: does calling your partner “daddy” in bed mean you have daddy issues? Most psychologists agree that roleplay does not equate to you having daddy issues. As Snyder said in the same VICE interview: “Fathers are traditionally authority figures, and authority is sexy.”
*Name changed at source’s request