Is There Real Psychology Behind Daddy Issues?

a person sitting with an older partner

Verywell / Laura Porter

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Having “daddy issues” isn’t a recognized psychological condition when it comes to mental disorders. It is a common expression people use in everyday conversation to talk about an attachment issue someone has to a father-type figure.

During childhood, people may have experienced distant or unhealthy relationships with their fathers. Or conversely, they might have had an extremely close, perhaps even disproportionately close, relationship with their fathers.

Underlying Reasons

The following are some possible factors that may play a role in those with daddy issues.

Unhealthy Close Bonds

Sometimes daughters will proclaim they’re a “daddy’s girl” almost proudly. This could indicate that their father favored them or took especially good care of them, perhaps even spoiled them.

Maybe they resembled their fathers the most compared to other siblings and were rewarded for it. Or perhaps they were the most physically attractive, and their fathers treated them more like a date or romantic partner. This could have led to mental, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Young children are vulnerable and trust parents to set appropriate boundaries. Sadly, adults sometimes cross those lines. A parent, stepparent, uncle, or neighborhood authority figure may take advantage of vulnerable children.

Sexual abuse of minors creates complicated feelings in children. They want to love their father or uncle for taking them out, playing games with them, and caring for them but are in pain because of the abuse. Children who are abused often blame themselves for what took place. Childhood trauma, neglect, and sexual abuse can cause shame.

Absentee Dads

As opposed to having an overly involved father, sometimes those with daddy issues have grown up with a father who was never around. Perhaps they always worked, left the family, or couldn’t be counted on due to a drug or alcohol problem.

Dads who are physically distant may also be emotionally distant. An emotionally unavailable father also leaves substantial wounds. To fill that void, you or your friend might constantly need attention and validation from older men to fill that father’s role. They might seek their approval, advice, or company to make up for the lack of physical and emotional closeness they craved as a child.

If you are a victim of child abuse or know someone who might be, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Dad’s Involvement: Quantity or Quality?

The importance of fathers being involved in their families is clear. Past studies in the mainstream population have found fewer behavioral problems in children who spent a higher quantity of time with Dad. But an increased amount of Dad time and involvement in at-risk families doesn’t contribute to a healthy dynamic.

It can increase negative behavior problems, especially if the father is physically abusive. Recent scientific evidence shows that this daddy issue can traumatize adolescents and lead to anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. An adolescent may mimic a father’s aggressive and violent behavior after spending more time together.

Therefore, spending lots of time with a father isn’t always ideal. Having a higher level of quality time with a healthy dad is imperative. The effects of a father’s involvement on his children’s development can negatively impact at-risk families when considering various risk factors.

Problems Associated With Daddy Issues

Adults who had a troubled relationship with their parents growing up may have difficulty attaching to others. These childhood relationships may have instilled mistrust and uncertainty in them. If fathers were unpredictable or abusive, this often causes an insecure attachment style.

Some therapists may not like the phrase "daddy issues" because the child shouldn’t be blamed for the parent’s problem. Others say it’s understood that all of us will be affected one way or another by how we were parented.

Bianca L. Rodriguez, Ed.M., licensed marriage and family therapist

It’s normal to have attachment issues based on your relationship with your father, mother, or primary caregivers. Your early attachment figures create what I call your 'intimacy template'—the foundation of how you relate to others as an adult.

— Bianca L. Rodriguez, Ed.M., licensed marriage and family therapist

Rodriguez works in her practice to identify a client's attachment style and assess how it impacts their current relationships. If the attachment style impedes their ability to have healthy relationships, she helps them make changes to those behaviors. She says, “This often includes rebalancing core beliefs about their worth, ability to trust others and feel in control of their actions.”

Only Dating Older Men

If your friend had an unhealthy connection to their father, let’s say, or their father was away for various reasons, they might seek out older men to date or marry. Maybe they’re only attracted to older men or father-type replacements.

For example, if your friend lacked a paternal role model, they could be seeking out someone who will be there to protect them. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they may yearn for the missing love they never received. Maybe they seek out the wealthy or flashy, confident or seemingly in control.

They might use dating apps to zero in on only those older men who are financially stable, those they believe can take care of them.

If they were the “apple of their father’s eye," they may even want to duplicate that relationship and find a partner who worships and adores them. A healthy relationship should involve a genuine understanding of and respect for one another as equals—not one partner putting the other on a pedestal.

The danger of a relationship with a vast age difference may lie in a skewed power dynamic. Dating a much older, more successful father figure might force your friend into a more passive or victimized type position. Of course, every relationship is unique.

Being Jealous or Territorial

If individuals weren’t raised in a consistent, loving environment by their early caregivers, it serves to reason that they might struggle to have meaningful relationships as an adult. One sign of an attachment issue is if your friend seems overly anxious or jealous.

Are they constantly worried that the person they’re dating is seeing someone else? Do they imagine that the waitress is flirting with their partner? Fearful of abandonment or never being "enough," those with daddy issues may drive their new love away with their over-the-top suspicion—the thing they fear the most.

Constantly Needing Reassurance

Rooted in fear of being abandoned, those with daddy issues might have an insatiable need to receive love. This might take the form of requiring constant affection, constant attention, or constant approval.

On the one hand, they are truly anxious for a deep connection and attachment. On the other hand, they are going about getting it in all the wrong ways.

Fearful of Being Alone

Another sign of someone not seeking out healthy relationships includes wanting to be in a relationship at any cost. Your friend might jump from one relationship to another, afraid to be alone. Those with daddy issues might be accustomed to a dysfunctional relationship and keep duplicating it over time.

Being jealous, needing reassurance, and fearing being alone can be remedied. And there are ways to cope with an insecure attachment style by reconciling childhood experiences related to daddy issues and finding new ways to deal with insecurities. A good therapist can help guide those struggling with this.

A Word From Verywell

While you can’t change your past, you can change the way you view your childhood and yourself. To resolve attachment issues and improve emotional regulation skills, those with daddy issues are encouraged to seek out the assistance of a qualified therapist. This will help those wounded by their relationships with their father find new ways to have a healthy and loving partner relationship in the future.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yoon S, Bellamy JL, Kim W, Yoon D. Father Involvement and Behavior Problems among Preadolescents at Risk of MaltreatmentJ Child Fam Stud. 2018;27(2):494-504. doi:10.1007/s10826-017-0890-6

By Barbara Field
Barbara is writer and speak who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.