Is There Real Psychology Behind Daddy Issues?

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Verywell / Laura Porter

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Daddy issues” isn’t a recognized psychological condition, nor is it criteria for the diagnosis of a mental health disorder. That said, there is a psychological basis behind this common expression in that it refers to an attachment issue with a father-type figure.

During childhood, some people have distant relationships with their fathers or no relationship at all. Others might be so close that the relationship becomes unhealthy. Both types of situations can contribute to the development of daddy issues.

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

The Psychology of Daddy Issues

There is psychology behind the concept of daddy issues, even if it isn't referred to by this name. Namely, children who had a troubled relationship with their father while growing up may have difficulty attaching to others as adults.

When fathers are neglectful or abusive, this can lead to an insecure attachment style. These types of childhood relationships may instill mistrust and uncertainty, leading to daddy issues in men later in life.

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

In her practice, Rodriguez works to identify a client's attachment style and assess how it impacts their current relationships. If their attachment style impedes their ability to have healthy relationships, she helps them make changes to those behaviors. 

“This often includes rebalancing core beliefs about their worth, ability to trust others and feel in control of their actions,” she says.

Potential Causes of Daddy Issues

The following are a few factors that can potentially play a role in the development of daddy issues.

Unhealthy Close Bonds

Some daughters proudly proclaim that they’re a “daddy’s girl.” This typically indicates that they have a close bond with their father. In some cases, this bond can cross the line from being healthy and supportive to being unhealthy and damaging.

If someone has a close bond with their father, this might suggest that their father favored them or took especially good care of them, perhaps even spoiled them. It might also be that they resembled their father more than their siblings and were rewarded for it.

One explanation for developing an unhealthy close bond with one's father figure is if, while growing up, the father was attracted to or treated the child more like a date or romantic partner. This could lead to the child being subjected to mental, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Having a close relationship with your father doesn't necessarily lead to daddy issues. This term refers more so to exceptionally close relationships that are unhealthy or potentially harmful to one's mental health.

An Absentee Father

Instead of having an overly involved father, sometimes people with daddy issues grew up with a father who was never around. The father might have worked a lot, 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, someone might constantly need attention and validation from older men to fill the father role. They might seek this older male's approval, advice, or company to make up for the lack of physical and emotional closeness they craved as a child.

Dad’s Involvement: Quantity or Quality?

The importance of fathers being involved in their families is clear. For instance, some studies have found fewer behavioral problems in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who spent a higher quantity of time with their fathers.

Conversely, an increased amount of time and involvement with a father in at-risk families doesn’t contribute to a healthy dynamic. Instead, it can increase negative behavior problems, especially if the father is physically abusive.

Scientific evidence shows that a physically abusive father can traumatize adolescents and lead to anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. The adolescent may also mimic their father’s aggressive and violent behavior after spending more time together.

Spending lots of time with a father isn’t always ideal. Instead, having a higher level of quality time with a healthy father figure may be more important.

Sexual Abuse

Young children are vulnerable and trust parents to set appropriate boundaries. Sadly, adults sometimes cross those lines. A parent, stepparent, or another father figure may take advantage of vulnerable children, potentially causing the child to have daddy issues later in life.

Sexual abuse creates complicated feelings in children. They want to love their father figure for taking them out, playing games with them, and caring for them. But they are also 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 them to feel shame. It also increases their risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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.

Signs of Daddy Issues

How do you know whether you or someone you know may have what is commonly referred to as daddy issues? Here are a few signs to look for.

Only Dating Older Men

A person with daddy issues might only be attracted to older males or father-type replacements. If someone had an unhealthy connection to their father or their father was away for various reasons, older men may be more appealing to date or marry.

Being in a relationship with an older person may make them feel as if they have someone who will protect them. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they may yearn for the missing love they never received. Or they might seek an older male who is wealthy or flashy, confident, or seemingly in control.

Someone with daddy issues might use dating apps to zero in on only older men who are financially stable and can take care of them.

If they were the “apple of their father’s eye," the person with daddy issues may even want to duplicate that relationship and find a partner who worships and adores them. A healthy relationship involves 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 someone into a more passive or victimized type of 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, they might struggle to have meaningful relationships as an adult. One sign of an attachment issue is being overly anxious or jealous.

Someone with daddy issues may constantly be worried that the person they’re dating is seeing someone else. Or they might 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 a fear of being abandoned, those with daddy issues sometimes have an insatiable need to receive love. This might take the form of requiring constant affection, constant attention, or constant approval.

While the person is truly anxious for a deep connection and attachment, they often go about getting it in unhealthy ways. They might repeatedly ask their partner if they are angry at them, for example, or always question whether they made the right decision. Over time, this can take a toll on the relationship.

Fearful of Being Alone

Another sign of someone with daddy issues is wanting to be in a relationship at any cost. They might jump from one relationship to another because they're afraid to be alone. Another explanation for this is that those with daddy issues might be so accustomed to a dysfunctional relationship that they duplicate it over time.

Treatment for Daddy Issues

Being jealous, needing reassurance, and having a fear of 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.

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 can help those wounded by their relationships with their father find new ways to have a healthy and loving partner relationship in the future.

6 Sources
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.
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By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.