Daddy issues: can problems with a father in childhood spoil a relationship with a partner today

daddy issues

Will difficulties arise in adult life if the relationship with the parent did not work out

Daddy issues is an informal term for psychological problems due to a broken emotional connection with the father. For example, it is believed that if a father leaves the family, then an adult daughter will look for a replacement for his love in a relationship. We figured out whether the “father complex” really exists and how the absence of a parent can affect your life.  

How real are daddy issues

Daddy issues are problems with building a secure attachment that can arise if a person was raised by only one parent. Sometimes this term is used by psychologists, but more often it can be found in social networks.

For example, daddy issues are especially talked about on TikTok. Most often in a playful context, indicating possible sexual preferences. For example, the authors of some videos believe that if a girl has problems with her father, then most likely she likes almost the entire cast of The Avengers and hypermasculine dominant characters. She also loves dominance games, where she prefers to obey and likes “harder”. However, daddy issues are not about sexual preferences, but about psychological problems, and quite real ones.

When your relationship with your father becomes a problem

sexy couple with daddy issuesAccording to a study conducted by the HSE in 2015, the percentage of single parent families where a child is raised by only one parent is about 25%. At the same time, according to Anna Kuznetsova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights under the President of the Russian Federation, in 2017, in 5 out of 17 million Russian families, only a mother brings up a child.

Psychologists say that in childhood, the child’s attachment to one of the parents was violated, this can lead to problems in adulthood. For example, in the following cases:

  • The father was absent.
  • When the child was small, the father was in the family, but then disappeared. 
  • After the divorce, the child stayed with his mother, and his father appeared only occasionally and did not take much part in the upbringing.
  • The father was emotionally unavailable, cold or cruel.
  • The father used violence against family members, possibly sexual.

That is, daddy issues can arise if the father did not act as a full-fledged parent, did not inspire confidence and did not allow himself to be relied upon.

According to the American psychologist John Gottman, co-author of the book “Emotional Intelligence of the Child: A Practical Guide for Parents”, mom and dad from early childhood should satisfy the emotional needs of the child: protection, care, gifts and attention, spending time together, tenderness and physical contact. . When the father figure is not present in the child’s life as much as he needs it, then these needs may remain unfulfilled. There is a feeling of emptiness, tactile hunger and the need for love, which a person can shift to others – that is, to their partners. And also the relationship with the father can affectoverall relationship satisfaction in the future. This is evidenced by publications in the scientific journal Vestnik of St. Petersburg University.

Researchers from the University of Bihac note that a child who grew up without a father or with a father with whom attachment was broken may suffer from low self-esteem and self-doubt and feel vulnerable in communication with peers. 

However, if reliable attachment is established at least with the mother, then psychological problems may not arise. Research published in the journal Family and Personality: Interaction Issues shows that a good, strong relationship with one parent can help a child feel more secure and lessen the impact of a bad relationship with the other parent.

How do you know if you have a father complex?

There are many options for how a relationship with a partner can develop if a person’s childhood needs were not satisfied. Psychotherapist and family psychologist Julia Hill, with ten years of counseling  experience , identifies the following scenarios:

  • Although you want close relationships, you experience anxiety and fear when meeting a potential partner. You either instantly fall in love and try your best to please your partner, or when the relationship develops, you experience such a strong fear of being abandoned that you do everything possible to end this relationship.
  • You choose partners who are emotionally cold or unavailable—those who are in other relationships, who are reticent, who work hard, or who don’t prioritize your relationship. 
  • Believe that your love can “melt the ice” and hope to get “father love” from a distant partner, which was not there in childhood. 
  • It is difficult for you to rely on a partner and trust him.
  • You unconsciously compete with a partner who is better, smarter or stronger.
  • Your novels, which began so fabulously, end in abuse.
  • You constantly feel insecure, so you either fence yourself off from everyone, or in desperation fight for your rights.

What girls say when they don’t have a relationship with their father

Julia, 22 years old (name changed at the request of the heroine)

As a child, everything was great with my dad, and I felt love, care and support. But from adolescence, everything changed – he began to drink, every year more and more. This caused aggression and hatred towards others, including me. Therefore, I heard more insults from him than from anyone else in my life. In fits of anger, several times he said something like “who will need you as a wife” and other not very pleasant things. 

I noticed that this attitude of my father towards me greatly affects my adult life. Firstly, I am afraid to enter into a serious relationship and generally get married, because I don’t want my husband to turn into such an uncle in ten years. Secondly, my parental attitude affected my self-esteem. And, probably, I sympathize more with men older than me, because it seems that this way I will see how a person looks like in adulthood, and peers can still change for the worse. 

I have a dad and he lives with us. I can not say that we have a very friendly family. I hardly communicate with my dad, and we are not close at all. So, we exchange common phrases, we can joke – that’s all. I never felt that I was loved and interested in me, because he never showed me attention. 

Alice, 22 years old (name changed at the request of the heroine)

As a child, it seemed to me that this did not affect me in any way, but when I grew up, my relationship with my dad began to affect my life. I didn’t feel protected, I didn’t feel supported. It was difficult with the guys, because it seemed to me that no one needed me, and I myself sought their attention, and when I realized that someone liked me, I immediately lost interest. It turns out that flirting made up for the lack of daddy’s love in me. 

Even before the age of 18, I had terrible complexes and difficulties with self-esteem: I felt ugly, because no one convinced me otherwise. I considered myself beautiful only if the boys said so – and I felt that I looked good only if I received their approval.

Olya, 21 years old

My parents got married very young, they were 21 years old. When I was a year old, my father left the family. He continued to communicate with me, was always a very cheerful dad, and to some extent even was there, but he never brought me up and taught me nothing. We met about once a month, and my mother never interfered with communication, although she was offended by her father. Dad became a real parent only when he started a second family. For me, he remained “a fun guy for the weekend.” 

Today I feel that it is very difficult for me to start a relationship – I project the image of my dad onto a potential partner. If I see that a person is not yet “ripe”, I immediately refuse the relationship, because I am afraid that the scenario of my parents will repeat itself and they will leave me. I don’t want to get married, I don’t see the point in it – perhaps because I saw how my parents didn’t succeed. I’m always looking for “male” attention from male friends, because I didn’t get it from my father and didn’t spend much time with him.

And I also don’t perceive a male figure as an authority: if the leader is a man, then for me this is an indicator of weakness, because all the difficult things like health and money at home were handled by my mother, and not a frivolous dad. That is, for me, all the strengths are contained in my mother, and my father is associated with something immature. 

Lisa, 21

My parents divorced when I was a year old because my dad cheated on my mom. For the first five years, he tried to show attention: he came, gave gifts. But he already had a new family with the same woman. I remember a strange feeling: when he took me away, he was with his new pregnant wife, I sat on her lap and thought that I was cheating on my mother.

I grew up without a father, and when I saw him, I felt awkward – especially when I grew up. I didn’t understand: should I call him dad? Or do you need something different?

He treated me with love and warmth, but it seemed to me that it was feigned. He said how beautiful I became, how I grew up, but I thought: “And what do I need from your words?” I am pleased, but this is all the merit of my mother, who hunchbacked and raised me. Sometimes I was sad that my friends have fathers who even give them a lift, pick them up from school or give “father’s advice” – I didn’t even know that this happens. I feel like I’m not loved. 

I don’t remember how my relationship with my father affected school romances, but in my current relationship, I clearly feel it. I always have high expectations from my partner, I want him to be responsible for me so that I can feel like a little girl – let me do nothing, but they will take me in their arms, regret and solve all problems. I want my partner to replace my father, but this is wrong – you can’t force another person to decide everything for you.

How to start making a difference if problems with your father are affecting your relationship

Behind the problems of daughters who lacked the emotional presence of their father is the fear of rejection. It is triggered by the attachment mechanism, or type of attachment. 

The theory of attachment was formulated by the British psychiatrist John Bowlby, and then it was expanded and supplemented by his colleagues and students. Attachment type is how a person behaves in meaningful intimate relationships. The very first and most important relationship a child has is with his parents, and they form the basis of behavior in all other respects. However, as they grow older, the type of attachment may change. 

Determine the type of attachment

Psychologists distinguish four main types of attachment: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized (or anxious-avoidant). 

Reliable type

The most adaptive type of attachment. A child with this type feels safe: he knows that his parents are always emotionally available, they love him, accept him, care for him, you can rely on them.

alarm type

It can occur in people whose father was a significant figure in the family, but at the same time – emotionally unrestrained, caring, but overly anxious, controlling, criticizing. In their lives it often sounded: “I’m going to fly from my dad.” The child perceives the father’s reactions as a coded message: “If you want to be loved, be a good girl.” And trying to earn his love.

Growing up, such people are often not confident in themselves, they try to please, but at the same time they are terribly afraid of making mistakes and being rejected. They need constant confirmation that they are loved. They literally scan the partner’s reactions and think out: are you satisfied, did you like it, are you tired or angry? If a partner does not call for one day, then there is no thought that he is busy, but rather that he harbors a grudge or even decides to end the relationship.

The anxious type, as a rule, chooses partners with an avoidant type of attachment, who are laconic, unemotional and are used to relying on themselves in everything.

avoidant type

It is formed in a child whose parent was insensitive to his emotional needs, indifferent, indifferent, busy with his own affairs or showed physical violence. Such children grow up with the conviction that no one cares about their problems and you can only rely on yourself. They do not know how to openly show negative emotions, they are afraid to upset others. They remember well that in close relationships they can be hurt painfully. Therefore, they often live in armor, trying to be strong and not upset anyone.

Disorganized type

Or anxious-avoidant. It occurs if a person inflicted serious psychological trauma in childhood – they were treated cruelly, overprotected and controlled. The parent behaved unpredictably: he was a source of either comfort or fear. A child with this type combines the features of both anxious and avoidant, grows up contradictory and unpredictable. 

A person wants intimacy, strives for relationships, but as soon as he finds himself in them, it begins to seem to him that there is too much of a partner, and he wants to break out of this relationship.

Keep track of what causes anxiety

daddy issuesThe reactions inherent in a particular type of attachment are triggered automatically. Your brain reads your partner’s signals as dangerous or safe, forcing you to react in the usual way. Your task is to learn to identify moments that the brain habitually considers dangerous and control your behavior.

It is not easy and requires self-curiosity and self-study. Try to find the “trigger” that triggers your attachment fears. These can be partner’s phrases, situations, behavior, and even gestures and facial expressions, to which the brain gives a signal of danger, and then you already act “on autopilot”, on emotions and without hesitation.

For example, your father drank heavily. While dad was sober, your life was quiet and peaceful, and when drunk, everyone was on their ears. You are used to living like on a dormant volcano. As an adult, any stable relationship can bring fear to you: the brain remembers that after a calm, a storm will strike. And then, in order not to wait for who knows what, you can take control into your own hands and start looking for thrills, provoking a conflict with your partner in advance. A quarrel occurs, and you are convinced that you are right. A period of peace is coming, but it will not last long. 

Try to respond to disturbing things in a different way than usual.

In moments of anxiety, try to deliberately switch from emotion to rationality, return to the current moment and try to appreciate it without the influence of past relationship experiences. So in small steps you will learn to fix what worries you, and you will gradually begin to work on yourself.

It is important that this is only the beginning of a long journey: you need to continue to notice your fears and learn to respond to them rationally. To get through this path faster, you can seek the help of a psychotherapist – there is nothing embarrassing or shameful in this.