6 Signs You Might Have "Daddy Issues" & What It Means
Have you ever heard of someone having "daddy issues" and wondered what it actually meant? "Daddy issues" is a colloquial term aimed at people—typically women—who struggle with dating and interpersonal relationships due to their past (and yes, the gendered aspect is pretty problematic). In TV and pop culture, characters with "daddy issues" tend to have complicated, dysfunctional relationships with men, and they often appear reckless, needy, or unstable in some way.
"'Daddy issues' isn't a clinical term in the realm of psychology, but it is certainly part of our lexicon," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. "The term 'daddy issues' generally refers to an individual whose enmeshed, difficult, or nonexistent relationship with a father creates lasting psychological harm."
Although the phrase is joked about informally in the dating world, the label can be stigmatizing and lead to misunderstanding about what "daddy issues" actually involve.
What are "daddy issues"?
"The term 'daddy issues' is used to refer to psychological issues that a person may experience as a result of an absent, abusive, or problematic relationship with their father or father figure," says Bre Haizlip, LPC, a licensed mental health counselor and family relationship expert. "It is not a clinical or medical term and is not officially recognized by psychologists or psychiatrists."
You won't find "daddy issues" in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), and the term's exact origins appear unknown. But generally speaking, the phrase has become a catchall for people whose attachment issues or unresolved trauma play out in their romantic relationships.
"The origins of the term are unclear, but it has been used for decades, particularly in the context of Freudian psychology," says licensed counselor Charity M. Kilgore, LPC. "It has been used to describe a range of behaviors and attitudes, including seeking out older men for romantic relationships, difficulty trusting men, low self-esteem, and a range of other emotional and psychological issues."
The role of gender in "daddy issues"
Historically, the term "daddy issues" has been used in a derogatory way to describe women—but according to clinical psychotherapist Miriam Koshy, MSc, anyone can experience them since it's an attachment problem at its core. "The term is often used to shame women and minimize their needs and desires in relationships," she tells mbg. "People misuse the term quite often…which can cause a woman to feel judged and suggest that something may be wrong with her. Anyone can have attachment wounds resulting from a lack of strong relationships with their parents, regardless of gender."
Raffaello Antonino, Ph.D., a London-based counseling psychologist and clinical director at Therapy Central, tells mbg, "A man [may] experience 'daddy issues' well into his 30s or 40s if they grew up with an unstable father figure that made them feel 'not good enough' for their love and attention as a child. In turn, their 'daddy issues' might make them insecure in their romantic relationships [or have] difficulties navigating relationships with powerful men in their lives, like a manager at work."
"Using the term 'daddy issues' carelessly can perpetuate stigma and discourage individuals from seeking help for genuine emotional struggles," he continues. "Individuals of any gender and sexual orientation can experience challenges related to their relationships with their fathers—as well as their mothers." (That's right—mommy issues are totally a thing).
Signs you may have daddy issues
If you're secretly wondering whether or not you have "daddy issues," ahead are the potential signs to watch out for, according to relationship experts.
Note: People of any gender can have father-related attachment issues, and while many of the more notable signs deal with adult relationships with men, these can apply to romantic relationships of any kind:
It's hard for you to trust or open up to male figures in your life.
Trust issues are a universal challenge in relationships, but if you find it especially hard to trust a partner (or other men in your life), this could be a sign of father-related attachment issues. Experts say the discomfort could be linked to an insecure attachment style in which you distance yourself, avoid emotional connection, or detach yourself out of fear of getting hurt. This can sometimes cause fear of intimacy or trouble with communication, according to Haizlip.
Find your match today with eHarmony. Free to join.
You're a people-pleaser or crave constant reassurance from male partners.
"Given that it is natural to want to be loved, protected, and connected to one's father in healthy ways," Manly says, a lack of healthy father-child connection during childhood may cause you to seek approval from others later in life. Manly explains this behavior can look like "a nearly insatiable need for male approval and acceptance" or "over-pleasing tendencies, particularly toward males"—whether romantically or platonically.
You tend to idealize your partner or put the relationship on a pedestal.
According to Manly, you may have "daddy issues" if you consistently idealize the relationship or feel particularly drawn to men who you perceive will take care of you. "Especially those who appear strong and protective," she adds. Manly says you may also feel a strong "desire to be coddled and taken care of" by men in your life, including those who are older than you (although age isn't necessarily a factor for everyone).
Your personal life sometimes mirrors your childhood attachments.
"A person with unresolved trauma or issues related to their father may struggle to form healthy attachments or may seek out relationships that mirror their past experiences," Haizlip tells mbg.
For example, if you were anxiously attached to a father figure or had intense family issues growing up, you may be drawn to similar dynamics in romantic relationships later on—whether you realize it consciously or not.
If your parents were distant or unaffectionate when you were younger, "daddy issues" may look like seeking partners who are emotionally unavailable.
You frequently feel jealous or overprotective in intimate relationships.
Dealing with jealousy is a natural part of dating, but folks with attachment issues may experience it more than others. Your jealousy may be related to codependency, fear of being alone, abandonment issues, or overall insecurity about the relationship due to your past experiences.
You know you've got a complicated relationship with your dad.
Was your father absent in your life? Was he physically present but emotionally unavailable? Was your father abusive toward you physically, emotionally, or sexually?
If you said yes to any of the above, that's reason enough to assume you may have attachment issues that require healing.
What causes daddy issues?
"There is no one definitive cause of 'daddy issues' since every individual's experiences and relationships with their father or father figure are unique," Koshy tells mbg. However, most experts agree that the idea of daddy issues can be traced to Sigmund Freud's "Oedipus complex," which he proposed as part of early psychoanalytic theory.
"This complex suggests that a person may have certain unconscious impulses, both positive and negative, due to a poor relationship with their father," Koshy tells mbg. "In women with this complex, they may develop unhealthy relationships or patterns with men who care for them in an attempt to fix their broken relationship with their father."
For example, if your father was overly controlling or critical, you may have low self-esteem in future relationships and seek constant affirmation. Or if your parent was physically or emotionally absent, you may seek to heal those feelings of abandonment or neglect in future relationships. "When fathers do not express their emotions or communicate with their children, it can lead to difficulties in forming close emotional connections with others [later on]," Koshy adds.
That said, sometimes, "daddy" issues are more related to general attachment styles than your literal relationship with your father figure. "In general, insecure attachment—whether avoidant (i.e., dismissive), ambivalent (i.e., anxious or preoccupied), or disorganized (i.e., unresolved)—can lead to a wide array of mental, emotional, and behavioral patterns, including daddy issues," Manly tells mbg.
How daddy issues can affect your relationships
"Daddy issues" can impact your relationships in a variety of important ways. "A person may struggle to form healthy attachments with romantic partners, may seek out partners who are emotionally unavailable, or may struggle with intimacy and trust," Kilgore says. "Some studies have linked a poor relationship with one's father to a range of psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem."
According to Kashy, these attachment issues can also make your relationships feel generally unstable and untrustworthy. "They may worry that their partner will abandon them, reject them, or betray them, which can lead to jealousy, possessiveness or clinginess and indulging in a lot of people-pleasing behaviors," she tells mbg. Fear of rejection, constant approval-seeking, and emotional dependence can also occur, Kashy adds.
Daddy issues may also affect the type of sex and relationships you seek. For example, one study11 suggests that people whose fathers were absent or disengaged during childhood may be more likely to explore risky sexual behavior later in life. Another study found that men who grew up with emotionally distant fathers reported a lack of self-confidence and a desire to find father substitutes in adulthood. Daddy issues don’t necessarily lead to problems with sex, but it can’t hurt to reflect on how your past may be influencing the present.
How to address your daddy issues:
Start to unpack the reasons behind your feelings.
According to Manly, the first way to address these father-related attachment issues is to understand the potential underlying reasons you might have them. "The first step toward healing from 'daddy issues' is to increase awareness regarding the psychological wounds from early childhood," she says. "Nonjudgmental, free-association journaling that focuses on the father-child relationship is a wonderful way to delve into daddy issues."
She also suggests making an objective list of what you perceive your "daddy issues" to be—for example, do you have trouble getting vulnerable with your partner? Do you constantly find yourself dating narcissists, or do you find yourself snapping at your male co-worker for no reason?
"As you become more aware of your issues, you can [eventually] choose to engage in different behaviors in the future," Manly says.
Embrace your daddy issues instead of resisting them.
It may sound counterintuitive to embrace your daddy issues, but Manly says that sometimes, practicing self-acceptance is key to healing them. "If your daddy issues don't harm you or those you interact with, you may decide that you're more interested in embracing them rather than changing them," she tells mbg. Some people may find their daddy issues to be helpful and even healthy for their healing, Manly says, in which case it may be OK to accept where you're at.
Aim to establish healthy connections.
If these issues have negatively impacted your dating life, it may be time to focus on building healthier relationships. "Surround yourself with supportive, trustworthy people who uplift you and encourage your growth," Kashy recommends. This can help you reframe your idea of healthy relationships, she says, and even provide emotional support that you may have lacked in your early childhood relationships.
Seek therapy or professional support.
Healing your daddy issues is no small feat, but professional support can help. "Consider seeing a therapist to address and work through [your] issues," Kashy tells mbg. "A therapist can help you process your emotions, recognize and break unhelpful patterns, and work toward healing and building healthier adult relationships."
If therapy isn't accessible right now or you'd rather approach the healing journey solo first, Manly recommends bibliotherapy (i.e., reading self-help books) as a starting point. You can also engage in inner child work and other trauma-coping exercises that can help you address the root causes of your daddy issues.
Practice self-compassion along the way.
When it comes to any relationship challenge, being kind to yourself is key. "Be kind and empathic with yourself during the journey," Manly says. "Psychological wounds cannot be healed unless they are noticed and given proper, nonjudgmental attention. Processing and tending to the often-hidden childhood pain that gives rise to 'daddy issues' can result in empowering and life-changing personal growth."
What causes daddy issues?
Although there is no single cause, "daddy issues" are a form of attachment issues typically related to an unstable relationship with your father during childhood.
What are the signs and symptoms of daddy issues?
Potential signs you may have "daddy issues" include low self-esteem, trust issues, repeatedly entering toxic relationships, people-pleasing tendencies, jealousy or overprotectiveness in relationships, idealizing men in your life, or seeking avoidant or emotionally unavailable partners.
Whether your "daddy issues" are caused by problems during childhood involving your father or you simply struggle with attachment in relationships, you don't have to deal with this alone. If reading about daddy issues brought up hurtful memories from the past, know that it's natural to feel overwhelmed—but you can, and will, get through this.
"Acknowledge the emotions you feel regarding your relationship with your father," Kashy says. "Whether it's anger, hurt, sadness, or disappointment, allow yourself to feel these emotions and understand that they are valid."
Look out for the common signs of daddy issues, and reflect on whether or not they hit home for you—because you know your story best. And remember: Although it's not a clinical diagnosis, just about anyone can "have" daddy issues—it's a common experience, and with some intentional self-care and healing practices, you can be on your way to healthy, strong relationships.
Tianna Faye Soto, M.A., is a Puerto Rican, Jamaican-Chinese writer, editor, and wellness speaker based in New York City. She holds B.A. degrees in Psychology and Spanish Language & Literature from North Carolina State University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology in Education from Columbia University, where she received specialized training at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute. She is also certified in yoga, meditation, and Reiki levels I & II.
Tianna was previously the Contributing Editor of Dating at Elite Daily and an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media. Her work has been featured by Cosmopolitan, Conscious Magazine, Thrive Global, and more.
As a professional speaker, Tianna leads keynotes and workshops focused on mental health, identity, and personal growth. She has worked with 50 universities around the country along with organizations like Facebook, Neutrogena, Bumble, and The UN Foundation. She also serves as a board member for the international mental health organization To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).
Tianna’s work is heart-centered, service-driven, and rooted in empathy. Follow along and connect on Instagram: @tiannafayee.