Daddy Issues: Meaning, Types, Signs, And How To Deal With Them

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You’ve undoubtedly heard someone referred to as having “daddy issues” before, but what does that mean, exactly?

It’s often used as a negative term toward women and gay men, particularly those who date people 10+ years older than themselves.

In addition, some people are accused of having daddy issues if they clash with older men, or if their behavior changes toward older male authority figures.

As you can imagine, there’s a significant difference between preferences in personal attraction, and actual father-related traumas.

Let’s take a look at some of the cases that can be labelled as “daddy issues,” and hopefully get a bit more insight as to what causes them.

People who are sexually attracted to older men (who remind them of their father, or a father-like figure).

This can happen when someone grows up idolizing their father. Their parent might have been an absolute dream, and they want a partner who embodies all the qualities they loved in their dad.

It’s particularly common in people who lose their fathers to illness or injury. As such, they end up seeking a sort of replacement figure for the one they lost, not considering how this kind of behavior will affect the other person in the relationship.

Alternatively, they could be attracted to paternal figures because they didn’t get the attention that they needed/wanted from their own father. For example, having to “share” daddy with parents, siblings, etc.

Signs:

  • Only date older men.
  • Find men the same age/younger annoying or uninteresting.
  • Have a tendency to feel anxious or insecure (which is counteracted by an older male presence).
  • Low self-esteem, and enjoys the attention they get from older men.
  • Flirtation with all kinds of men, even in front of their partner.

How to deal if you have this leaning:

Take some time to look at your dating history, and see if the men you’ve dated have reminded you of your father in various ways.

Alternatively, if you grew up without a father, be honest with yourself about why it is you’re drawn to older guys. Do they make you feel safe? Are they providing you with stability, resources, and guidance that you lacked when you were younger?

If you’re comfortable with this kind of dynamic, and they are as well, then that’s absolutely okay. When it comes to romantic relationships, age really is just a number, and people can have rewarding partnerships with those who are significantly older or younger than they are.

That said, there are older men who take advantage of fragile younger people and really milk the father figure dynamic. They can get very domineering, demanding, and controlling, and what began as a stable, safe environment might transform into one where you feel trapped and “owned.”

Talking to a therapist or counselor might help you work through your feelings about your relationship, and determine the underlying reasons why you keep ending up with older men.

Whether you’d like to continue along this path, or break negative behavior patterns to pursue healthier partnerships, talking it all out with a licensed professional can be of immense help.

People who are sexually shut down because of negative paternal experiences.

One reason why some people might shy away from sexual relationships is because deep down, they don’t want to disappoint daddy.

A young woman whose father always treated her as “his little girl,” and promoted sexual “purity” as a hallmark of good character might feel intense guilt when it comes to sexual activity of any kind.

As a result, she might have difficulty enjoying sex, perpetually seeing it as shameful; an act that causes intense feelings of guilt.

She might push away any and all potential sexual partners as a means of protecting herself from those negative emotions.

Alternatively, she may choose same-sex relationships because they seem slightly less shameful to her.

This can also happen to men whose fathers were very puritanical when it came to sex. In fact, this can cause significant damage to a young man’s psyche if he grew up thinking of sexual activity as shameful.

Regardless of his sexual gender(s) of choice, he’ll likely have difficulty with real intimacy, and will either keep up emotional barriers, or find himself dealing with issues like erectile dysfunction because of his upbringing.

Of course, a darker issue may be at hand here, and that’s if people were sexually abused by their father or stepfather. If that occurred, they may shy away from relationships with men in general, particularly older men.

Alternatively, the opposite might be true: people often repeat unhealthy relationship patterns in the hope of retroactively “fixing” a negative relationship from their past.

Basically, they do the same thing over and over and hope that they’ll one day have the positive outcome they were looking for.

As a result, some people are both attracted to and repulsed by men who remind them of their fathers.

They might be appalled by sexuality with them and punish them by proxy for their abuser’s behavior. Or they might pursue them on a subconscious level, and then push them away if they get too close. 

Signs:

  • A love/hate relationship with your own father.
  • All manner of trust issues.
  • Panic, shame, or embarrassment when it comes to sexual intimacy.
  • Preferring emotionally distant relationships so you don’t have to open up too much.
  • Serial monogamy/frequent breakups all initiated by you.
  • Sabotaging healthy relationships.

How to deal if you have this issue:

This particular issue is often subconscious, as people may have repressed past experiences and just act on impulse without realizing why they do what they do.

Some, however, might be aware of what’s going on in their heads and hearts, but don’t know how to address it, or heal from it.

Sexuality is a really delicate, complicated subject to navigate, especially with a new partner. It usually takes time to feel comfortable enough with a partner to discuss one’s past, but not talking about these issues early in the relationship can throw a wrench in things too.

It’s a very tenuous line to navigate…

If you blurt out your father-related sexual hang-ups on the first date, you risk not getting a second one, as that might be a bit too much information/baggage for this new person to handle.

Alternatively, if you don’t talk about it early on, and you have a panic attack or inability to perform the first time (or few times) you have sex, things can get really awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved too.

Once again, this is a situation that can be successfully navigated with the help of a therapist, especially one who specializes in sexuality. This way, you’re discussing things with a person who’s trained to help others through exactly this kind of situation.

They can offer insights and guidance on how to navigate your relationships, and also help you work through the experiences you had that shaped these tendencies to begin with.

People with intense abandonment issues.

If a person’s father was emotionally distant, didn’t acknowledge their existence, or didn’t have time for them after a divorce, they may deal with severe abandonment issues.

As a result, they may sabotage their relationships with desperately insecure behavior.

They’ll need constant reassurance that they’re loved, and will analyze every phrase, every text, every behavior to see if there’s a chance they’re being lied to, or on the verge of being dumped.

They might also push away anyone who has a romantic interest in them because they “just know” they’ll end up hurt and betrayed. After all, that was the common theme they grew up with, right?

Signs:

  • The need for constant reassurance that they’re loved.
  • Rebellion and promiscuity, punishing this guy for their father’s lack of interest/care.
  • Terrible low self-esteem, and the need to be validated by their partner.
  • Anxiety and panic about the possibility of being “dumped.”
  • A tendency to rush into relationships for the sake of security.
  • Seeking out emotional validation from emotionally unavailable men.
  • Lack of trust: spying on their partner to make sure they’re not cheating, or that they are where they say they’ll be.
  • Clingy, needy behavior, and overstepping established boundaries for the sake of their own reassurance.
  • Repeated patterns of getting involved with narcissists or emotionally abusive men.

How to deal if you have this issue:

If you’re not in therapy yet, consider getting a therapist ASAP. You’ll need to learn how to reassure yourself that you’re loved and safe, rather than depending on your partner to constantly do that for you.

In fact, few things will push partners away more than extreme neediness and emotional insecurity. By requiring their constant reassurance because you’re afraid they’ll dump you at any given second, you might actually cause that very situation to occur.

Look into cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy to help you learn how to rein in your emotions and channel them in more constructive ways. By doing so, you can empower yourself, heal from prior traumas so you don’t fall into a fight-or-flight fear spiral, and have healthier, stronger relationships in future.

People who want non-sexual relationships with father figures.

Relationships can come in every form and shape imaginable. Some are intimate, and some are platonic. After all, our very close friendships are exactly that, aren’t they? Friends, and usually without benefits.

Some people with “daddy issues” seek out very close bonds with older men, but they don’t want them to be sexual.

For some, it’s because they had a very close, loving relationship with their father, and want to experience something similar again. Much like our first example, but without the sexual element.

Others had an absent father, or one who never appreciated or acknowledged them, so they transfer their need for parental love and approval onto someone else.

These are often people who appreciate the wisdom and guidance they can get from older gentlemen.

The thought of sexual intimacy with this older man would likely be abhorrent to them. Instead, they try to win their approval and acknowledgement, and can become protective – and possessive – of them.

This can be inappropriate and awkward if the object of their affection is their boss, or healthcare provider, or anyone else in a position of authority.

It can be even worse if they try to develop a close bond with a friend’s parent. In this instance, they may find themselves competing with their friend for their own father’s love and attention… and you can only imagine the mess that can make.

Signs:

  • The tendency to get along better with older men than anyone else.
  • Jealousy or competitiveness if other people get attention from “your” male authority figure.
  • A need to get praise and validation from older men.
  • The desire to spend a great deal of time with other people’s fathers.
  • Spending more time than is necessary with older male superiors at work.
  • Fixation with older men in your social circle (professors, social media “friends,” etc.

How to deal if you have this leaning:

First and foremost, acknowledging that you exhibit this kind of behavior is huge. Awareness and introspection can often be very difficult, so if you’re doing the work to understand your own behaviors and where they stem from, well done.

The key in these situations is to be aware of and respect the older man’s boundaries – and setting yourself some too. By recognizing when your behavior is crossing a line, you can make an adjustment to keep the relationship healthy.

After all, friendships with older men aren’t to be avoided or something to feel bad about. You just have to understand why these friendships mean so much to you whilst remaining vigilant to potentially unhealthy situations or thoughts.

Another thing to address is your need for validation and approval – not just from older men, but from anyone. This, alone, can cause tension in any form of relationship. By working on your self-esteem – by yourself of with professional help – you can overcome your need for praise and positive attention.

There are, of course, unlimited causes.

These are just a few different causes of potential daddy issues. Every relationship is different, and there are undoubtedly many hidden twists and turns in every parent/child dynamic.

Let’s say a person goes through most of her life being told that her father is a horrible dirtbag for having abandoned the family. As a result, they might have abandonment anxiety, or have difficulty forming attachments to men, because they’re constantly worried that they might leave.

Regardless of the cause that led to your daddy issues, the key is to recognize your own behaviors in dealing with them. 

Many people who have these issues keep finding themselves in the same, unhealthy types of relationships, because they’re familiar. And, just like that “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” adage, familiar feels safe.

But none of these behavioral patterns will do you any good in the long run. The key is to recognize them, and in doing so, break that cycle of negativity. That’s the only way to have any kind of healthy, stable relationship.

Still not sure what to do about your daddy issues and the impact they have on your relationships? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.