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What Are “Daddy Issues” Exactly?

daddy issues

Daddy issues can be a two-way street

“Daddy issues” is a term that often gets bandied about to describe women who gravitate towards older men. It’s also used to label females who are perceived (by guys) as rebellious.

But is this pejorative phrase accurate?  Moreover, are women really the only ones who can have daddy issues?

If you are intrigued by this topic, you’ve come to the right place. As a men’s counselor, I’ve worked lots of guys who inject “daddy issues” into conversations when describing women they date.

The problem they often get it wrong.

My hope in penning this piece is to shine a light on a term that is widely misused and often misunderstood.

Let’s jump right on!

Daddy Issues (non-clinical definition)

A person is said to have daddy issues when they have an unhealthy or absent relationship with their father.

Examples include a dad who was abusive (emotionally and/or physically) or a paternal figure who was not present during formative years.

At their core, daddy issues are a carryover effect from difficult childhoods into adulthood whereby familiar behaviors are replicated in romantic relationships.

Daddy issues can occur in both women and men but may differ in presentation.

If you’ve ever watched a Star Wars flick, you can see how the characters Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia both might have the “complex”. It just depends on how you look at it.

daddy issues darth vader

How Daddy Issues Entered the Lexicon

In the field of personality psychology, the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is credited with coining the term father complex; a $10.00 phrase used to describe someone who has unconscious associations and impulses resulting from an individual’s poor relationship with their father.

Freud initially believed this neurosis only impacted males. But other psychoanalysts thought differently, such as Carl Jung, who helped to expand its application to both men and women (Roeckelein, 2006).

While we aren’t sure when the label first appeared in the American lexicon, it’s safe to say the term is loosely based off Freud’s father complex.

In the context of personal relationships, daddy issues are often used as a negative descriptor … usually targeted at women.

Here are some examples:

  • My girlfriend has only dated older men. Talk about daddy issues!
  • My wife can’t stand overly assertive men. They remind her too much of her pops. Can you say daddy issues?
  • She constantly needs validation from guys. That girl has serious daddy issues.

But what about men? How do women use this term to describe the father complex with males?

Check out these examples:

  • My boyfriend likes to control everything. The man has daddy issues.
  • He won’t commit to a relationship, just like his father wouldn’t to his mother. He has serious daddy issues!
  • My husband thinks showing affection is effeminate. His father is the same way. Can you say daddy issues?

What about calling a man “Daddy” in bed?

I hate to break it to you but just because a girl likes calling her man “daddy” in bed doesn’t automatically mean she has a father complex.

There’s a massive difference between sexual play, which is sometimes wrapped up in BDSM activity, and actually having a “complex”.

That said, there certainly are women who do struggle with this issue and many freely admit this.

But what can be said of men who ask a sexual partner to call them daddy? Do they also have a father complex? The answer isn’t that simple.

In other words, it depends on the individual and their past. But here’s the difference – guys will never admit to having this complex. That’s just not what men do.

Not that anything I’ve shared here will change things. Guys will continue to label women as having daddy issues.

But at least the next time you hear this term (which is sexist) you’ll at least have insight that others don’t.

Thanks for reading!


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Roeckelein, J. E. (2006). Elsevier’s Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Elsevier.

Photo credit: Deposit Photos

What Are “Daddy Issues” Exactly?

John D. Moore, PhD

Described as folksy and down to earth, Dr. John Moore infuses current events and pop culture into his posts as a way of communicating wider points on issues related to wellness and goal attainment. His work has been featured in nationally syndicated media, including Cosmo, Men's Fitness and CBS Market Watch. He is a consultant to a number of Fortune 500 companies and institutions of Higher Learning. Dr. Moore is author of Confusing Love with Obsessionand Editor in Chief at: Guy Counseling.

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APA Reference
Moore, J. (2017). What Are “Daddy Issues” Exactly?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Dec 2017
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