What are “daddy issues” and how they can be harmful in today’s society

According to White, daddy issues can affect anyone of any gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

According to White, “daddy issues” can affect anyone of any gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Claire Hoppe

When typing in the term “daddy issues” into Google, you will see the following results:

-Daddy Issues Test

-Daddy Issues Synonyms

-Daddy Issues Podcast

-Do I have Daddy Issues Quiz for Teenage Girls

“Daddy issues,” a term described by Megan Gilligan as having a negative connotations, has become the subject of multiple songs, podcasts and films in the last decade. While the term is so easily thrown and quickly gains attention, what does having “daddy issues” truly mean?

According to Gilligan, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State, people use the term to describe tension and strain that might be a common experience in father-adult-child relationships, particularly father-adult-daughter relationships.

Alison White, an Iowa State graduate student in human development and family studies who focuses on fatherhood, child development and complex families, offers another perspective.

“I think ‘daddy issue’ behaviors in everyday language may look like experiencing insecurity or other challenges in one’s romantic relationships or frequently using unhealthy communication styles,” White said.

White also believes there could be a deeper definition of “daddy issues” in today’s society.

According to White, internalizing behaviors, such as sleeping more than usual, being withdrawn and showing signs of depression, and externalizing behaviors, such as being physically or verbally aggressive, that persist out of childhood could be what society links to the term “daddy issues.”

White also said when thinking about the term “daddy issues,” attachment comes to mind.

“Ideally, we want to be securely attached to those we love,” White said. “We want to find it easy to feel comfortable and safe in our relationships.”

According to White, these attachment styles that are formed during childhood may carry over into adulthood.

“For example, one study found that secure attachment with one’s family in adolescence was positively associated with secure romantic relationship attachment 10 years later,” White said. “This means that our relationships with our families when we are children may influence our romantic relationships and behavior when we are adults.”

While children might long to have a near perfect relationship with their family in order to feel loved now and later on by future partners, Gilligan reminds that there is no “perfect” or “normal” family that exists.

“One of the things that has come up in my career of studying family relationships now for 15 years is that everyone thinks there’s something wrong with their family,” Gilligan said.

When asked where the term “daddy issues” stems from, Gilligan returned to these changing family dynamics. According to her, families are growing more and more complex as time goes on, whether that is by changing roles for fathers in families or increased divorce rates.

Susan Stewart, a professor of sociology at Iowa State, said while opposite sex adult-child pairs have a different dynamic, due to this constant social and cultural change, “daddy issues” can affect anyone of any gender identity.

“Now that we see gender as more fluid, I would certainly say anyone can have issues related to their dads regardless of their gender identity,” Stewart said.

According to White, while anyone of any gender identity, ethnicity and sexual orientation can be affected by a difficult relationship with their father, the individuals’ experiences will not look the same. White said what is true for one person in a certain situation may not be the experience of another in a similar situation.

This leaves the question- if anyone can have a troubled relationship with their father, why is there a stereotype surrounding women having “daddy issues?”

Stewart said society might be to blame.

“We like to boil down complex issues to cutesy little labels that tribulize serious relationship issues that women might have with their fathers, and that can include abuse or a lack of closeness,” Stewart said.

White said she thinks women are more intensely scrutinized by society on their personal relationships, but that this should not define them.

“Someone who does not have a father figure or has a difficult relationship with their father is not doomed to experience a life of unsuccessful romantic relationships,” White said.

White noted that while many people use the term “daddy issues” in a humorous way, intending to poke fun at the subject matter, using the term in any way can be harmful.

“I think that it [using the term “daddy issues”] can perpetuate the insecurity that someone dealing with the fallout from a challenging relationship with their father might experience on a daily basis,” White said. “If someone is told they have ‘daddy issues’ and they truly do have a strained relationship with their father or they do not have a father figure, I can see how that would be very hurtful.”

In an attempt to change the negative connotations and stereotypes surrounding the subject, Gilligan said people need to acknowledge that familial conflicts are a common and shared experience. Similarly, Stewart said to think more critically about the language you use.

According to White, the best way to destigmatize the topic of “daddy issues” is to learn more about the topic and to do your own research from a listening and learning perspective.

“I have always felt like the key to taking something’s negative power away is through allowing myself to learn more about it,” White said.