Daddy issues are like HPV: we've all probably got it. To celebrate Father's Day, we decided to talk with three experts about what our daddy issues actually mean, how we can cope with them, and whether or not it's really fucked up to call someone "Daddy" in bed.
Barbara Greenberg, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating family, children, and adolescents. She deals with daddy issues when they're just starting to spring up. New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, MD, deals with the sexual issues that can arise when someone has daddy issues. And Ken Page, psychotherapist and the author of Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy can shine some light on how to reverse your daddy issues into tools to find the perfect partner.
VICE: Can you describe "daddy issues" from the family counseling perspective?
Barbara Greenberg, PhD: Here's the deal. How their father treats their mother is one of the most important things that ever goes on in a kid's life. If a father treats the mother poorly, not only will it influence the [daughter]'s choice of partners later in life and what she'll tolerate in terms of abusive or unkind behavior, but it will also influence the girl's self-esteem. That's probably because her mother is willing to tolerate negativity and neglect, and the girl looks to her mother as a role model and says 'Well, I guess this is what a woman tolerates.'
Boys have daddy issues too. If their fathers are treating their mothers like shit, boys think, 'This is what being a man is like. You treat your woman poorly.' So they influence their sons' relationship issues just as much as the daughters'. I think with the daughters it affects their self-esteem more.
"If their fathers are alcoholics, women are more likely to marry alcoholics, because they think that's just what men do." —Barbara Greenberg, PhD
Does this affect the daughter's future partners?
Yes, absolutely, but the reason why is interesting. It's not because they find those qualities attractive or sexually appealing, it's because when they meet a guy they think, That's just a normal part of being a man. My father did it and it's a normal part of being a man so I'm going to tolerate it. They think that's the social norm, because it went on in their household. If their fathers are alcoholics, women are more likely to marry alcoholics, because they think that's just what men do.
What if they meet a really good guy?
You know the expression; you've probably heard a million of your friends say it: "He's too nice." It's because that person probably is a really good person, and they're not used to that. They don't express the same kind of arousal; it's not appealing to them. They are used to a lot more emotional volatility, people being loud, fighting, conflict. And that works for them, it's sad to say. Unless they've been in therapy for three years, but most often it's not until after their first or second divorce.
So you can unconsciously seek your father's love and approval through adult partners?
100%. It's sort of a repetition. I'm not like a great fan of Freud at this point, but Freud calls it a "repetition compulsion," that whatever we see in our childhood we are compelled to repeat. And yes, people who haven't worked out their issues will then chose a spouse similar to a parent, in hopes that getting that person's love is a form of getting Daddy's love.
If someone has an absent father, what's the best thing they can do to protect themselves?
Look around. People should look outside their families and see how other adults act and question that maybe what went on in their family is not the right model. Just because it went on in your house doesn't mean it's right. The more people you're exposed to, the more you start to realize that.
VICE: Through the lens of your work, how would you define "daddy issues"?
Stephen Snyder, MD: What we call "daddy issues" comprise a whole grab bag of things. For men, it might include very intense feelings of competition with other men, due to anger at father figures, or avoidance of friendships and mentoring relationships with men, due to fear of your own intense wishes to be loved by a father figure. For women, we might be talking about a very intense yearning for care and attention from a man, usually because your own father was emotionally or otherwise "missing"; or bad feelings about yourself or your sexuality, because your father sexually abused you or was overly seductive.
What sort of sexual issues can arise from having an absent or abusive father?
The son of an absent father doesn't get a chance to identify with his father, and this can lead to insecurity about whether he is sufficiently masculine. The son of an abusive father doesn't want to identify with his father, and this can lead to being uncomfortable with raw passion and male sexual energy.
"Fathers are traditionally authority figures, and authority is sexy." —Stephen Snyder, MD
How does our relationship with our father affect future partner selection and sex life?
It's very common to repeat in adult relationships the disappointing or traumatic aspects of your early life. Either you choose a partner who will disappoint you in ways that your father disappointed you, or you behave in subtle ways to make them disappoint you.
Why do people enjoy father roleplaying and using the word "daddy" in the bedroom?
Fathers are traditionally authority figures, and authority is sexy.
Are there healthy ways to work through daddy issues?
If you're turned on by "daddy" play, usually the best thing is just to enjoy it. Appreciate your mind's ability to have created erotic pleasure from what was originally an emotionally challenging situation. You can't usually eliminate this kind of erotic interest, so it's best to accept it and make peace with it.
VICE: So what are daddy issues?
Ken Page: If you're human you have daddy issues. And you have mommy issues. It's just a given, we've all got them. Just like we all have a fear of intimacy. A daddy issue would be that your relationship with your father has created obstacles for you to be in an actual present, intimate relationship with another person. But here's the good news: All of us have intimacy mine fields. We just have to figure out how to work with them.
"Your ego is going back to the original scene of the crime to finally get your dad to love you." —Ken Page
Do daddy issues affect our choice of partner?
Here's the thing: Your original loves are echoed in your current loves. If there's a really high degree of wounding, anger, or hurt in your childhood, you're going to be bringing that into your next relationship. There could be daddy issues where you're really turned on by a daddy type. That could be from a relationship with your dad when there's not enough love, and you're always craving more. If you have a daddy thing that's really intense and you meet someone who triggers that in you, it is often because that person embodies the worst qualities of your father. Your ego is going back to the original scene of the crime to finally get your dad to love you.
Is it important to break the cycle?
The most important distinction is the difference between an attraction of deprivation and an attraction of inspiration. We all have these two different circuitries inside of us. An attraction of deprivation is when someone almost loves you, almost treats you right, is almost available, and almost respects you. That's when you get tricked: 'Oh my god, I am finally going to get them to love me!' That goes on forever and almost never works. An attraction of inspiration is really the path to happiness. That's someone who, in a basic way, inspires you to be the kind of person they are. So if you find somebody you've got a daddy thing for, and it's an attraction of inspiration: Go for it. Fetishize their daddy-ness. Relish it.
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