Have people in your life accused you of having a “daddy” or “father complex”?
Do you know without being told that you have issues with your relationship with your father? If your relationship with your father was strained or non-existent, you are likely to struggle with adult relationships, especially those involving men.
Sigmund Freud referred to complicated relationships with one’s father as an Electra complex or syndrome. It occurs a young girl competes with her mother for her father’s attention. As she grows up, the girl looks outside of her home for the male attention she desires that she’s not receiving at home. Freud found these girls to be extremely flirtation and/or sexually aggressive. He believed this behavior to be directly linked to a woman’s relationship with her father.
The Electra complex is not a modern-day diagnosis. However, we can still learn from Freud’s approach. Even the most evolved therapists acknowledge a woman’s relationship with her father has a significant impact on her relationship with men.
According to Linda Nielsen, a professor of educational and adolescent psychology at Wake Forest University and the author of two books on father-daughter relationships, “The well-fathered daughter is also the most likely to have relationships with men that are emotionally intimate and fulfilling. During the college years, these daughters are more likely than poorly-fathered women to turn to their boyfriends for emotional comfort and support and they are less likely to be “talked into” having sex.”
“As a consequence of having made wiser decisions in regard to sex and dating, these daughters generally have more satisfying, more long-lasting marriages. What is surprising is not that fathers have such an impact on their daughters’ relationships with men, but that they generally have more impact than mothers do.”
How Do Negative Patterns Develop?
Do you find yourself wondering if your relationship with your father has led to problems in your adult romantic relationships?
If you had a strict father with high expectations, you might have cause for concern.
Women with strict fathers tend to be perfectionists as they grow older. Or they might take the opposite approach and rebel against their father’s expectations.
Women with fathers who wanted a son or were overpowering also tend to experience challenges in their adult relationships with men. If you felt micromanaged when you were young there’s a chance you’ve acted out or rebelled as you grew up.
This might have included smoking, doing poorly in school, or most commonly, entering into risky or dangerous relationships.
Absentee and Abusive Fathers
Was your father not around much?
This is a common issue in father-daughter relationships.
When girls feel abandoned by their fathers it affects their self-esteem.
Even if your father was physically present, but failed to bond with you, you might struggle. You might have feelings of guilt and low self-confidence. In some cases, women in your situation withdraw and turn their pain inward, resulting in self-destructive behavior.
The situations above are not abusive. Your father might have fallen short of what you needed emotionally, but his actions weren’t abusive.
Sadly, though, there are situations in which a father is outright abusive. The abuse might be physical, emotional, or sexual. These situations are complex and can create a lifetime of emotional challenges.
In most cases, abuse does lead to problems in adult relationships. This is true whether a woman was abused by her father or witnessed her father abusing her mother. If you fall into this category, it’s important to work with a therapist or counselor who can help you heal.
What Should You Do If You Have a Father Complex?
If you’re a woman whose issues with her father are affecting current relationships, what can you do?
First, realize you are not alone. Many women have varying degrees of emotional challenges as adults because of how their fathers behaved. You can learn to manage these feelings and not let difficult emotions bleed into current relationships.
It’s possible to heal from your experience and have fulfilling relationships with men as an adult. Start by acknowledging how important your father figure is and was in your life. It does you no good to deny that you have wounds if your father fell short.
Also, keep in mind that it might not be too late to fix the broken relationship you had with your father. If your father is still alive and it’s safe to do so, consider speaking with him about the situation. You might even consider asking him to attend a therapy appointment with you.
Just be careful not to attack him with accusations. The goal is to discuss mistakes and move forward, not dwell in the past and blame him for everything wrong with your life today.
Fathers of Young Daughters
If you are raising a daughter and you want to help her father do the best job possible, encourage your partner to do the following:
- Allow your daughter to be a child – she needs to know she can rely on you
- Provide positive affection
- Participate in physical activity
- Be reliable
- Communicate honestly and frequently