Growing up is hard. So is being a parent. Sometimes these two facts collide head-on.
Your parents hold the greatest sway over who you become, other than yourself. For a time, they have absolute power over you, and they’re the defining influence in your life (and love life) during your formative years.
So it’s no surprise that having relationship issues with your parents can leak into other parts of life.
One particular example of this phenomenon is women with “daddy issues.” It doesn’t really have a concrete scientific definition, but it’s an attempt to generally describe a woman’s intimacy problems with men as a result of conflict with her father.
It’s a concept that makes sense intuitively but is difficult to explain in words (even if it’s your job to do so). People instinctively generalize and see patterns.
Perhaps it was a useful survival tool at one point in our evolution. You see a bee. That bee stings you. You avoid other bees you see in the future. But it’s a bit more complicated with humans. Nobody is pushing for #NotAllBees, but the concept is there.
A young girl comes into greater-than-normal conflict with her father growing up and applies these lessons to dealing with other men in the future. Most people can overcome it, depending on the severity of the situation. Others struggle.
Here are some signs your daddy issues are affecting your love life:
1. You don’t trust men.
It’s not easy to truth others when the first, most important man to enter your life breaks that trust. Think about how hard it is to trust a partner after you’ve been cheated on. Broken trust causes people to guard themselves more closely in the future, lest you be hurt again.
2. You generalize men.
Look at your Facebook or Twitter feed and count how many times you see a variation of the phrase “All men are jerks.” Most everyone would agree that all people are different. You have to take each person on a case-by-case basis.
But if you spent most of your early life dealing with a “jerk,” every time you encounter another one is a notch in the column of that hypothesis.
The problem is, your experience is heavily weighted in your mind toward the jerk example, and it would take tons and tons of great guys to tip the scales in the other direction … an amount that will likely never happen if everybody is a coin-flip.
The hard part is de-emphasizing your father’s influence over your impression of men to being just one example. When you’re young, he is THE example. It’s hard to break the hold our parents have over the way we think.
3. You need constant attention — positive and negative.
People who miss out on attention from one parent early in life tend to seek it out in others. It can be destructive because you’ll take attention however you can get it. Like a child who acts out to get their parents to notice, you can hurt yourself and others.
If your father was aloof or otherwise ignored you growing up, you might be overly needy in a relationship. You can lash out to get your partner’s attention when you feel you aren’t getting enough of the conventional kind.
4. You’re overly defensive.
A common response to pain is to recede into a shell. You can’t be hurt if you never put your heart out there. Having a poor relationship with your father may lead you to not let other men get close to you emotionally.
The consequences of this on your love life are far-reaching. Do you never take the “next step” in a relationship? Do you bail at the first sign of trouble? Do you go cold when he wants to get closer?
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5. You have trouble committing.
You’ve seen the fallout of bad relationships and you want no part of it. Whether it’s the way your father treated your mother or your personal relationship with him, you just know what happens when things go badly.
The truth is, it’s hard to remember that everybody and every situation is different. Just because your parents got divorced and hated each other doesn’t mean that you’ll suffer the same fate.
6. You tend to prefer much older men.
In a subconscious effort to reconcile your relationship with your father, you may have a habit of pursuing much older men. You see someone reminiscent of your father showering you with love and attention, and it compensates for that deficit in your relationship with your father in some way.
Bob Alaburda is an editor, writer, and former contributor to YourTango. He writes primarily on topics of sex and relationships.