Dads And Daughters – What Is Father Complex For Women?
Father-daughter relationships are complex even under the best of circumstances. When a relationship between a father and his daughter is strained or non-existent, women are far more likely to struggle as adults.
Emotional issues related to a less-than-fulfilling relationship with one’s father are so pervasive that Freud created a name for it: the Electra complex or syndrome. The diagnosis describes a situation in which a young girl competes with her mother for her father’s attention. This ongoing competition eventually leads to the girl looking outside of the home for male attention. Freud used the term to describe girls and women who were extremely flirtatious or sexually aggressive and claimed that the behavior was directly linked to her relationship with her father.
Modern-day therapists and psychology experts rarely subscribe to the Electra complex, but they will admit that a woman’s relationship with her father as a young girl has a substantial effect on how she relates to men throughout her life.
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.”
Daughters with strict fathers who had high expectations tend to be perfectionists as they grow older or rebel against the expectations. Women who grew up in households with fathers who wanted male children might experience this more than those who had fathers who were not concerned with their child’s gender or who preferred to raise a daughter.
This might also be the case for women who had overpowering fathers. Women who felt micromanaged when they were young tend to act out and rebel against the rules set by their fathers. They are more likely to smoke, do poorly in school, or enter into risky or dangerous relationships.
Another issue that can arise in father-daughter relationships comes from absenteeism. Absenteeism can be either physical or emotional. If a father abandoned the family or had a job that required him to be away from the family, his daughter could struggle with self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. Even if a father was physically present, but failed to bond with his daughter, the same issues might arise. Many women who grew up without a father taking an active role in their lives deal with feelings of guilt and low self-confidence as adults. Many tend to be withdrawn and turn their pain inward, resulting in self-destructive behavior.
There are many instances in which a father didn’t quite measure up to what a young girl deserved, but that doesn’t mean he was abusive. However, sadly, there are situations in which a father is outright abusive, physically, emotionally, or sexually. These situations are complex and can lead to a lifetime of emotional challenges for a woman. Many women who grew up in abusive households, even those in which they weren’t abused but witnessed their mother or siblings being victimized, experience feelings of anxiety and depression as adults.
What Should You Do If You Have a Father Complex?
It’s important to remember if you have father issues as an adult woman is that you are not alone. Many women have varying degrees of emotional challenges as adults because of how their fathers behaved. Learning to manage these feelings and not let difficult emotions bleed into current relationships is an important goal no matter your specific situation.
This starts by acknowledging how important a father figure is in a girl’s life and denying that you have wounds if your father fell short.
For fathers who feel they have made mistakes, it’s important to realize that it might not be too late to repair the relationship. If your daughter has expressed an openness to forming a healthy relationship, no matter her age, you should take advantage of the opportunity.
Fathers of Young Daughters
If you are a father of a daughter and your goal is to do whatever possible to help her avoid developing a father complex, there are many things you can do. For example:
Give Your Daughter Permission to Be a Child
It’s difficult to imagine yourself in roles you’ve never held. A father understands what it’s like to be a young child, but only from a boy’s perspective. He’s never been a daughter. For many men, this makes it difficult to understand what a daughter needs and how he can best let her be a child.
The best way to build a strong relationship with your daughter is to not force her into being anything that doesn’t come naturally for her. You can encourage her and show her how to set high standards for herself, but it’s also important to let her be a child. Let her play and express herself and find her way with you there supporting her.
Provide Positive Affection
Offering your daughter positive affection validates her and helps her build strong relationships. It’s also important to show her mother positive affection in front of her. Families that express healthy physical affection with hugs and pats on the back and age-appropriate cuddling show kids that these things are normal and natural.
Participate in Physical Activity
Many dads are more comfortable relating to their daughters through physical activity. This isn’t the case in all families, but many adult daughters speak fondly of her time spent playing catch with their dads, going for jogs, hiking, or engaging in sports and other physical activities. These can be family-wide events, but they can also be a great opportunity for fathers and daughters to bond. Research has shown that girls who participated in physical activities with their dads have improved skills in relationships, social awareness, decision-making, and self-management.
One of the best things a father can do to help his daughter grow into a happy, healthy woman is to be there when she needs him. Even if your relationship with your daughter isn’t perfect, you can be there when you say you are going to be there. Daughters who know they can rely on their dads are more likely to set healthy boundaries and have self-respect.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Communication is an important part of any relationship. Daughters who have open and honest conversations with their fathers are better able to communicate in relationships throughout their lives. Not only are you building a bond with your daughter by talking to her about her life, but you’re also setting her up for success in the future, too.
Find Support – Connect with Other Dads
Our last word on this topic goes to Brian Anderson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fathering Together, a massive online support forum for fathers that began on Facebook, he comments, “Just as important as communicating with your daughter, it’s critical to connect with other dads. Their experiences can help you navigate challenging developmental stages and provide insights into what to expect and when.” Anderson adds, “Your daughters is consulting with her peers and the relationship they have with their dads, so you should too!”