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Daddy Issues May be a Bigger Problem for Black Women Than We Think


A few years back, a friend visited, noticed an old diary lying in my room, and asked to read it. I agreed; the diary was something I had written when I was barely 14. As she read, she kept sighing, and I wondered what I had written that deserved such a reaction. I could barely remember most of what I'd written.

 

When she was done, she closed the book and asked, “You know you have daddy issues, right?”

 

It sounded weird in my ears. I had thought daddy issues were for women whose fathers were absent in their lives, but mine had been present, so how could I have daddy issues? Then my friend showed me a sentence from the second page: “Dear Diary, my dad is at it again; I want to leave this house and never return.”

 

I later skimmed the whole thing and found I kept making the same complaint over and over. Again, I was barely 14, and all the memories I have of my father are the ones of him constantly belittling, insulting, and shouting at me—mostly for the tiniest of reasons. I have never shaken my dad’s hands or hugged him. I don’t even know what it feels like to touch or sit close to him and just talk. I lived with him most of my life, and I still don’t know what he smells like.

 

“Anxiety and the constant feeling of not being good enough has been a struggle.”

His presence may have even done more harm than good.


A TikTok post recently resonated deeply with me. It reads: "You never apologized to me for hurting me, but I apologized to you 12 times for being angry about it."

 

As a Black woman, this hits close to home. Other women I’ve interviewed claim there is an expectation in our culture to constantly respect and apologize to our fathers, even when their behavior contributes to the deteriorating mental health or emotional neglect of their children. Nobody cares about the child. As I read through the TikTok comments, I realized I wasn't the only one experiencing this.

                                                                                                                       

"Nelly," a Lagos-based woman, also relates to the post. (Many of my sources are anonymous due to lingering family connections.)


“My dad's anger issues became apparent after my mom’s passing when I was just 13. I started to shoulder every motherly responsibility, and although my dad had been absent before my mom died, he showed up after her death. Living with him, I realized he struggled to connect with his emotions and often responded irrationally.”

 

Nelly claims her father’s constant yelling and berating sometimes turned physical. To protect herself, she suppressed her emotions, including her sense of justice and anger. This later led to severe anxiety. Her default response to conflict became avoidance and meek de-escalation.  Her father's wild reactions hindered her communication skills development, which had a deleterious impact at school.

 

“Let's not even talk about the constant gaslighting from my uncles, who, even after witnessing his outbursts, would ask me to apologize [to my dad] and then blame me for it when it was clear that I was the one wronged.”

 

South African resident "Unathi" claims her father’s abuse of her mother clashed with his purported sense of holiness as a pastor and, ultimately, distorted her view of religion.

 

“The way my dad treated my mom was far from OK,” Unathi says. “His hypocrisy pushed me away from Christianity; it's hard to reconcile his preaching with his mistreatment.”

 

Seeing him write books about good marriages and families is absurd when his own is a sham.”

“What baffles me the most is how he can be warm and affectionate with strangers while neglecting his family. Seeing him write books about good marriages and families is absurd when his own is a sham.”

 

"Moe," a Nigerian woman in the art and entertainment industry, says she, too, weathers her father’s lasting emotional damage.

 

"As a child, I battled depression, which worsened over time, leading me to contemplate suicide on multiple occasions,” she says. “Anxiety and the constant feeling of not being good enough has been a struggle.”

 

Leaving home improved Moe's mental health. These days, she mostly dissociates herself from the pain, making it seem less like her own agony and more like someone else's. But she still feels intense anxiety when her father calls.

 

Other women, like Ghana resident, "Angela," say their father has hopelessly corrupted their view of men, making forging relationships difficult.

 

“His misogynistic, narcissistic abuse turned my home into a living hell. Now I struggle to maintain healthy relationships without sabotaging myself,” Angela says. “I’m plagued by low self-esteem and not being able to let my guard down.”

 

Photo courtesy of @nappystock

On the upside, she says her dad’s horrible personality taught her to spot abusive control freaks and avoid them.

 

Other women claim their fathers offered nothing but criticism without correction, praise, or validation. As a result, they rarely celebrate their accomplishments or recognize their talents. This, too, fouls adult relationships and exacts a toll on confidence and trust.

 

Psychotherapist and life reset specialist Laura Steventon says emotionally distant or abusive fathers cause destroy self-esteem and cause more anxiety in Black women than we might realize.

 

“Women with emotionally distant fathers often internalize feelings of ‘not being enough,’ and they blame themselves for their father's emotional distance. This can lead to excessive people-pleasing and taking a submissive role in relationships,” Steventon said. “Black women may become hypervigilant toward others and constantly seek validation, often feeling the need to ‘be extra’ or make noise to be noticed.”

 

As adults, she says, women may struggle to speak up for themselves and allow others to push them around, leaving them lost and unfulfilled.

 

Marriage and family therapist Sophie Cress warned that fathers' cold or inconsistent emotional availability routinely impacts daughters’ relationships, leaving them struggling with trust and vulnerable to fear of abandonment. As children, many prioritized their fathers' emotions over their own, which leads to difficulty establishing boundaries and voicing needs as adults.

 

“Additionally, they may exhibit avoidance behaviors and struggle with intimacy, finding it challenging to communicate their feelings and seek support,” Cress says. “The pattern can perpetuate feelings of inadequacy and emotional instability, affecting their mental health and interpersonal interactions.

 




Steventon says acknowledging and repairing the damage is no easy feat. “Women need to reconnect with their true selves and address their underlying emotions. Creating awareness of their triggers and emotions can help them understand where these feelings originate and work towards healing and self-acceptance.”

 

When feeling stuck and frustrated, she says it helps to take a moment and ask ourselves ‘what emotion am I feeling and where does it come from?’ Frank self-analysis isn’t easy for everybody, but Steventon says it could prove crucial when “You are in a situation, and all of a sudden, you’re starting to feel tensed in your body, or you are feeling like you want to bite back at somebody or run away.”

 

She adds “Creating awareness about how we think, challenging our belief system” and taking the time to candidly recognize a trigger when we see it can be the start of big improvement.

 

Cress urged women to seek therapy, build a support system, practice self-care, and cultivate positive relationships based on open communication and vulnerability. The people with whom you surround yourself make all the difference.

 

“With resilience and self-compassion, it's possible to heal from the psychological impact and lead a fulfilling life,” she says.


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Miracle Okah is an Amaka Studio Creator Grant winner with work published or forthcoming in Amaka Studio, Blackballad, and Better to Speak, among others. She covers culture, society and tech through the lens of Black women’s experiences.




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